Windows Mobile 6.5 “Windows Phones” Launching October 6: Let the Branding Confusion Commence!

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile Blog announced…

Windows phones are Coming on October 6th!

This launch includes new phones (yay!), new branding (again?), three of the four largest U.S. mobile phone carriers (everyone except T-Mobile USA), and the first time I can think of that Microsoft released a “half” update (Windows Mobile 6.5). They’ve delivered “.1” updates like Windows 3.1. They’ve delivered a pair of second editions (Windows 98 2nd Edition & Pocket PC 2003 2nd Edition). Their server products have had a bunch of “R2” (Release 2) updates for their server products. But, I can’t recall another “.5” update. This 6.5 release is a desperate attempt to counter the iPhone’s tremendous market and mindshare by revitalizing Windows Mobile’s touch interface. This is truly ironic since Windows Mobile has had a touch interface since 1996. But, in Microsoft previously frantic attempt to compete with the then (and still) popular RIM BlackBerry thumb keyboard-centric devcies, they (Microsoft) defocused on the touchscreen and placed all their eggs in the non-touch keyboard-centric Windows Mobile Standard Edition phone models.

This strategy backfired on them when the iPhone shook up the smartphone market in the summer of 2007 with a touchscreen keyboardless phone. In the meantime, they had to deal with is probably a complete redesign for Windows Mobile 7 based on the Windows CE 6 engine instead of the CE 5 engine they had been using for years. The combination of the resurgence of the touchscreen interface and what is probably a major under-the-hood redesign left them stuck with what should have been called Windows Mobile 5 2nd Edition instead of Windows Mobile 6 when they released it in February 2007. Windows Mobile 6.5 attempts to apply a cosmetic user-interface touchscreen bandaid on a platform that will be over 5 years old (Windows Mobile 5 was released in May 2005) when Windows Mobile 7 finally emerges from hiding next year.

Microsoft said: You’ll see us try to simplify our branding so it’s easier for people to know when they’re carrying a Windows phone and easier to find them in stores.. But, you know what? It is hard for people to identify with a brand that changes its name too frequently: Windows CE, Handheld PC 2000, Palm PC (every so briefly), Palm-size PC, Pocket PC, Windows Mobile Professional Edition, Windows Mobile Standard Edition, and finally, Windows Phone. And, since the hardware manufacturers want their name up front in the biggest letters, there is no way that the Windows Phone branding will resonate beyond gadget-fans.

Still, I’m hoping my recently purchased HTC Touch Pro2 will get a 6.5 upgrade pack from T-Mobile. But, the really interesting release will be Windows Mobile 7. It has a lot to counter since Apple will probably have their 4th generation OS released by the time Windows Mobile 7 is available.

You can find the Microsoft Press Release here:

Microsoft to Deliver New Generation of Windows Phones on Oct. 6