Posts Tagged‘windows mobile’

This Isn’t The Microsoft I Know…

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Microsoft was never a major player in the smartphone space. Most people had never really heard of or seen a smartphone until Apple released the iPhone and the market really didn’t heat up until a couple years after that fact. However if you were to go all the way back to 2004 you’d find they were extremely well positioned, capturing 23% of the total market share with many analysts saying that they would be leader in smartphone software by the end of the decade. Today however they’re the next to last option for anyone looking for a smartphone thanks wholly to their inertia in responding to the incoming threats from Apple and Google.

Microsoft wasn’t oblivious to this fact but their response took too long to come to market to save any of the market share they had previously gained. Their new product, Windows Phone 7, is quite good if you consider it on the same level as Android 1.0 and the first iPhone. Strangely enough it also suffers some of the problems that plagued the earlier revisions of its competitors products had (like the lack of copy and paste) but to Microsoft’s credit their PR and response time on the issue is an order of magnitude better. They might have come too late into the game to make a significant grab with their first new offering but as history has shown us Microsoft can make a successful business even if it takes them half a decade of losses to catch up to the competition (read:the Xbox).

More recently though I’ve noticed a shift in the way Microsoft is operating within their mobile space. Traditionally, whilst they’ve been keen to push adoption for their platform through almost any means necessary, they’ve been quick to stand against any unsanctioned uses of their products. You can see this mentality in action with their Xbox department who’s fervently fought any and all means to run homebrew applications on their consoles. Granted the vast majority of users modding their consoles do so for piracy reasons so their stance is understandable but recent developments are starting to show that they might not be adverse to users running homebrew applications on their devices.

ChevronWP7 was the first (and as far as I know, only) application to allow users to to jailbreak their WP7 devices in order to be able to load arbitrary applications onto them. Microsoft wasn’t entirely happy with it’s release but didn’t do anything drastic in order to stop its development. They did however announce that the next update to WP7 would see it disabled, much like Apple does with their iOS updates, but they did something that the others haven’t ever done before, they met with the ChevronWP7 team:

After two full days of meetings with various members of the Windows Phone 7 team, we couldn’t wait to share with everyone some results from these discussions.

To address our goals of homebrew support on Windows Phone 7, we discussed why we think it’s important, the groups of people it affects, its direct and indirect benefits and how to manage any risks.

With that in mind, we will work with Microsoft towards long-term solutions that support mutual goals of broadening access to the platform while protecting intellectual property and ensuring platform security.

Wait, what? In the days gone by it wouldn’t have been out of place for Microsoft to send out a cease and desist letter before unleashing a horde of lawyers to destroy such a project in its infancy. Inviting the developers to your headquarters, showing them the roadmap for future technologies and then allying with them is down right shocking but shows how Microsoft has come to recognise the power of the communities that form around the platforms they develop. In all respects those users of ChevronWP7 probably make up a minority of WP7 users but they’re definitely amongst the most vocal users and potentially future revenue generators should they end up distributing their homebrew into the real world. Heck they’re even reaching out to avid device hacker Geohot since he mentioned his interest in the WP7 platform, offering him a free phone to get him started.

The last few years haven’t been kind to Microsoft in the mobile space and it appears that they’re finally ready to take their medicine so that they might have a shot at recapturing some of their former glory. They’ve got an extremely long and hard fight ahead of them should they want to take back any significant market share from Apple or Google, but the last couple months have shown that they’re willing to work with their users and enthusiasts to deliver products that they and hopefully the world at large will want to have. My next phone is shaping up to be a WP7 device simply because the offering is just that good (and development will be 1000x easier) and should Microsoft continue their recent stint of good behaviour I can only see it getting better and better.

