Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New Windows Mobile CROSSBOW!

Ok Windows Mobile fans, word has it that there's going to be another release of our favorite CE-based Operating System by Microsoft.

Its currently codenamed "Crossbow", and will be released for both PPC and Smartphone (just like the other versions of WM). MS would like you to think that this is the next best thing since sliced bread.
Its not. Sliced bread is totally under-rated.

There has been speculation that Crossbow would be Windows Mobile 6, since CE 6.0 is scheduled to release Nov. 1 2006 (a day after this writing).
Its not.

Crossbow is merely WM5, but with a fresh interface that resembles the Windows Vista experience. In actuality, Crossbow's final name will most likely be Windows Mobile 5 Second Edition.

Most Pocket PC users out there won't care that much about this edition, since it doesn't seem to change all that much under the hood. Then again, you might be a Vista junkie, and want all your icons to look Vista-fied. That's cool, if you're into it. Otherwise, its pretty much the same.

Where it DOES make a difference is with the Smartphone Edition. Smartphone Edition of Crossbow has some nifty additions aside from the new look.

For example, take a look at this screenshot someone was able to take from a beta version (thanks to the good folks at GPSpassion).

See anything interesting here?

Yes, it seems that Windows Live is included in at least this particular build as well as MS voice command, but here's the clincher...
Note the icons in position 1, 3, and 9.
That's right, Excel, Powerpoint, and Word are finally back in Windows Mobile where they belong!!!

No more 3rd party applications needed to do what a Pocket PC does out of the box!!

This should be very exciting to anyone who currently uses a smartphone, and like me, has been very annoyed that Microsoft decided to leave these vital applications out!

Now, this is not to be confused with Windows Mobile 6, codenamed Photon, which is planned to be released within a year of Crossbow.
Microsoft has announced that WM6 will finally combine the Smartphone and PPC platforms. This should be interesting...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

T-mobile, T-zones, T-mobile Web and the Internet Myth...

Ok, this one's for all you T-mobile USA fans out there.

If you're a hardcore T-mobile user since the free wap days, then you already know about this. However, for those who seem to be so confused about the internet plans that T-mobile offers, allow me to explain.

There's a handful of different levels of access that T-mobile offers for internet on your mobile phone. The two major ones that are currently offered to existing customers are:
1) T-Mobile Web ($5.99/m)
2) T-Mobile Total Internet ($29.99/m)

The obvious difference is that #2, Total Internet, also gives you access to T-mobile's network of WiFi hotspots scattered across the country (starbucks, airports, etc...). However, most users could really care less about that, especially those who don't even have WiFi enabled phones!
The problem, however, is that T-mobile now requires this option for internet on their latest Windows Mobile phones. The reason for this is rumored to be because T-mobile is trying to make back some of the money they spent on this hotspot infrastructure, which seems to be much less profitable than originally expected.
But is that all there is to it? If you buy a WM phone from T-mobile, is your only internet choice to spend 5x as much as you would otherwise because they are pushing their hotpot use? Or could a MDA/SDA user just use the cheaper T-zones or T-mobile web and forget the hotspots?

What's the real difference?
Well, let's start by looking at what market each is geared towards:
T-Mobile Web: The casual consumer with an average handset.
-Originally, internet access on a phone was considered a novelty item that would get very little real-world use. How much bandwidth could you possibly use up checking your hotmail account on a limited-graphics mobile-formatted page every so often? For this, T-mobile offered a phone plan add-on that they called T-zones, which had an unlimited plan for $4.99. Times changed however, and people can do alot more online with their phones now than they used to. So, T-mobile raised their price $1, and changed the name to T-mobile Web (possibly to justify the price hike).

Total Internet: Power users who wish to have the full internet anywhere there is reception, for example a laptop with a cellular PC-card added in.
-These customers will clearly use more bandwidth, therefore a higher price is justifiable.

However, both plans advertise that they offer unlimited (ie. unmetered) data. So, what incentive is there to go with the more expensive plan? Why wouldn't a "power user" just pay a fraction of the price for unlimited data?
T-mobile has taken some precautions to prevent that sort of thing from happening. For starters, the cheaper plan is supposed to only allow web access and email access. To do this, they closed all the ports except for a handful and restricted the web port by forcing all traffic to go through a proxy server that acts as a filter. The result is that email and web work just fine, but chats, streaming media, VoIP and any other fancy tricks won't.

So, will the cheaper data plans work on my SDA/MDA?
The simple answer: Yes!
They don't want it to, but the truth is there's nothing different about it as long as you put the correct settings into your phone (since it uses the proxy server as a filter, you have to set it up in connections to get out to the internet).
You'll still be restricted to straight-up email and web (no streaming, etc...), but for most people that's all they really want anyway.

