2016: Windows Mobile 6.5 is still out there
In 2007 I was working with implementation of Windows Mobile based enterprise mobility solutions. At that time and a few years after Windows Mobile was the premium platform for mobilizing workflows. We all know the story of how iPhones and Android-based smartphones has taken over the consumer market and the majority of the enterprise market since. However in one area the ancient Windows Mobile 6.5 platform is still the most widespread and trusted.
In my present function as SAP Mobility Consultant I still meet solutions based on Windows Mobile 6.5 in settings like warehouses, retail, logistics and other settings requiring frequent and efficient barcode scanning and a stabile and proven OS. When I say Windows Mobile I mean the old school Windows Mobile 6.5 (or Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 as it was renamed in 2011) that was later forgotten by most as Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 in order to try to get into the consumer market. Which later turned into Windows Phone 8, 8.1 and now Windows 10.
10 to 15 years ago Microsoft had the enterprise handheld market by its feet. There was no serious alternative. Companies like Intermec, Psion, Honeywell and Motorola produced ruggedized devices with integrated scanners which lay the foundation for enterprise mobility solutions that have streamlined business processes in thousands of businesses around the world. Today many of these enterprise mobility solutions still remain in use and even new software implementations relying on tough and rugged devices and efficient barcode scanning are inclined to choose Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 as the mobile OS platform.
Android based ruggedized devices with integrated barcode scanners have been an alternative for some years now but many companies are not willing to go down that alley due to the fragmentation of the Android OS and a lot of companies do not want to deviate from their Microsoft based infrastructure. Google offer very short security update life cycles for their OS versions (usually a few years). This is another reason for enterprises not to favor Android.
In a SAP ERP context an OData API is not supported in Windows Mobile 6.5 and support for developing KAPSEL/Cordova apps is very poor as HTML5 is not supported. Support depends on hardware manufacturers specialized software components. This leaves SAP mobility projects in a position where the decision does not seem difficult. However, with Android possibly not being favorable due to security considerations the decision is not easy.
Microsoft’s transition towards Windows 10 has left this business area heavily neglected in favor of trying to capture the mobile consumer market. Hopefully Microsoft will soon again draw attention to this area of the enterprise market and allow hardware producers to once again believe in a stabile Windows Mobile environment so that companies can advance from the soon to be no longer supported OS (2020).
Microsoft support end date:
With Windows 10 gaining ground the time has come for Microsoft to reveal if they have ambitions to reestablish their position in this market and whether manufacturers of ruggedized handheld computers will regain their trust in a stabilized Microsoft mobile strategy. Truth is there is still a lot of barcode scanner dependent mobile solutions out there that would benefit from an upgrade. I believe both users and IT departments would love to see these solutions take advantage of the technological progress we have seen in hardware and software since Windows Mobile 6.5.
Morten Westergaard Milbak
SAP Mobility Consultant