SAN DIEGO, Calif., Sept. 6, 2001 — Attendees at this year’s DemoMobile conference in San Diego got a sneak preview today of Microsoft Pocket PC 2002, the engine that will power a new generation of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). In the first public demonstration of this groundbreaking new software, the Pocket PC team showed off some of the advances that Pocket PC 2002 offers, including a stylish new interface, new functionality designed to help deliver the benefits of mobile computing to business users, and new features that make it easier than ever to connect to colleagues, friends and family. Ben Waldman, vice president of the Mobile Devices Division at Microsoft, spoke with PressPass about what Pocket PC 2002 — slated to hit the stores Oct. 4 — means for the industry and customers.
PressPass: It sounds like this new version of Pocket PC software includes significant improvements. What are some of the goals that your team set out for itself when it started working on Pocket PC 2002?
Waldman: The first release of Microsoft Pocket PC, in April of last year, really raised the standards bar for mobile computing by extending the value of the PDA beyond simple personal information management. Now people expect to get state-of-the art features like e-mail, the Internet, music, eBooks and more.
When we sat down to create Pocket PC 2002, we had a few overarching goals in mind. First, we were committed to providing an even better mobile experience. We felt that one of the best ways to achieve that was to get together with people who were already using the Pocket PC to find out how they use their devices and what we could add or change that would help them be more productive. I’m proud to say we addressed the top 30 feature requests with Pocket PC 2002. Second, we looked at ways we could improve the Pocket PC so that it would extend even more of the power of the desktop PC to mobile business users. Finally, we wanted to incorporate new technologies and options, so that connectivity and communication would be richer and easier than ever. I think we reached these goals, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done. To me, it’s pretty clear that we are again setting a new PDA standard with Pocket PC 2002.
PressPass: What are some of the most notable changes in Pocket PC 2002, compared with the previous version?
Waldman: I think people will notice the difference as soon as they turn on the device. We’ve created a stylish new look and feel that is a lot easier on the eyes, and is also quite a bit easier to use. The first thing you’ll notice is the new Today screen that shares icons with our Windows XP user interface, but is adapted to a PDA and fully customizable. The Today screen is the starting point for most of what you’ll do with a Pocket PC, and you can personalize it by building your own theme or “skin.” Essentially, a skin is a custom image applied to the Today screen, which changes the look, feel and colors of the menus, toolbars and notifications — it is the universal visual theme that you chose or create for your own Pocket PC. If you’re a home user, for example, you might make the background for your Today screen a family photo. Or, if you’re corporate user, you can put in a company logo, and then customize interface colors to match your corporate look. Users can even share “skins” back and forth by sending them with just a few simple taps.
But our changes aren’t all about how the software is dressed. We addressed feedback regarding the existing Pocket PC applications and added a bunch of stuff that sometimes seems small but is really important to customers. Some of the top additions include adding folder support in Inbox, being able to sort Contacts by company name, adding spell check to Pocket Word and Inbox, adding context menus in Pocket Excel and Word and adding WAP support to Pocket Internet Explorer.
Another important change we’ve made is the addition of a feature called “smart minimize.” One thing we heard from a lot of customers is that they wanted it to be easier to navigate between applications. Now, all you have to do is hit the smart minimize button to take you to the application you want to use, without having to re-open it.
We’ve also done quite a bit of work to make notifications more effective. We recognize that people spend a lot of time dealing and interacting with notifications, and we wanted to make that interaction both friendly and customizable. As notifications occur, they come down from the top of the screen in a bubble, enabling the user to react to them or save them for later.
PressPass: What kind of work was done to make Pocket PC 2002 a great platform for business users?
Waldman: Pocket PC has really begun to resonate with business users and corporate customers, and a lot of the work we did for Pocket PC 2002 is targeted specifically at these users. We made a lot of initial investments in the platform that have made it a great fit for corporations — from plumbing being based on Win32 APIs that that tie well into companies’ existing infrastructure, to a great development environment with familiar tools. We’re already seeing a lot of companies bring their line of business applications over to Pocket PCs — either through their own applications or Web-based solutions using Pocket Internet Explorer.
The Pocket PC offers tremendous opportunities for companies to create real competitive advantages by making their mobile workforce more productive. These mobile devices provide the ability to be connected to the office and to act on what is happening there, no matter where you may be. This is a very powerful notion. As a result, we believe that there is significant business value for companies desiring a robust, portable and reliable way to allow their mobile workers to stay connected to important business information.
To that end, you’ll find range of enterprise-class features that are new to Pocket PC 2002 and that the competition doesn’t deliver. On most other platforms, you simply can’t connect straight to your corporate network. Pocket PC 2002 is the first to provide a client that supports a virtual private network or VPN. With VPN, you can access a corporate network over a public link or on a wireless network connection and synch your e-mail, browse a network file share and have access to all of the same information that you would if you were sitting at your desk in your office. We’ve also included a Terminal Services Client, which will make it possible to utilize line-of-business applications residing on a corporate server even while you are out working in the field. Internally, a few thousand Microsoft employees have had a chance to utilize these features and the response has been tremendously positive. I can’t overstate how compelling we believe these features will be to the business audience.