Windows Phone 7, Colour Me Impressed.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was singing high praises of Windows Mobile when I received my shiny new Sony Xperia X1. In all honesty it really was the best Windows Mobile handset I ever had the pleasure of using but towards the end it began to suffer from the same kind of random issues that plagued all my other WinMo handsets that had come before it. The camera app would work only half the time and I was lucky if I could convince it to take video. I had long since foregone the panel interface because of how slow it was when compared to the default and the keyboard started sticking and missing key strokes. Still I couldn’t bring myself to sell or trash the handset and it still sits atop my desk with a fully charged battery, hoping that I find a use for it someday.

Microsoft was obviously privy to these kinds of issues that plagued WinMo users and in February this year they announced that they’d be releasing a new mobile operating system called Windows Phone 7. At the time of the release I was on the fence about it, realising the platform had potential but not convinced it was anything more than Microsoft’s me-too business model. More recently I came to see how Microsoft could employ their giant third party developing force to make WinPho7 one of the dominant players in the mobile space but there’s really no telling if the hordes of Microsoft developers would have any interest in developing for the platform.

Monday saw the final unveil for WinPho7 to the wider public with several handsets on display that the press were allowed to get their hands on. Initial reactions were positive with a healthy hint of scepticism:

As for Windows Phone 7 itself, it feels slick and polished. The interface is fast, the transitions are attractive, and built-in programs like e-mail are a pleasure to use. Anyone who uses a handset is going to want to explore it and learn more about it. If Microsoft can get good positioning in retail outlets, the platform should flourish. However, to get a feel for how well the operating system really works as a smartphone OS requires more time than we had today. First impressions are definitely positive, but it’s going to be a while before anyone knows what the software is like to actually live with.

Indeed going through the numerous posts I’ve seen about WinPho7 over the past 8 months or so it seems like many people feel the mobile operating system feels solid but aren’t really sure if it will catch on. If there’s one thing that Microsoft offers with all its products is deep integration between product families and that’s usually where the true value lies. Previous versions of WinMo might have been tedious for the regular user but for corporate clients they were pretty much spot on. They were beaten to the punch by RIM with the easy email to the phone integration but their competing product, Exchange ActiveSync, is quite comparable now. Couple that with a rebooted platform and RIM’s utter failure to capitalize on the touchscreen phenomenon Microsoft might just be able to claw back some of the corporate market they lost to them.

That’s not the only trick Microsoft has up it’s sleeve either.

iPhone owner’s out there are more than aware of the MobileMe service that Apple provides to its customers, usually as an up sell before you get your phone. For the low rate of $99/year (or $149/year if you have up to 4 people who want it)  you get access to some cloud storage and a synchronisation service that keeps all your mail, contacts and photos in sync for you. Additionally you can use the service to find a lost iPhone should you misplace it or if it gets stolen. Microsoft has a competing service, known as Live Mesh, that was really only about files and remote access. Yesterday saw the announcement of a revamped version of this service that in essence replicates all the functionality of MobileMe. The kicker here is that Microsoft will be offering the service entirely gratis to all WinPh07 users, including the coveted find my phone feature that MobileMe is so popular for.

I don’t think anyone saw that bombshell coming.

Still the WinPho7 still has a little ways to go before it reaches its full capability. Whilst Microsoft has gone to significant lengths to drive development on the platform it will be a while before there’s a critical mass of users on WinPho7 to make it attractive to those looking to profit from the mobile space. There’s also a couple key features that are missing from WinPho7 such as copy and paste. Whilst that particular feature should be here early next year the absence of that feature and others will be enough for long time iPhone and Android users to think twice before replacing their handset. The lack of support for some carriers in the US could also serve to stymie adoption of the platform, but as the iPhone has shown many people are willing to make the switch if the platform is compelling enough.

If all this talk has you excited about trying out a WinPho7 device for yourself then you won’t be waiting too long with the first devices slated to hit Australia’s shelves in late October with the US getting theirs in early November. I won’t be lining up on launch night to get myself one but I’ll definitely be grabbing one of them (probably the HTC HD7) to fiddle with so I can start planning the Lobaco client for it. From what I’ve seen there’s definitely a lot of potential in Microsoft’s new grab at the mobile market but they’ve got an uphill battle in front of them. The next 6 months will be crucial for the fledgling platform’s success and I’m sure Microsoft will be doing everything they can to take back their title as the king of the smart phone arena.

