Can Windows Mobile 6.5 reinvent the user experience?

Microsoft is expected to formally unveil its Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system during next month's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, and already there are more leaks than a secondhand diaper. While the rumors and speculation run the gamut from convincingly credible to wildly unlikely, some cold, hard facts surfaced over the weekend when device manufacturer CompuLab posted screenshots of the OS on its website in conjunction with its new exeda smartphone. "To demonstrate just how friendly to developers exeda is, CompuLab software team brought-up Windows Mobile 6.5 Alpha on exeda the same day it was released," the website reads, while the accompanying images depict a honeycomb-like application launcher user interface enabling one-touch access to apps including Internet Explorer, Messaging, Calendar and Tasks. The homescreen also boasts a large "X" button in the upper right corner, presumably simplifying application shutdown.

Mobile World Congress should signify a watershed moment for Microsoft's mobile aspirations--CEO Steve Ballmer is keynoting the event, and in addition to WinMo 6.5, the software giant is expected to launch its long-awaited SkyMarket application storefront as well as SkyBox (a new solution that synchronizes mobile device information with the web) and SkyLine (a business version of business version of SkyBox that features hosting support with the Microsoft Exchange configuration). In a recent interview with The New York Times, Microsoft's mobile communications division senior vice president Andrew Lees said that while Windows Mobile previously appealed to enterprise users, the firm is now more aggressively targeting the consumer demographic dominated by rival Apple's iPhone: "Everyone who is a business person is also a human being," he said. "We want also to do human things like photos, music, communications, IM, texting and social networking."

More specifically, it appears Microsoft will endeavor to simplify the mobile user experience. Lees cites the familiar example of consumers who are unable to figure out how to upload photos from their phones to the web: "What should happen is when you take a picture it should ‘automagically' arrive on your PC and be in the cloud," he said. "I should be able to fix the red eye on the PC and have it ‘automagically' go back and fix the red eye everywhere else." Lees added that your handset should also know your friends via social networking connections and automatically--excuse me, "automagically"--send them the photo and collect their comments about it. Open source operating systems like Android and Symbian can't offer that kind of integration, Lees argued: "[Handset makers] are going to look around at what their options are and say ‘Is open source going to do all the things I need to do to compete with Windows Mobile? Is it going to create the social experience, the e-mail experience and all the other experiences people want?'" But Lees doesn't pose the bigger rhetorical question, so I will: Is Windows Mobile 6.5 going to do all the things it needs to do to compete with Mac OS X and BlackBerry? -Jason