PressPass: Security is a big issue for corporate users. What are some of the new security features included in Pocket PC 2002?
Waldman: One of the big issues for companies is what happens when somebody loses a mobile device. More significant than the cost of the device is the value of the intellectual property that the device holds and the access to corporate information that it could provide. In the past, Pocket PC offered support for 4-digit numeric passwords. With this new version we’ve added support for strong, alphanumeric passwords like you use in Windows 2000. In addition, we’re the first to expose an anti-virus API interface to make it easy for third-party developers to write software that protects against virus attacks.
PressPass: Is it easier now to upgrade the software on a Pocket PC?How does that work, and why is it so important for business users?
Waldman: With Pocket PC 2002, we support standard flash memory. That means you can change or update the platform through software. You don’t need to physically open the device and do something like change a ROM. This is critical for corporate customers who have to be able to provide their workforce with new applications quickly and easily on a regular basis, as business needs change.
PressPass: Earlier, you mentioned enhancements to connectivity and communication. What are some of the most important changes in those areas?
Waldman: Our starting point is the belief that there doesn’t need to be two different Internets, one for wireless users and one for wired users, or one for desktop machines and one for smaller devices. There should be a single Internet that is flexible enough and scalable enough to meet the needs of all users, no matter how they connect or what device they use to view information.
With that in mind, we’ve created Pocket PC 2002 with built-in support for a range of new connectivity options covering wide, local and personal-area networks and supporting wireless standards, including things like CDPD, GPRS, 802.11b and Bluetooth. We did a lot of work on Pocket Internet Explorer to provide easier access to content, both by supporting more standards — including XML, HTML, dHTML and WAP, which allows delivery of low-bandwidth text-only content — and by adding features that make it easy to select exactly what content you download onto your device. For example, if you are connected over a low-bandwidth air link, you probably don’t want to be flooded with bandwidth-intense graphics. Pocket Internet Explorer for Pocket PC 2002 lets you toggle specific images on or off so you only pull down the content that is important to you.
Along with the benefits of wireless there sometimes arises some complexity, so we worked to minimize this by automating a bunch of processes, including e-mail and Pocket Internet Explorer set-up.
In addition, Windows Media Player in Pocket PC 2002 provides full support for streaming audio and video. That is something our competitors won’t be able to deliver anytime soon.
PressPass: Is Pocket PC 2002 also providing support for instant messaging?
Waldman: Instant messaging is an extremely compelling way for people to stay connected with friends, family and business colleagues, and we believe it is an especially important tool for mobile business users. One of the most exciting additions to Pocket PC 2002 is the MSN Instant Messenger client. The instant messaging you’ll see replicates much of what people are used to on the desktop, with some added features that optimize the experience for a small handheld device.
PressPass: Will Pocket PC 2002 be able to connect with Palm-based devices?
Waldman: There are two main things we’ve done in terms of being Palm-friendly. First, we’ve added beaming capabilities that extend beyond the Pocket PC through an industry standard protocol (OBEX). What we found when we met with customers was that users of handheld devices love to exchange information. The more you can share your contacts, calendars and files with other uses, the more valuable your device is. So now we’ve built in the ability to beam information not only between Pocket PCs, but to Palm-based devices, mobile phones and more.
The other thing we did was enhance one of the input methods on Pocket PC 2002. Customers can now use what we call Block Recognizer, which supports all of the same characters that Palm’s “Graffitti” recognizer can read.
PressPass: When Pocket PC 2002 hits the streets Oct. 4, how many different hardware choices will consumers have?
Waldman: All of the hardware makers who currently build Pocket PCs are moving forward with new versions that support Pocket PC 2002. That’s more than a dozen manufacturers. In addition, there is a great deal of interest from a number of new hardware manufacturers. We expect a bunch of them to be ready with us on Oct. 4, with more to come shortly thereafter.
PressPass: Earlier, you mentioned that you thought Pocket PC 2002 would speed up adoption of handheld devices by business users. How widespread do you expect the Pocket PC to become in general?
Waldman: I believe we’re right at the edge of an era where the Pocket PC will become ubiquitous. For the handheld computer to become a part of day-to-day life the way cell phones have, they have to offer more than calendars, contacts and to-do lists. What we found when we met with customers is that they want to do more. In this new version, we’ve delivered a product that really pushes the envelope in terms of what people can expect from their PDA. I believe what you’ll see happen first is a wave of adoptions by corporations as they discover the tremendous opportunities for increased productivity. We also expect to see an increase in the number of applications and services being written for the Pocket PC.
One fact that supports the notion that the Pocket PC is about to take off is the sheer number of downloads we’ve seen for our developer tools. To date, more than 140,000 copies of the Embedded Visual toolkit have been downloaded. That’s a really strong indication that excitement is building around the Pocket PC platform.