Symbian: The Ignored Giant.

Market research is a great way to procrastinate. I’ve spent quite a lot of time getting to know what platforms I should be targeting just so that I don’t waste my actual development time on building something that no one will bother using. In this time that would have been better spent actually coding something I’ve come to notice an interesting trend in the world of mobile applications: everyone seems to be ignoring the biggest market of them all, Symbian. Owned by Nokia Symbian smart phones still dominate the market with over 45% market share which dwarfs all of its competitors to the point of being more than RIM (Blackberry) and iPhone combined. So why isn’t every other developer jumping at the opportunity to exploit this market to the point that they have done for the likes of Android and the iPhone? The answer, to me at least, has its roots in simplistic ideals but overall is quite convoluted.

At its heart the neglect of the Symbian platform can be traced back to one thing: money. Symbian has been around for quite some time (its ancestors can be found as far back as the late 1980s) although its current incarnation in the world of smartphones made its first appearance back in 2001, opening up a world where a phone’s capabilities could be expanded by the installation of third party applications. Its release was closely followed by the first release of PocketPC (later renamed Windows Mobile) that supported smartphones but Symbian still had the upper hand thanks to its uptake with many of the large phone manufacturers. As time went on Symbian found its way onto nearly all of Nokia’s advanced handsets which, coupled with their easy to use interface and overwhelming feature sets, led to astonishing popularity with the 100 millionth Symbian handset being sold only 5 years later with total shipments today exceeding 390 million.

Still unlike the iPhone or Android platform there really wasn’t any incentive to develop for them. The segmentation of both the Symbian and Windows Mobile market was and still is quite vast with no real guarantee of what features or specifications one phone might have. Whilst there are still many applications that can be developed despite these limitations many developers shunned the mobile space because apart from corporate applications there was no tangible way to monetize their efforts. Then along comes the iPhone with one standard set of hardware, a large fanbase and a distribution channel with built in monetization for any developer willing to shell out the $99 fee. After that the mobile space began to open up considerably but Symbian, even with its giant market share, has yet to capitalize on the mobile application market.

This means that whilst the Symbian market might be the largest of them all its also the least likely for any developer to be able to profit from. Symbian handsets cater to a much larger market than any other, including the lower end that even Android fails to capture. Unlike Apple, which deliberately targeted a market with cash to spare, Symbian users are the least likely to pony up some cash for an application. Additionally since there’s been no real central, easy to use medium for users to get applications on their Symbian phones (I know, I tried it on my N95) the vast majority of them won’t be in the mindset to go after such an application, favouring web based applications instead.

There is also, of course, the technical challenge behind building an application on these platforms. Whilst I’ve only dabbled in Windows Mobile (which for a C# developer was incredibly easy) recent reportsshow that Symbian is not only the hardest it also requires two to three times the amount of code to complete the same application on an iPhone or Android handset respectively. Whilst learning another language is really just a lesson in semantics it still slows your development time down considerably and when you’ve got your eye on making some money from your venture a steep learning curve will be a major barrier to entry. There has been some work to reduce this somewhat with the integration of the S60 platform with the open source cross platform library QT, but my previous experiences with that framework don’t make me so hopeful that it will make developing for Symbian any easier.

The ignored giant Symbian is an interesting phenomenon as intuition would tell you that the largest install base would drive the largest secondary markets. As a developer I still find it hard to ignore the call of almost 400 million devices that could possibly run my software but knowing a few people who own Symbian devices (read: they use their phone as a phone, not much else) I still feel like my effort would be better spent elsewhere. As time goes by it will be interesting to see if Symbian can continue to hold onto its dominance in this space or if they will eventually lose out to the young upstarts Android and iOS.

The Internet in Your Pocket.

