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Windows Mobile 6.1: making phones fun?

Microsoft is intent on "making phones fun" and Windows Mobile 6.1 is the company's first step to realising this goal.

One-touch music

The third quarter of 2008 is promising some revolutionary changes for the smartphone landscape in Australia. Blowing in on these winds of change, alongside numerous eagerly anticipated handsets, is the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Mobile 6.1.

Previous versions of Windows Mobile have secured a respectable market share in Australia, providing solutions for business users looking to implement their mobile handsets into their daily workflow. The major downsides have been a drab aesthetic and ease of use; two important elements in appealing to a growing market of non-business consumers — a market Microsoft is keenly aware of.

"We're now reaching out to watershed consumers who want a phone that fits with the rest of their life," says John Starkweather Microsoft's Director of Product Management, Mobile Communications Business. "There are still things we're doing on the business side, but where we can get better is making the phones more fun to use."

Windows Mobile 6.1 is the first Windows Mobile platform to attempt this, incorporating "fun" elements like music and photos alongside business email and the daily organiser, as well as drastically improving ease of use.

From a demonstration of the new platform it's obvious that WM6 is still present, lurking behind the veneer of a new interface shell. We found the biggest change on the Home screen, which now gives access to most everyday applications like messaging, alarms and handset profiles. Most of these applications, such as the music player, can be used directly from the home screen without having to launch the application.

Threaded SMS — a "new" feature

Other notable improvements include single step set-up for Bluetooth headsets, and direct uploading of images from the home screen to selected photo blogs, such as Flickr and MySpace. Microsoft has included threaded SMS messaging — where consecutive messages from a single contact are displayed on a single page — and a surprisingly simple email set-up.

Performance of this platform, even on an older Motorola Q 9h model, seemed faster than we'd have expected. "In some of the phones there's a marked difference and with others it's on par," says Starkweather. "A lot depends on how the OEMs integrate it."

Windows Mobile 6.1 will make its local debut with the release of HTC Touch Diamond towards the end of June. Users of selected WM6 smartphones will also be able to upgrade their handsets around the same time. To date, this list includes i-mate's Ultimate 8502 and 9502, and HTC's TyTN II.

What's your opinion of Windows Mobile 6.1? Do you think these new features are a good step towards making your phone fun? In terms of smartphones, what do you think is the best operating platform for non-business users? Tell us your thoughts in the talk-back section below or leave your comments on the forums.