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When is a Smartphone not a Smartphone?

Posted on: July 31st, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 7 Comments

We’re for the most part fans of Microsoft around here, but every once in a while they do some things to really irritate us.

The continuous rebranding of their PDA operating system is an ongoing problem. First it was Windows CE (the “CE” didn’t stand for anything, or so they said), then it was Pocket PC OS, then Windows Mobile. So now your Pocket PC is a “Microsoft Windows Mobile-Based Pocket PC” or some such nonsense.

One of the major points of confusion right now is the new smartphones like the Motorola Q and the Treo 700w. While these are similar looking devices, one (the Q) is a Windows Mobile Smartphone and the other (Treo) is a Windows Mobile Pocket PC. This is despite the fact that both claim to run Windows Mobile 5. The truth is that the Treo does and the Q does not. You can thank Microsoft and Verizon for that bizarre lapse of marketing oversight.

The easiest way to tell at this point is to check whether or not the phone has a touch-sensitive screen. At least to date, if it has a touch screen it’s a Pocket PC. If it doesn’t, it’s a Smartphone.

Microsoft claims that the two brands are merging. In the future you’ll buy Windows Mobile devices and won’t worry about whether it’s a Pocket PC or a Smartphone. This is fine — we’re all for simplification. The problem is that the marketing horse seems to have gotten ahead of the development cart. Until the two separate operating systems are actually one — so that software can be targetted at one operating system for any kind of Windows Mobile device — they need to do a better job keeping the two brands separate.

In the meantime, tap your screen. If something happens, buy PocketBible for Pocket PC. If you just hear the sound of fingernail on plastic, buy PocketBible for Windows Mobile Smartphone.

7 Responses

  1. Dennis Murphy says:

    What is the opinion of the tmobile MDA phone as a smart phone or does it fall into the category as the Q?

  2. Dennis Murphy says:

    So is my MDA more of a Pocket PC and I should be using the pocket bible for pocket PC instead of the pocket bible for windows mobile smartphone which I just purchased last Saturday?

  3. Kevin Ha says:

    To make things easy, Laridian should offer both the phone and non-phone versions (the way they offer PocketPC and CE 2.x when you purchase the “Windows Mobile-based Pocket PCs)

    My other big complaint is that the bibles are not transportable.
    You guys should standardize on the bible format so I can switch between different devices from year to year without having to purchase all the bibles all over again. (think MP3)


  4. Ken says:

    Palm is not helping any by calling their 700w a “smartphone”. Users are often downloading either the Palm OS version or the Smartphone version of a product not realizing the actually need the Pocket PC version.

  5. Dennis: We don’t use all the different phones (there are too many) so we can’t comment on any one particular model. In general I like a device with a touch screen and handwriting recognition vs. using a thumb-board. If your MDA has a touch-sensitive screen you should use PocketBible for Pocket PC as this article imples.

    Kevin: We DO offer both phone and non-phone versions of PocketBible. The problem is that some Pocket PCs are “smartphones” but no “Smartphones” are Pocket PCs. It’s confusing.

    Regarding transportable Bibles: Our Bibles are actually transportable, but not the way you describe. There’s no way we can have a common format that is efficient on all platforms. Instead, once you’ve purchased a Bible, all versions of it (for all platforms) are in your download account. So if you switch from Palm to Pocket PC you just need to purchase PocketBible. Then just download the PocketBible versions of the Bibles you already own.

  6. Ron says:

    I have been involved with computers since 1978, and with Microsoft since MS Basic. I work professionally in the embedded development market. In this arena, we use what is known as an RTOS (Real-Time Operating System). I have also used their development tools extensively over the course of the past 25+ years.
    All the iterations of Windows CE are nothing more than a port of Windows xxx to the handheld market. It’s origin was never from a true RTOS, which stresses stability, responsiveness, and memory and resource conservation as its primary objectives. They have steadily improved their offering, but Microsoft in general has the same mindset as in the beginning – they are not a true technology company (meaning true innovation). They are first and foremost a marketing company, and the proof of it, unfortunately, is the poor quality, but worldwide domination of their products.
    Almost without exception, they destroy or purchase (and corrupt) true innovators in the marketplace. Because of this, superior products are eventually run out of town, and replaced with Microsoft’s inferior, but ubiquitous offerings.
    In the handheld marketplace, there are many better offerings, and leading the pack is the Palm OS. It is based on a true, commercially viable RTOS. The proof is in the stability of their offering, although rougue programs are giving it a bad rap. That said, I have never lost any data with the Palm. I have had some crashes, but have done a soft reboot and been back up and running in no time at all.
    I am in no way a Microsoft basher. In fact, when they were the little guys on the block, I was rooting for them against the technology giants such as IBM. In many ways they revolutionized the PC marketplace by wresting the power from the corporate giants that ceased to be responsive or innovative – resting on the laurels of their cash cows.
    Now Microsoft has become like these corporate giants, forcing their inferior products down the throats of their customers, the lifeblood of their existance. The only difference between them and the corporate giants they pushed aside, is in the propaganda they espouse, in the form of marketing hype, at the cost of true innovation. They have pulled the software wool over the eyes of the public, and many good software companies like Laridian, have bowed to this dominance in order to ride their coattails to economic success.
    From a business perspective, this makes complete sense. From a technical side, this is a sheer abomination of compromise – all for the pursuit of riches. Perhaps I am too much of a purist, but I come from an era where pride in workmanship was a cherished ideal. It is sad to see that more software companies have adopted this marketing model as one of success – success measured purely in dollars and cents, rather than quality and commitment, and the satisfaction of producing the best product available.
    Fortunately, Laridian has continued support of the Palm platform and I hope they never abandon it. The quality of their offerings in this environment is clear. I can’t speak for their products “running with the world” of Microsoft based platforms.