I can remember the decision that led up to me purchasing my very first smart phone. Sometime around the end of 2003 I had managed to land myself 4 different part time jobs, mostly because none of them would give me the hours I wanted. This of course meant that my schedule was a tad hectic at the best of times and I found that managing all of them at once usually ended up with me showing up at the wrong place at the right time. So I got myself a cheap and cheerful PDA that ran Windows Mobile and kept my schedule in there, letting me keep track of everything and making sure I never disappointed my various bosses again.

About 3 years later I had landed my first ever System Administrator job and I thought that since I was such an IT bigshot (HA!) I would need a device to match, casting my aging PDA aside. A couple clicks through Ebay and $1000 later I was in possession of an O2 XDA Atom Exec and all the pains that it brought along with it. Initially I was pretty happy with my purchase as it let me do away with 2 devices in place of one and the upgrades to Windows Mobile made it a lot more usable that its predecessor.

Still I can remember trying to use the Internet on it and being extremely disappointed. Apart from the ludicrous charges from my mobile carrier (which was Telstra at the time) most websites failed to render properly and would take an impossible amount of time to load. The experience improved every so slightly when I was in range of a wifi point but considering the only places that had free wifi were in fact my or any of my friend’s houses the usefulness of a mobile web device was completely and utterly non-existent.

I’d mostly given up on the mobile web until the end of 2008. My O2 XDA last legs had long fallen off and it had developed the cute problem of switching itself off if you bumped it even slightly. After doing the rounds for a phone I had initially settled on a Nokia N95 although that quickly got traded in (long story short, got sold wrong model) for a HTC Diamond. The slim device came with a bevvy of Internet ready applications and I had specifically chosen a carrier that had a decent 3G wireless plan to make use of them. It seems that the bad taste that I had left over from 5 years ago was about to be washed away by the minty freshness of a mobile Internet revolution.

And was it ever. I set up my email to sync directly to my phone, my RSS feeds would update every morning before I headed out to work and I always had the weather forecast at my fingertips (with cool animations to boot). The Internet experience was much improved thanks to the Opera Mini browser that does a lot of the heavy lifting on proxy servers before forwarding you the results and the speed of 3G brought all those web pages to me in a time frame that was actually quite usable. I even went so far as to put my phone on my employer’s network and had my work email being pushed to my phone as well, which proved to only be mildly useful but a good demonstration to the higher ups.

The last year has seen a tremendous amount of growth and refinement in the mobile Internet experience and I’m begrudged to admit that its due to Apple’s iPhone. The original iPhone made highly capable (and expensive) phones the ubiquitous status symbol that so everyone wanted. The release of the 3GS made a point of making the mobile Internet experience something that should be available and extremely easy to use. This in turn put the other smart phone giants on the back foot to bring about a similar experience for their users, which until recently they’ve been struggling to do.

Google has done extremely well in this regard with their Android platform steadily gaining ground on Apple every month. It’s got to the point where I can’t say the growth is due to the tech crowd anymore, there has to be a good share of everymen buying Android handsets. It also can’t be due to the Nexus One either, as the numbers were looking pretty good before its release early this year. Whilst they’ve still got a ways to go to dethrone Apple as the number one (7.7 million sold in 2009, 60,000 are moving every day apparently) they’re looking to keep competition healthy in the mobile space, which is a win for us consumers.

Microsoft on the other hand has been extremely slack in this space. Whilst I’m very excited to get my hands on the Windows Phone 7 series devices (I really should install that emulator…) mostly due to their 0 cost to entry for programming on them the first retail device isn’t scheduled to be released until late in the year. Couple that with the fact that their share of the mobile Internet space has been in the single digits for almost 2 years now means that they’re probably the furthest thing from everyone’s minds when they’re going to buy a new phone. It will be interesting to see if they can turn their luck around and make the mobile scene a three horse race, but I’ve got my doubts.

In all honesty the revolution in the mobile space should come as a surprise to no one, but it always gets me when I’m rummaging through my desk and I happen across my old O2 and just remember how far the whole scene has come. With the latest hand helds coming out with processors that were considered top of the line in desktop PCs just a decade ago the days of a phone just being a phone are long behind us, and the future is always looking that much more awesome.

