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REVIEW: MSN Direct for Windows Mobile Technology Preview
Posted by Arne Hess - on Friday, 29.02.08 - 15:33:10 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 21640x
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As expected, Microsoft introduced during the Mobile World Congress MSN Direct for Windows Mobile; which is designed to give you instant access to information such as weather, stocks, top news stories, entertainment news, sports news, business news and more. Yet available in a technology Beta, MSN Direct for Windows Mobile is available for Windows Mobile Standard smartphones only and pretty much U.S. centric, which makes sense since the original MSN Direct service never left North America but was always available for U.S. residents only.
And because the news sources are there already and used for MSN Direct as well as MSN itself, the MSN Direct team decided to develop its own Windows Mobile client to give Windows Mobile users similar information as SPOT watch users get. Like on the SPOT watch, content is automatically pushed and updated to give you a fast overview about the latest news.

As said, the MSN Direct service is available as a so called "Technology Preview" but already supports Windows Mobile 5.0 Smartphones and Windows Mobile 6 Standard smartphones. A touchscreen version is planned but not yet available.
Users can download the 450 KB application straight from the smartphone where it should be installed and after the installation, the application changes the Standard smartphone Home screen by adding MSN Direct which is presented in a glanceable format and is easily accessible.
Microsoft does not charge anything for the download or use of MSN Direct for Windows Mobile but the use of MSN Direct requires data connectivity (GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA, EV-DO, whatever) from your wireless carrier which may charge additional fees.

After the installation, MSN Direct adds a new panel to the Home screen which offers the following topics:

  • Top Stories: Keep up with current news and get breaking news from MSNBC.
  • Weather: Get the latest weather for your city.
  • Stocks: Manage your money on the go with stock quotes, news and more.
  • World News: Get the latest round-up in international news from MSNBC and partners.
  • Sports: Stay on top of the latest sports news.
  • Entertainment: Take a break and catch up on celebrity gossip and more.

To switch between MSN Direct channels, press left or right on the D-Pad:

This works when you're on the home screen (as above) as well as when you're in full screen mode:

However, if you are a current SPOT watch user, you might have noticed that this is just a subset of the available MSN Direct services for watches which additionally includes:

  • Traffic: Create custom routes that you want to track, and you'll see how fast traffic is moving along your route. You may also receive reports of traffic impacting incidents, such as accidents, construction, road closures, and more.
  • Movies: Stay up to date with the latest from Hollywood! Add Movies to your channel lineup and get a list of the current movies showing in your area with show times as well as a list of your local theaters that includes each movie playing and its show time-
  • Local Events: Stay in touch with the latest local arts and entertainment events in a city near you. You can choose from 27 different event categories (including concerts, art exhibits, festivals, and plays) and have up to 20 events per day.
  • Fun Trivia and Facts: Break up your day with trivia and fun facts - such as word of the day, quote of the day, on this day in history, and born on this day.
  • Horoscopes: Receive daily horoscopes for the astrological signs you want to track.
  • Lottery: Get the latest lottery numbers sent to your watch. Choose your favorite games available in your area and receive the drawing results automatically.
  • Outlook Calendar Appointments: View appointments and personal datebook entries from Microsoft Outlook and get times and locations for the events that are important to you.
  • Messages: Receive personal messages from your MSN Messenger list of family and friends.

Sure, Outlook appointments and Windows Live Messenger messages doesn't makes any sense since Windows Mobile has Outlook Mobile and Windows Live Messenger Mobile installed anyway but traffic information as well as the other channels might be interesting for some of you anyway.

Nevertheless, the existing channel information looks pretty similar to SPOT watches (and similar devices) except that MSN Direct for Windows Mobile supports colors as well as featuring images and even photos. But, a big difference to the one way receiving MSN Direct devices is that MSN Direct for Windows Mobile also offers a back-channel (via GPRS/UMTS) which means you can click on a headline to get more information. This opens the Internet Explorer Mobile which connects to the referring article at MSN:

That's indeed a nice combination of push and pull which reminds somehow on WAP push where you receive teaser messages as well, including a link. Nevertheless, here it works automated (and silently in the background) and MSN Direct takes care your smartphone is updated regularly.
Nevertheless, some of the channels above can also be customized, for instance you can select the city from which you want to get the weather forecast as well as your stock portfolio allows you to add your own symbols or News which allows to select the topic you get displayed (incl. World, Sports, Entertainment, Business, Travel, Tech, Health and News of the Weird). But you cannot further drilldown the general topics, for instance Sports news to Football, Baseball or Basketball news only.

So all together the service works quite well, even if I haven't figured out yet how much data it consumes.

Final Conclusion

First of all, I like the idea of MSN Direct and the fact, that it is a consumer-focused service. While Exchange pushes s E-Mails to Windows Mobile smartphones, MSN Direct for Windows Mobile pushes consumer orientated information to Windows Mobile smartphones, giving the user a fast and quick overview about the latest news. And since MSN Direct for Windows Mobile is yet available as a technology preview only it hasn't have to be perfect today.
But I found several inconsistencies like managing information channels. While SPOT watches are configured through a web frontend, it makes sense that a Windows Mobile smartphone can be configured from the device itself. However, it would be even nicer if it could be also configured and especially synchronized with other MSN Direct services (like the SPOT watches, coffee maker or navigation-systems). In this case, the information you might receive on different devices would be consistent.
Also unusual is the used GUI and it's not a typical Windows Mobile user interface. MSN Direct isn't using the Windows Mobile design but its own which makes the whole user experience inconsistent (even if I wouldn't say that MSN Direct's GUI is bad, far from it - it looks quite fresh).
Furthermore the content is too U.S. centric yet in all terms - from news to weather (I only found Berlin as the only German city) to sports to entertainment and since the news relies on content offered by MSN Direct, there's nothing I can do.
Therefore I wouldn't use MSN Direct for Windows Mobile every day yet but I would like to see further enhancements and feature improvements before it becomes a standard on my Home screen. For instance RSS support. Imagine your Internet Explorer 7 channels on your PC would sync with MSN Direct, then you can read the same news on your mobile device you are reading on your PC. Or a better interaction between MSN Direct for Windows Mobile and other MSN Direct devices to make sure theses devices are synchronized as well. Furthermore, quite important for me but also for world travelers, is the broader coverage of news. Football, Baseball and Basketball are all nice but in the rest of the world, Soccer, Formula One and other sports are more important.

But as I initially said, I'm quite happy that a division like the MSN Direct division is entering the Windows Mobile world to bring more consumer important joy to Windows Mobile.

Cheers ~ Arne

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