Will it be slower?
Not really. Some people seem to think you only get EDGE (the 2.5G upgrade T-mobile made in order to speed their cellular data 4x) if you pay for full internet, otherwise you're stuck with the slower (2G) GPRS speeds. That's just not true. That has everything to do with your phone's connection to the tower, and almost nothing to do with your tier of service. If your phone supports EDGE, and the tower you're connecting to supports EDGE, then you have EDGE speed. T-mobile is not set up to give different users different speeds.

What if I need more than just web/email, but don't want to pay for hotspots?
If you're someone who needs full, unrestricted access to the internet on your phone (personally I'd like to be able to stream media and use chat services), there are various workarounds, including hosting your own proxy server on an open port that doesn't have the same limitations. The easiest thing, however, would be to just claim you have a blackberry device and say you'd like a blackberry internet add-on. That plan is only $19.99, and will work the same as the full internet- all ports open and everything.
This is perfectly legitimate, because T-mobile allows you to switch your sim card into as many phones as you want whenever you want. If they say "I see you're using an MDA/SDA", you could just respond with "I also have a blackberry and I'd like to be able to use it sometimes". They can't argue with that!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What is "Smartphone Edition" anyway?

...or "Why would I want a watered-down hack of an Operating System?"

I hear alot of people complain that Windows Mobile "Smartphone Edition" is not the real Windows Mobile that you'd find on a Pocket PC. This has created a lot of angry consumers who feel that they are tricked when they buy new devices such as the Motorola Q, HTC Tornado (T-mobile SDA, Cingular 2125), and the T-mobile DASH, which are all advertised as being Windows Mobile, yet are missing the telltale signs of a PDA such as a touchscreen and common office applications.
Some of these critics claim that this can not be considered Windows Mobile at all, and that it is an inferior product that bears name recognition.

These people are very misinformed.

The first thing I'd like to point out is that the "Smartphone Edition" of Windows Mobile is not just closely related to the Pocket PC edition, but they are in actuality one and the same thing: A PDA-tailored port of the Windows CE 5 OS .

What many people don't understand is that Windows CE is designed to be a completely adaptable modular operating system, not just for PDAs, so that all sorts of devices can run the same software. The plan was that everything from Digital Cameras to Car Stereos to Video Game systems would all run Windows CE, and common applications could be easily developed for them all.
In fact, one of the motives for the original Windows CE was for television set-top boxes (similiar to the web-tv concept that never caught on), and if anyone recalls the Sega Dreamcast game console system, it shipped with a version of Windows CE built-in so that you could manage saved game files, use it to browse the web, play Windows Media, ...even write your own software and games for it.
I've even seen the popular Windows Mobile divx player TCMP actually being used in a Dreamcast to display a divx movie on a TV screen!

So, if they're all Windows CE, what does the name Windows Mobile mean?
This is a difficult question to answer since some people make the mistake of using the two names interchangeably.
Since Win CE can adapt and appear in so many different forms, Microsoft started giving the custom tailored incarnations of it their own names. The most popular incarnation was the one that they gave a PDA-oriented interface to, including modules such as full duplex sound, connectivity, synchronization, icon-driven GUI, and touch-screen support. They called this version "Pocket PC", since it was designed for portable computing needs. Then, around 2003, it became apparent that the PDA comes in various forms, from tablets to handhelds to cellular phones, and the term Pocket PC could be deemed too device specific for a PDA-oriented OS. So, it was renamed to "Windows Mobile 2003", which has a few spin-off versions that support various forms of input interface including touch screen, t9 keypad, joystick, and keyboard.

However, the major difference between the Windows Mobile versions stops after the display and input differences. Under the hood, its all the same thing. This means that software written for Pocket PC Edition will actually run if copied over to the Smartphone Edition!
The problems arise when the developer assumes that someone is using a Pocket PC with a touchscreen, for example an application that requires you to tap portions of the screen. This is very frustrating if you can not actually tap anything!
There are work-arounds, but that's not the point of this entry. I'll get to that another time.
The point here is to illustrate that the Smartphone Edition of Windows Mobile is not "inferior" in any way to the PPC version. It only seems that way because it is marketed differently, for example Microsoft left out included versions of Word and Excel. The reason for this has been said to be because of the numeric keypad entry, claiming that "these devices are better for reading data than entering it". Therefore, many smartphones come with simple document reading software that will easily open Word, Excel and even powerpoint and Adobe PDF documents, but not edit them.
If you want to enter data on your T9 keypad (like I do), there are 3rd party applications available for spreadsheets and word processing. But I understand why MS left them out... most people wouldn't use them.
Some say that it may also be some sort of marketing reason... if the smartphone had office support, and clearly did all the same things, they wouldn't be able to charge so much more for a Pocket PC phone.
Whatever the case may be, this smartphone user has not been fooled by the first impression, and I am now very happy with my non-Pocket PC device!