Jason GordonFor this week's installment of the Engadget Interview we logged some time on the phone with Jason Gordon, Product Manager for Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices Division. We weren't able to trip him up and get him to spill the beans about anything that hasn't been announced yet (people can be so damn professional that way), but he did talk about where the Windows Mobile operating system (which is used in Pocket PCs and Smartphones) is at today and where it's headed:

For a few years it seemed like every new Pocket PC was a lot like the one before it, why are we suddenly seeing so much variation now?


We finally reached the point where the platform is mature and it gave the manufacturers more room to innovate. With the latest release of Windows Mobile for Pocket PC 2003 Special Edition, we added support for VGA resolution displays, switching from portrait to landscape mode, and took away the screen-size requirements. Just look at the T-Mobile's MDA III [aka HTC's Blue Angel], it's got impressive hardware specs, a keyboard, WiFi, GSM…

What we're seeing is really a maturity of the software. The software battle is played out, if you look at the [research firm] Gartner's last report, we're neck and neck with Palm. If you think back a couple of years, that's big, especially if you look at the global market share for handhelds and smartphones, we're still pretty early in the game.

We've got ten manufacturers coming out with smartphones, but remember we're still only at mile post one or two of a marathon. The software has matured and the hardware is coming of age, and we're starting to see handsets with multiple radios, Bluetooth, WiFi, different types of user interfaces.

So what comes next?


Over the next 12 months you'll see lots of new services, like software that makes you more productive whether you're working out of the office or not, and you'll have lots of multimedia and photo options for your personal time.


But what are some web services we might expect to see?


Web services will generally be based around the operators or carriers, but we think that location-based information is going to be the killer app, like location-based coupons, friend networking, and being able to take advantage of the GPS capabilities we?ll start seeing in handsets soon. But if I knew what that one killer service would be, I?d probably quit my job and start my own company to do that! But just to give you an example, in the UK they have a service for when you?re driving so you can find out where all the speed traps are. You can basically click a button and have access to a map with all the real-time updated info and speed traps and where they?ve popped up in the past week.

Ok, but what does Windows Mobile let people do that couldn?t be done on another platform?


It?s the development platform we bring. From developer?s perspective, for example we hear that it?s easier to develop apps like games for Windows Mobile than other platforms. Our .NET Compact Framework Visual Studio TK is the number one development app in the world and a superset of that runs on mobile devices.

One of the biggest complaints about Smartphone OS is that it?s too complicated for most people. Are there plans to introduce a lite version that?s more consumer-friendly?

We offer the broadest set of tools and platforms for mobile devices, but if handset manufacturers want their own phone user interface they can do that with Windows CE. It doesn?t come with the Pocket versions of the different applications, but it uses the same infrastructure as Windows Mobile.

You mentioned web services, but what about just specifically on the hardware side of things? Is anyone working on a competitor to Danger?s Hiptop2/Sidekick II or something that?ll try to go after the youth market?

I can?t talk about anything that?s unannounced (nice try though), but we?ll have at least ten or twelve Smartphones coming out next year.

Why are Windows Mobile and Portable Media Center two different operating systems? Wouldn?t it make sense for them to converge?

We?ve always thought that support for multimedia was important, whether you were talking about phones or PDAs, which is why we have support for Windows Media 9 in Windows Mobile, but there are a lot of people who want a full vertical media experience, and don?t have the need for PIM or productivity applications. We think a lot of people who buy a Portable Media Center are also going to want a phone, but music, movies, TV, and photos are a different experience on a phone and we recognize that.

What?s lacking right now with regards to Windows Mobile?

We find that most people are very happy with Windows Mobile software, and we?ve always spent a lot of time listening to and incorporating customer feedback to make sure we are delivering the software platform that delivers the experience customers are looking for. Working with our partners there are certainly areas that we continually look at to improve such as power efficiency, wireless ease of use and management, messaging, media and synchronization.
 
What is the general direction for Windows Mobile? How much more can it evolve?

We?d like to continue to build a smart mobile software platform that allows our device, software and mobile operator partners to innovate and bring the best mobile experience to customers.  I think we are on the cusp of seeing some very radical applications and mobile Web service scenarios that few of us can imagine. We have a lot to look forward too.

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The Engadget Interview: Jason Gordon, Product Manager for Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded Devices Division