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This morning Sony Ericsson announced their latest Windows Phone, the Sony Ericsson Aspen, which is the first announced device to run on Windows Mobile 6.5.3 -the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system. The Windows Mobile 6.5.3 is seemingly a small update, and in this article I want to address the main improvements.

As you will see in the article the improvements consist of both “cosmetic improvements” which set a new step towards full touch control, and “improvements under the hood”. Let’s have a quick look …

Start menu, “touchable tiles” and icon drop “bar”

When you have a look at the screenshots above the first thing to notice is that the start menu button has moved to the bottom, and that both the former softkeys have been optimized for touch control. It is more like a taskbar idea you know from your Windows powered notebook.

Another item address by Microsoft is the relative small icons in the topbar, which were sometimes hard to accurately select with finger touch. When you tap on these icons a drop down bar is openened, with larger easier to select icons.

While these are the most striking facts from the screenshots above, you can find a list of improvements of the Windows Mobile 6.5.3 release below:

  • Capacitive touchscreen support;
  • Platform to enable multi-touch;
  • Touch controls throughout system (no need for stylus);
  • Consistent Navigation;
  • Horizontal scroll bar replaces tabs (think settings>system>about> screen);
  • Magnifier brings touch support to legacy applications;
  • Simplified out-of-box experience with fewer steps;
  • Drag and drop icons on Start Screen;

The first two items of capacitive touchscreen support and multi-touch are (in fact) already demonstrated by HTC with the incredible powerful HTC HD2 which is reviewed on this website some time ago. However it was the first capacitive touchscreen device running on Windows Mobile.

In the following section I would like to address the last item from the list: “drag and drop icons on the start screen”.

Drag and drop icons in the start menu

Microsoft introduced the new start menu with the announcement of Windows Mobile 6.5 back in 2009 at Mobile World Congress Barcelona. One of the limitations of the new start menu was the ability to order the icons on the grid to a personal preset. Until now you could only move icons to the top or to the bottom.

In Windows Mobile 6.5.3 you can simply drag and drop icons to the position you prefer. Let me emphasize that I’m really happy with this improvement, but it is furthermore also a more natural way to reorder the start menu. The series of screenshots shows you such a drag and drop sequence of the games-icon.

Horizontal scroll bar replaces tabs

As a Windows Mobile user you are certainly familiar with the tab structure, for example in the connections screen. Another example is shown in the screenshot above, where under Windows Mobile 6.5 you have the tabs: Time, Alarms, More. As you can see the tabs are replace with a horizontal scroll bar, which is more optimized for finger friendly use.

Furthermore both the time-field and the check boxes are larger as well, which make it easier to touch. 🙂

Internet Explorer for Windows Phones

Another key change in the initial Windows Mobile 6.5 release is the Internet Explorer browser on Windows Mobile.

  • Page load time decreased;
  • Memory management improved;
  • Pan & flick gestures smoothed;
  • Zoom & rotation speed increased;

While we have seen  optimizations for touch control, and the fact that this browser was based on the robust Internet Explorer 6 (for desktop) platform, Microsoft has further improved Internet Explorer for Windows Phones in their latest Windows Mobile 6.5.3. release.

A few other improvements

  • Updated runtime tools (.NET CF 3.5, SQL CE 3.1)
  • Arabic read/write document support
  • Watson (error reporting) improvements and bug fixes

Finally Microsoft included new functionality in a few other area’s as well. While I consider the runtime tools and Watson as strict technical improvements, the Arabic read/write document support could have a much bigger impact.

Overall first thoughts

Mauricio Freitas, Windows Mobile MVP and Editor in Chief of Geekzone, summarizes in the article “Windows Mobile 6.5.3 in the wild: advances in User Interface“:

“The update in itself is a small release but it should bring the venerable operating system closer to current consumer markets.”

I fully agree that the Windows Mobile 6.5.3 release is a huge step towards full touch control, which has become more or less the standard in the current smartphone market. The first step was Windows Mobile 6.5 and this is the second major step, which makes the overall navigation, control, and user experience more consistent.

Personally I’m trying to find the logic in the version number, since I think the Windows Mobile 6.5.3 release features a major set of incremental improvements. Some of these improvements have a large impact on the userinterface and device navigation (position of start menu button and redesigned softkeys), so I wouldn’t be suprised if the version number was higher in this release of new features !!

Windows Mobile 6.5.3 is a huge second step towards full touch control of you Windows Phone. What do you think ??