Windows Mobile 7: Microsoft’s iPhone Envy.

I’ve had a good share of Windows Mobile phones over the past few years and, up until recently, never really liked any of them. My first was an O2 XDA Atom Exec which I bought because I’d become one of those super smart IT admin-type guys and I should have a phone to match. It worked well for the first few months before starting to show problems like dropping calls and freezing at random times. After replacing the screen on the Atom it developed the fun problem of randomly turning off if it was bumped in any way and I ended up replacing it just on a year later with a HTC Touch Diamond. I thought that it was a brilliant phone until it decided to mute my speaker every time someone called me so I couldn’t talk to them and no amount of ROM flashing or hacking could convince it not to do it otherwise. My Xperia X1 has managed to avoid developing any show stopping problems thus far, but the hardware keyboard seems to be on the way out, missing keystrokes or repeating them 25% of the time.

I’m not alone with these gripes either and that’s why there’s a massive community dedicated to improving Windows phones by any means possible. Companies like HTC have allowed these things to flourish as they usually end up using many of the improvements that the forum generates (rumour has it their Touch-Flo UI was apparently born out of there). However this just shows how rife with systemic problems the Windows Mobile Platform is when people are that dedicated to making the devices more usable. It’s been the norm for the past 5 years and up until recently Microsoft had shown no signs of changing.

That was however before they announced the Windows Phone 7:

Microsoft really has changed nearly everything. Most obviously, the user interface is new. Touch is mandatory for all 7 Series devices, and the user interface reflects that; it’s touch-driven through and through. No longer will phone users have to use small, fiddly, desktop-oriented scroll bars; smooth finger scrolling with inertia is the order of the day. The finger-friendliness is exemplified by the new start screen. There are large panels in a smooth-scrolling grid. The look is clean and crisp, balancing at-a-glance information—counts of unread text messages and e-mails neatly displayed in their squares, for example—with simple thumb-sized accessibility. Each panel represents a particular “hub”—a place where all related information (be it contacts, photos, music and videos, etc.) is brought together and managed. As you move between the screens of each hub, smooth animations rotate and slide information into place, giving the user interface a kind of cohesive “joined up” feel.

This particular paragraph of the Ars Technica article really hits on the points that have frustrated us Windows Mobile users for years. At its heart any Windows Mobile device is really just a scaled down version of Windows, including the UI. For something that will predominately be used without a mouse and keyboard such a design drastically reduces the usability of the device, relegating many users to a “hunt and peck” style of interfacing with their device. HTC and others tried desperately to improve this by creating their own UIs that were more targeted towards mobile usage but if they didn’t include a certain application in their redesign you were straight back into mobile hell. I won’t even bother with the poor attempts at virtual keyboards.

With the coming of the iPhone and its finger friendly design Microsoft obviously began to reconsider it’s mobile design. Just as the iPod served as a testbed for some of the UI elements that made their way into the iPhone Microsoft is using a similar approach with the Zune. The extremely minimalistic design lends itself much more easily to use without a stylus and is a drastic improvement over what is available now. They’ve steered clear of many iPhone-esque features in order to create their very own look and feel for when you’re on a Windows 7 phone. Additionally they’ve also provided a fairly strict set of minimum requirements for any phone that might run the new mobile OS, which leads me onto the crux of the matter.

Whilst the biggest player in the smart phone market still isn’t Apple (it’s RIM, because of their corporate market capture) they are the largest direct competitor for Windows mobile devices. Additionally with Android on the up and up Microsoft is under incredible pressure to innovate or die and of course they’ve taken the route they always take: clone their best competitor. Sure on the surface the new OS doesn’t look anything like the iPhone but in reality the differences are quite deep. A minimalistic and finger friendly UI definitely resonates with Apple’s design philosophies and the strict platform requirements, whilst not as closed as Apple’s, are yet another Apple trademark. The icing on the cake is the recent launch of the Windows Marketplace for mobile applications, a direct competitor to the App Store.

