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IE Mobile overhaul: Sleek yet weak?

Microsoft has big plans for the new mobile browser, but they're not what you'd expect. Initial release won't include text searching, image downloading, tabbed browsing, or add-on support.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer Mobile
Internet Explorer Mobile's sexier look. Microsoft

I sat down with Microsoft on Wednesday at CTIA 2009 to take a closer look at the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system first previewed at GSMA Mobile World Congress. As part of a much riskier design that users will probably either appreciate or hate, the smartphone operating system includes a complete overhaul to Internet Explorer Mobile.

IE Mobile will sport a cleaner design, with icons large enough for you to put down the classic touch-screen stylus and start using your fingers. Round navigation buttons line the bottom of the screen and then fade from view until you tap them. The hideaway menu is similar to that of Opera Mobile 9.5 and the forthcoming Firefox for Mobile.

While IE Mobile will be sleek indeed, it's also weak on features, at least if your goal is to replicate the trappings of desktop browsing on smartphones. In the initial release, there will be support for Flash Lite for videophiles to enjoy, as well as copy and paste features, but there won't be text searching within a document, image downloading, tabbed browsing, or support for browser add-ons.

What Microsoft is offering, however, is a promise of performance that encompasses swifter rendering speeds and better follow-through on complex Internet tasks, like checking into a flight online without the browser crashing. With the next Internet Explorer build, Microsoft says it will focus on increasing its success rate of completing complicated tasks.

Whether this back-to-basics model will be able to grab some of the excitement mounting around feature-rich mobile browsers like Opera Mobile and Firefox Mobile (code-named Fennec) will remain to be seen until Internet Explorer Mobile ships on the first Windows Mobile 6.5 smartphones in the latter half of 2009.