This article is second in a series on Windows Mobile. Here we explore the development of the platform, the devices it enables, and the business applications it makes possible.
>>Read part 1: Recapping Windows Mobile development
>>Skip ahead to part 3: Successful mobility with Windows Mobile
Unlike most other smartphone operating systems, Windows Mobile did not start out powering cell phones or pagers. Rather, its computer operating system heritage gave Windows Mobile a head start on powering small/mobile devices with diverse programming needs. By separating out the WinCE core, Microsoft created an easily embedded modular OS that manufacturers have since incorporated into a wide array of consumer and business products.
The latest version of this core is called Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R3. This small (300 KB) 32-bit real-time OS can run multiple tasks concurrently on ARM, MIPS, SH4 and x86 processors, serving as the "brain" for devices commonly found today in homes, stores, factories, hospitals and offices. For example, many consumers own game consoles, digital photo frames, media players, navigation systems and television set-top boxes based on WinCE (below).
In addition to the booming consumer electronics market, there are many different WinCE-powered devices used by businesses -- especially in vertical markets that can readily benefit from process automation and workflow mobilization. For example:
- Retail establishments and warehouses commonly use barcode and RFID scanners, mobile point-of-sale (PoS) terminals and kiosk registers that run some flavor of WinCE.
- Factories often employ industrial control systems, process monitoring devices and human machine interfaces that are based on WinCE.
- Field service and delivery workers often rely on WinCE-powered ruggedized scanners, handheld terminals and vehicle navigation systems.
- Health care workers use IV pumps, bedside/remote monitors, portable ultrasound scanners and voice-over-IP badges and phones that run on WinCE.
Mobilizing business operations can increase productivity, reduce data entry errors and speed responses to customers and coworkers. Specialized devices running WinCE (below) have long helped businesses achieve these goals by enabling mobile or remote access to business data and as-needed communication between business systems and workers. For example, tens of thousands of FedEx drivers and warehouse workers now record shipment progress and delivery using Motorola MC9500 ruggedized WinCE handhelds.
WinCE is popular among device manufacturers because it can adapt to so many varied and challenging hardware platforms while leveraging familiar development tools and expertise. Of course, few end users realize that all of these purpose-built devices use WinCE. When most users hear "Windows Mobile," they picture smartphones. But even Windows Mobile 6.x phones carried by so many knowledge workers today come in a variety of shapes and sizes (below).
Why? Diverse jobs call for different devices. On-the-go workforces that conduct business in harsh or wet conditions often require rugged smartphones (right). Mobile professionals who communicate with brief messages may prefer touch screens with virtual keyboards (center), while those required to precisely input a lot of data benefit from integrated physical keyboards (left).
Beyond intended use, factors like carrier, coverage, network and peripheral interfaces, on-board GPS, expandable storage, battery life, OS version, price and IT endorsement can also affect smartphone selection. Today, it is common for an IT organization that has standardized on the Windows Mobile platform to offer employees a choice of devices that reflect differences in work location, tasks, applications and personal preference.
>>Continue to part 3: Successful mobility with Windows Mobile
This was first published in January 2010