For me however all of these are secondary to the biggest feature that the new mobile OS will bring: Silverlight to the mobile market. I was excited at the prospect of them bringing it to all Mobile 6 devices and above however they canned that idea sometime last year in favour of focusing on support for Mobile 7. The introduction of this tech to mobile handsets makes it possible for me to maintain a single code database for both web and mobile application version of Geon with only minor modifications, a significant reduction in coding time. It might sound like I’m just being lazy but the development road map I have requires support for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Web. If I can combine 2 coding streams into one that’s a reduction of almost 25% of my work with the added benefit of additional features that might not be available in platforms that don’t run Silverlight natively.

The unfortunate thing about this however is the release date for Mobile 7 is “holiday 2010” which basically means the end of the year. I’m sure there will be beta versions of it all over the Internet well before then but I can’t really devote anytime to coding for a product that’s not released and with an unknown user base. So it seems for now I’ll be stuck with my good old Xperia X1 running 6.0 and maintaining 4 separate code bases for my pet application. Still it’s something to look forward to and who knows if Geon takes off maybe they’ll even swing a phone my way for free (oh come on Google did it, why shouldn’t Microsoft!) 😉

Smartphone Virtualization? Oooooh shiny…

I love virtualization, really I do. Ever since my first encounter with it back in university when I didn’t have the spare cash to build another PC to run Linux so I could compile my projects at home I’ve had a fondness for it and the flexibility it provides. This web page is coming to you from a virtualized Server 2008 instance on VMware’s vSphere 4 and the switch from workstation was both painless and fruitful. So when VMware announced a while back that they were planning to do the same thing with smartphones I was excited, but back then with Android still being a small player I wrote it off as cool but probably not something I’d want or need. Recent news however has changed my mind:

VMware has flagged smartphones as the next platform in the evolution of virtualisation, but at least one major competitor, Microsoft, says that it sees no demand for the technology.

Speaking to Computerworld, Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware’s head of mobile phone virtualisation said the company’s vision for virtualisation on smartphones went beyond the basic dual-boot prototypes currently in development to one that ran both a private and work operating system and profile at the same time.

“We don’t think dual booting will be good enough – we’ll allow you to run both profiles at the same time and be able to switch between them by clicking a button,” he said. “You’ll be able to get and make calls in either profile – work or home – as they will both be live at any given point in time.”

Bringing virtualization to the smartphone platform opens up some very interesting possibilities. The first thing that comes to mind is that for developers like me who want to target all the major platforms (Windows Mobile, Android and iPhone) we have the potential of loading up several phone OSs on our hardware, allowing us to quickly test against real hardware. Whilst I’m sure that Apple won’t release an iPhone image to use with it there’s still quite a bit of value in being able to quickly test on real hardware. The simulators only go so far.

The other interesting thing that might be possible would be the integration of this virtualization with some of VMware’s current line of products, like VMware View. In essence view decouples the OS from the underlying hardware and the bulk of the hard work is done by a backend server. It’s reminiscent of the old days of dumb terminals hooked up to a giant mainframe however it has the benefit of user’s data being centrally located (and protected) whilst giving them the flexibility to say, move from office to office and take their desktop with them. The same could potentially be done with smart phones which would give admins unprecedented control over their user’s mobile environment. RIM and Microsoft give you a pretty decent amount of control over your user’s phones already, but something like this integrated with view would allow you to see what you’re user is seeing on their phone (like RDP for phones). I can bet there’s more than a few admins who would like that.

It’s also one of those products that lets you get more out of your hardware, something I’m very fond of. Whilst I’m not going to be constantly switching between OSs I can easily see myself hearing about a new cool app on the Android marketplace and wanting to switch over to try it. VMware are currently marketing it as having one image for work and one for home which is a damn good idea when you consider that many companies will require encryption on your device if it has work emails on it. If I could avoid having to put my PIN in every time I wanted to use my phone by having a second OS then I’d be all over it.

