More Evidence of the Smartphone-Led Dumbing Down of Windows Mobile Devices

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I've argued elsewhere that even as Windows Mobile devices appear to be proliferating, they are also experiencing a "dumbing down." The most obvious harbingers of this unfortunate trend are the hype surrounding the non-Windows Mobile iPhone and the increasing presence of touchscreen-less Windows Mobile smartphones at the expense of Windows Mobile devices that have touchscreens.

I've also concluded that another sad effect (or is it a cause?) of the Dumb Down is that the previously unceasing march towards greater and greater processing power on Windows Mobile devices has not only stalled but has in fact reversed.

The most obvious indication that the march towards greater processing power has stalled is the fact that no Windows Mobile device that I'm aware of has exceeded a processor with a speed of 624 MHz. My HP iPAQ hx2755 has such a processor and it is almost two years old. That's two years without a single implemented advance.

But not only has no processor exceeded 624 MHz, only a handful of devices available today even include a 624 MHz processor. Towards the back of every issue of Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine you'll find an "at a glance" comparison chart that lets you easily perform a side-by-side comparison of the features of various Windows Mobile devices. A quick glance at this chart reveals that only 6 devices out of the 69 on the chart contain a 624 MHz processor. That's a mere 8.7%. But a closer examination paints an even more dismal picture: of these 6, one has recently been discontinued (the Dell Axim x51v) and 3 are "rugged" devices not fit for use by the average consumer, which for practical purposes leaves 2 out of 69 (2.9%) of devices with 624 MHz processors. To be fair, the chart does not contain every Windows Mobile device on the planet, but the picture that it reveals is nonetheless unmistakable.

A brief glance at the different sections of the chart reveals that most touchscreen-less smartphones contain atrophied 200 MHz or 312 MHz processors. The popular Motorola Q, for example, packs a weak 312 MHz punch, the also popular Samsung BlackJack an abysmal 220 MHz, effectively turning back the clock on mobile computing by three to five years.

Conclusion

It is an undeniable fact that the march towards greater processing power has stopped and that some blacksliding is occurring. It is also, arguably, certain that the touchscreen-less smartphone portion of the industry is leading the way. It's just a shame that they appear to have dragged the rest of the industry with them.

For the most part, agreed.

Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers should have a closer look at Nokia's and, as far as non-Symbian (but "dumb" Java midlet/music/camera) devices are concerned, Sony-Ericsson's handhelds. No wonder they are FAR more popular than Windows Mobile-based ones.

This is because of, for example, far more gaming-friendly handhelds. Just an example: currently, only one, not globally sold and, in other respects, pretty mediocre WM-based model, the O2 XDA Flame has a hardware 3D accelerator. Which was introduced 3 years ago to the Dell Axim x50v and had pretty big success among gamers / emulator users.

A2DP support, which would also be very important for the average user, is another question, which has always been a problem with WM-based devices and was only addressed (to some degree - unfortunately, it's still inferior, sound quality-wise, to the alternatives) in WM6.

The CPU speed question is another problem. Intel XScales indeed chew through batteries really quickly; no wonder hardware manufacturers tend to prefer TI OMAP-based architectures, which, while indeed introducing some kind of a speed hit, has incredibly god battery life. Probably a double-CPU approach would be great: a TI OMAP for simple usage and a very fast XScale for gaming, emulators, VGA etc, which, for the most time, would just be switched off.

Let's also add that another problem is, as you've also pointed out, is that Microsoft / the hardware manufacturers are copying too hard Nokia, which also means they dumb down their handhelds (but still not implementing Nokia's traditional strengths: A2DP, gaming support, 3D acceleration). Current WM-based handhelds are meant for the average phone users, not for a computing freak - no wonder a lot of WM geeks, who would use their handhelds as a desktop / notebook replacement, are REALLY disappointed.

This is another reason for the Apple iPhone to be so successful.

And yes, I've forgotten to add the question of ActiveSync (no longer supported Wi-Fi and backup/restore), call recording support (NOT supported by most WM-based devices, unlike most Nokia models) and BT DUN support (which was only recently re-introduced by some XDA-Developers hackers, including me; that is, in no way officially).

Thanks for your responses Werner.

I like your idea of a two-processor device. And I would be willing to trade battery life for more for processing power, although I know that this probably isn't the case for most people.

As you say, current WM-phones are targeted at the average user, not the WM Freak who would use their handhelds as a desktop replacement. But surely, there is a substantial group of people out there somewhere who still need increasingly powerful handheld computers, right?

The really frustrating thing is that, as you say, Windows Mobile itself and the tons of software available for the platform make it possible to use one's handheld as a desktop replacement to some extent, but now that this is true the hardware manufacturers have started making less capable handhelds! Why start only making inferior hardware for a mature platform? It wouldn't be that big of a deal if every manufacturer weren't doing it but they all seem to be (Thankfully, HP, my favorite manufacturer, has held out to some extent).

If the trend continues, I might have to start carrying a separate, non-phone device again in addition to my phone edition device.

Yes, I think the potential of dumbing down WM devices is yet another negative result of Microsoft ceding control of Windows Mobile platform to the phone companies in exchange for a increase in sales.

I think you're right Hal. I hadn't thought of it from that angle before.

While we're complaining about phone hardware, Will there ever be a WM phone edition device that has a 3.5" screen like my iPaq does? The 2.8" on my Samsung sch-i730 is usable but not that great. With the advent of slide out keyboards is there any reason that the face of the device can't regain its 3.5" dimension?

Ben, there's a (notwithstanding the "ancient" WM5 AKU3 OS) brand new 3.5" QVGA HTC phone, the P6300.

Thanks Werner, but I think the product specs say that it is another 2.8" device. They're available here:

http://www.europe.htc.com/z/pdf/products/1854_P3600_3G_PRODSHT_FRNT.pdf

Ben, you've actually got the product ID wrong. It's P6300, not P3600. Here's the URL: http://www.europe.htc.com/products/htcp6300.html and it is a 3.5" screen.

Thanks Eric! And thanks for pointing this out Werner.

Wow, I want one of these!!! Actually, it's all for the better I guess, since I don't have a spare $600 and don't know when I will (answer: never). [Edit: I do wish it had a speedier processor though].

Doesn't HTC have some sort of program where they give dedicated Windows Mobile bloggers who really think they'd love to try an HTC a free P6300? No? Are you sure? Do they want to start one?

Maybe they could include reviewers in that club as well. I've always wanted to start reviewing hardware :)

When they contact me to ask for my mailing address I'll be sure to send them your way too :)

Instead of the P6300, go for something better - for example, the VGA Flame (if its bugs are indeed fixed by the WM6 upgrade).

Oh man.....that Flame is awesome...I mean, wow is all I can say. Astoundingly expensive too. Werner, can you send me one of these?

[Edit: I could do without the VGA though. I still prefer having the widest possible range of apps and games, which limits the utility of owning a VGA device. I also would prefer a regular old SD slot rather than a microSD slot. But hey, nothing's perfect right?

I can't believe I haven't heard of this before. I usually focus on software rather than hardware because I don't buy new devices very often but I should have heard more about this device.]

Ben, I wish I had one :) Being located in Europe, we don't have Flames in the local shops either.

What I'm now waiting for is the Omni. It'll be based on the Q3Dimension/3D Graphics-enabled, Qualcomm MSM7200 chipset. It'll have WM6 and will support HSDPA/HSUPA, which the Flame doesn't support. Also, it'll surely have a much bigger userbase than the Flame, which also means much more frequent future upgrades (including cooked ROM's).

Sounds fantastic! Now if only someone would send it to me for free!

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