Keeping Up with the Joneses: Windows Mobile 6.1’s New Upgrades

icrosoft has recently updated its latest Windows Mobile 6 platform with a point one release–Windows Mobile 6.1. With so many new devices from handsets giants such as LG, Samsung, and of course, Apple, Microsoft is under intense pressure to improve its Windows Mobile platform’s usability (as is evident with this new release).

The new Windows Mobile 6.1 affects both Windows Mobile Professional devices as well as Windows Mobile Standard devices (more commonly known as Smartphones). However, the most noticeable improvements are on Standard devices, which do not have touch screens. Hence, this article will focus on some of the new features available on Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard. Note that most of the changes are UI-related and are incremental improvements over Windows Mobile 6. Radical changes won’t happen until the next major version of Windows Mobile arrives.

New Windows Mobile 6.1 Form Factors
In this updated release, Windows Mobile 6.1 supports some new form factors. For Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard devices, the following are the new form factors:

  • DPI: 131?Resolution: 320 x 320 pixels
  • DPI: 131?Resolution: 400 x 240 pixels
  • DPI: 131?Resolution: 440 x 240 pixels

For Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional devices, the following are the new form factors:

  • DPI: 96?Resolution: 240 x 400 pixels
  • DPI: 192?Resolution: 480 x 800 pixels

Improved Home Screen
The first noticeable improvement in Windows Mobile 6.1 is the Home screen. Figure 1 shows the Home screens of Windows Mobile 6 (left) and Windows Mobile 6.1 (right).


Figure 1. The Home Screens: These images show the home screens of Windows Mobile 6 and 6.1.
 
Figure 2. View the Connection Details: After specifying the database properties, you should see the data connection details.

Windows Mobile 6.1 uses a sliding panel display and users can scroll through the panels vertically and horizontally by using the directional key pads. Scrolling vertically shows the various categories of tasks that you can perform: Calls/Messaging, Appointments, Getting Started, Settings, and so on. Once a task is highlighted in the panel, you can drill down to the various other related tasks by pressing the left/right directional keys to view the other options horizontally. With this new improved Home screen, users should be able to quickly navigate to the required page with a minimal number of key presses. The Home screen is updated dynamically, depending on the settings you have configured on your device. For example, if you have configured Windows Live on your device (more on this later), the Windows Live panel will be displayed on the Home screen.

Figure 3. Email Config: Configuring email is a snap in Windows Mobile 6.1.

One welcomed improvement is the Start button. In Windows Mobile 6, the list of recently-used programs is listed on the top of the Home screen and pressing the Start soft key will display the list of programs available on your device. In Windows Mobile 6, pressing the Start soft key displays the list of recent programs (see Figure 2). To see the list of programs available on your device, you need to press the left soft key again.

Easier Setup
With Windows Mobile 6.1, Microsoft has made it easier for users to setup email accounts, pair up Bluetooth devices, as well as connect to wireless networks.

For email configuration, in Windows Mobile 6, you need to navigate to the Messaging application to configure a new email account. In Windows Mobile 6.1, you can simply navigate to the Getting Started panel in the Home screen (see Figure 3) and then select E-mail . . . Set up e-mail.

Configuring email account is a snap?I configured my Gmail account in less than 15 seconds. You just need to enter your email address and Windows Mobile will attempt to get the email settings from the Internet. Windows Mobile found an auto setup for my Gmail account and before I knew it, I was downloading my emails.

I decided to add another email account?this time for my Hotmail account. After Windows Mobile has detected the auto setup for Hotmail, it signs you in to Windows Live (see Figure 4).


Figure 4. Setting Up Hotmail: When 6.1 detects the auto setup for Hotmail, it signs you in to Windows Live.
 
Figure 5. Download Your Contacts: Your contacts in Windows Live can be downloaded into your local Contacts application.

You will also have the option to display the Windows Live on the Home screen. Finally, you can also choose to store your Windows Live contacts in your mobile phone’s contact list (see Figure 5).

Threaded SMS
Another useful improvement in Windows Mobile 6.1 is threaded SMS. SMS messaging now resembles instant messaging. In the past, all SMS messages are listed linearly, making it very difficult to see the conversation between different users. In Windows Mobile 6.1, SMS messages are grouped by senders (see Figure 6).


Figure 6. SMS Streamline: SMS messages are grouped by senders.
 
Figure 7. SMS Speed: SMS messaging is now instant messaging-like.

Selecting a particular user will reveal the list of conversations between you and the sender. At the same time you can also compose a message to reply to the recipient (see Figure 7).

Copy-and-Paste Support
One major complaint from Windows Mobile Standard device users is the lack of copy-and-paste support. Professional device users do not have this problem, as they can use the stylus to select blocks of code for copying and pasting. Windows Mobile 6.1 brings copy-and-paste to Standard devices (see Figure 8).


Figure 8. Copy-and-Paste: Copy-and-paste is now available for Standard devices.
 
Figure 9. The New Task Manager: The new Task Manager shows the applications running and their CPU and memory usage status.

Task Manager
One new application in Windows Mobile 6.1 is the task manager. In the past, it wasn’t possible to determine which applications were currently running on the device (in Windows Mobile 6 Professional, you can go to the Settings?>Memory’s Running Programs tab to see a list of running programs). In Windows Mobile 6.1, the new Task Manager shows the applications running and their CPU and memory usage status (see Figure 9).

You can use the Task Manager to quickly switch between applications. This feature is especially useful for Windows Mobile Standard users.

Internet Explorer Mobile
Internet Explorer Mobile in Windows Mobile 6.1 gets a very important update?new Zoom feature. If you have been using Windows Mobile in the past to surf web pages, you know how difficult it is to navigate full-size web pages using such a small screen. In Windows Mobile 6.1, Internet Explorer Mobile now has a new Zoom feature that allows a page to be zoomed out so that you can select the part of the page upon which to focus. For example, Figure 10 shows the DevX.com page viewed using the Internet Explorer Mobile.


Figure 10. Full-Size Web Pages: Viewing the full-size page of DevX.com.
 
Figure 11. Zooming: Selecting a part of the page to zoom in.

You can press the Zoom Out soft key to view the entire page so that you can position the magnifier on the section of the page you want to view and zoom in (see Figure 11).

Figure 12. Supported Devices: The Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 and the HTC Touch Dual.

Devices Running Windows Mobile 6.1
At this moment, there aren’t many devices running Windows Mobile 6.1. However, there are a few announcements from vendors such as Sony Ericsson and HTC about their new devices running Windows Mobile 6.1. Figure 12 shows the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 and the HTC Touch Dual.

Check with your device manufacturers to see if they offer an update to upgrade your Windows Mobile 6 devices to 6.1.

Windows Mobile 6.1 Emulator Images for Developers
For developers, Microsoft has provided the emulator images for Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional and Windows Mobile 6.1 Standard. You can download the images here.

Once the emulator images are installed, you can then test your applications from within Visual Studio 2008.

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