As with most of VMware’s products it will take a while to find its place in the world. I’d be guessing that the first few versions will work as advertised on certain handsets until they get some real demand for it. Right now it seems to be firmly stuck in the developer’s plaything market but as it matures I can see quite a few awesome possibilities that could turn your regular old smartphone into something that could almost qualify as a pocket desktop replacement.

I’ll be keeping my eye on them for the next year, that’s for sure.

Sony Xperia X1: Finally, Windows Mobile Done Right.

Let me premise this post with this one fact: I’m a confessed, huge, blubbering Sony fanboy. Ever since they suckered me in with the original Playstation I’ve been at early morning/midnight launch of their consoles, and I’ve happily parted with many dollars in order to get the console on the first day. I’ve never regretted doing this, especially with Sony’s habit of releasing consoles riddle with delicious exploits for the hackers to get their hands on. That, and they’ve now developed a nasty habit of removing features from their products in order to make them cheaper, something which I feel is a bit rough and doesn’t do them any favours PR wise.

So of course when it came time for work to replace my phone, you can probably guess who I turned to first to see if there was a suitable replacement.

Sony had decided that it needed to step into the arena of Windows smart phones and it’s first entry attempt is the Xperia X1 (which is sitting beside me as I type this). Sony can’t take all the credit for the handset however, as the internals of the handset were designed by smartphone giant HTC, who make pretty much every Windows smart phone you see despite the branding on the outside. This was a smart move by Sony as they whilst they have a small foothold in the laptop and UMPC market their experience with Windows based phones is nil, and established companies are typically risk adverse when it comes to cracking new markets.

They can take credit for a lot of other things to do with the handset. The overall design of the handset is stunning, with the body being mostly metal with plastic chrome flashing around the outside. This is one of the things that drew me to the handset initially, as it’s something different to the typical shiny black plastic you see on handsets these days. The arc-slider design, whilst by no means revolutionary, certainly adds a nice touch to the handset and helps to keep the device a bit slimmer then it’s counterparts.

Sony, as with most Windows mobile using companies, decided to rethink the default mobile UI and put their own system in. Traditionally this came as a re-skinning but many are now going for a complete overhaul of the default UI. The Xperia has a slight twist though, and that comes through the idea of panels.

The basic idea is that you can change between different default modes of operation for your phone. It’s actually not a bad idea and there are many panels out for things like Youtube and Facebook. They’re definitely a step up in terms of design when compared to the normal UI as they can take advantage of the IR trackpad at the base of the phone. The fish panel is a gimmick more then anything, but it’s a great thing to show people so they get a feel for what the phone is capable of.

What really suckered me in to this phone was is that everything just plain works. Every Windows mobile phone I’ve had has suffered from at least 1 or 2 shop stopping glitches that caused the phone to be next to useless around 50% of the time. My first ever phone, the O2 Atom Exec routinely suffered stability problems. After having it serviced (and the screen replaced, due to a drunken attempt at a commando roll) it would randomly turn itself off if touch, bumped or prodded. Something that was particularly distressing when you were on a call and needed to put it down to turn on the speaker. My most recent handset, the HTC Touch Diamond, did tick all the right boxes (size, weight, power, features) it also had a lovely habit of completely muting itself when someone rung, so that I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me. Several trips back and forth to the repair centre and online resources couldn’t turn up a fix. Pity I lost it as it would’ve made a great universal remote 🙂

The Xperia, whilst not a revolutionary piece of hardware or software does make some incremental changes that turn out to be a very usable phone in a delightfully sleek package. Sure it lacks an accelerometer and the IR trackpad, whilst a great idea, does turn out to be a bit lackluster but the build quality alone makes up for these lost features. Plus people won’t wonder why you’re so happy to see them when you put this phone in your pocket 😉

Overall I’m very pleased with my purchase and I’d love to see what else Sony has in store for this market. Whilst at the RRP of over AUD$1000 I’m not suprised that everyone is rushing out to buy one of these, but for the business and “prosumer” market it’s definitely in the ballpark.