  7. Ron, it sounds like we have a similar background. I worked with CP/M 1.4 in an RTOS environment around 1979 and have used Microsoft tools since they were invented.

    PDAs don’t really need the real-time responsiveness of an RTOS. It’s important in certain types of applications to which you might want to apply Windows CE, but not for PIM apps running on a PDA. A port of the desktop Windows environment to these devices actually has a lot of advantages.

    First, from the developer’s point of view, it is a mature and well-understood set of APIs. This has unexpected advantages when applied to a new platform. Back when CE was new, the capabilities of the devices were still evolving. Because we were working with a mature API, we could write code to display “words of Christ in red” even before we had our hands on a device that could display color. Contrast this with Palm OS, which doesn’t have the history behind it that Windows does. There was no color API because there were no color devices. When OEMs began introducing color, each had to write their own API. Application developers were forced to determine the make and model of the device at run time in order to know how to draw in color.

    This shortsightedness gets really overwhelming when you multiply it by the number of new features that were coming out in those early years. Memory cards, sound, networking, high resolution — every major new device feature went through the same evolution: Manufacturers created their own APIs to make up for deficiencies in the OS, developers had to accommodate every device make and model at run-time, then eventually Palm would adopt a “standard” which was actually just one more API for developers to support.

    Such a situation sounds unavoidable in a rapidly evolving new product area such as PDAs were in the late 1990’s, but that only makes Windows CE seem more amazing. There is no make/model-specific code in PocketBible. There’s no “if this device has this feature then do this, else do this” code. Palm OS apps are full of such hacks. The maturity of the Windows model allows the hardware to evolve underneath it without changes to the applications that run on it.

    We, in fact, still use eVC 3 for development. Our applications would run on CE devices from 1998 if there were still any around. (Yes, we know there are some, but it’s such a small number now that we can’t afford to continue to support them.) The point is that the hardware has been able to get better without breaking apps the way it does on the Palm.

    The second advantage of porting Windows to a PDA is from the user’s point of view: It provides a familiar interface to applications. It’s so familiar, in fact, that users object to the features of Windows CE that were intended to make it more PDA-friendly (or more Palm-like). The best example of this is the treatment of the “exit” functionality. The Windows CE interface guidelines do not allow a program to expose an Exit menu item. The idea is that the OS controls the closing of apps as needed to free up system resources. This is the #1 most confusing aspect of Windows CE (now Windows Mobile). To minimize tech support calls, we added an option to the program to put an Exit item in the menu. It’s pretty much unnecessary, but it makes people feel good because it matches their expectations from teh desktop.

    While Windows CE has been able to grow with the capability of the hardware, Palm OS has not. It’s beginning to show up in sales. Windows Mobile owns about 50% of the PDA market; Palm OS about 15%. You can attribute this to Microsoft’s fantastic marketing machine if you want, but I would argue that a lot of it is technical supperiority.

    To support that argument, consider how badly Microsoft has marketed the OS. There are no Windows Mobile endcaps at retailers — each OEM is on their own. There are no joint marketing efforts among ISVs coordinated by Microsoft to reach consumers. In fact, Microsoft’s partner program offers no way for Windows Mobile consumer ISVs to join or benefit. There have been some limited campaigns to promote the OS, but nothing of any significance. It really is up to the guys at BestBuy to sell a customer on Windows Mobile, and that’s a scary thought.

    The other aspect of your comment I take issue with is the idea that developing for Windows Mobile is “compromise… for the pursuit of riches”. As a company we have an obligation to our employees and their families to be economically viable. We have a similar obligation to our customers, so that we can continue to support existing products and develop new ones. Our goal is to target any platform that has sufficient marketshare to support our very specialized niche of Christian software. Certainly both Palm and Windows Mobile satisfy that criteria.

    In summary, for a non-Microsoft-basher you do a good job of bashing Microsoft. :-) For the most part I don’t agree with the foundations of your argument, and I think you give the Palm OS way too much leeway when you use words like “quality” and “innovation” to describe it. I do, however, appreciate your support of our products and hope that you’ll continue to be able to use those words to describe what we do.

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