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THOUGHT: Why no Office Suite for Windows Mobile Smartphone? [unwired::cast]
Posted by Alfredo Padilla - on Monday, 28.08.06 - 08:03:54 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 17252x
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Notes: Well folks, this is my first Thought since announcing our new unwired::cast, and as promised you can scroll down to the bottom of the article and download it in audio format for your listening pleasure. Also, because of the confusion over the word "smartphone", as it can refer both to all mobile devices that have an extensible OS and to the specific Windows Mobile smartphone edition, I will use the term WM smarthphone to distinguish the latter.

One of the amazing things about smartphones is that you are carrying around what is for the most part a fully featured and powerful computer in a phone sized device. Unfortunately for me, there are still things that a 15 year old computer can do that my smartphone can't, despite the fact that it has a more powerful processor, more RAM and more memory than any 15 year old computer. Probably the thing lacking that bothers me the most is the fact that there is no office suite for Windows Mobile smartphone edition devices.

The Pocket PC version of Windows Mobile comes with a built in office suite, including the ability to edit Word and Excel documents. However, when designing the WM smartphone platform, Microsoft decided that office document functions were one of the areas they were willing to sacrifice in order to have a smaller and simpler device, as a result no office suite was included. I understand this decision on the part of Microsoft, although I'm relatively sure that future iterations of Windows Mobile will include an office suite for WM smartphone devices. What I don't understand is the almost complete and utter failure of the development community to step in and fill what can only be described as an obvious need.

The only third party program that fills a niche in the office suite area is PTab Spreadsheet, which allows you to view and edit Excel documents. I LOVE Ptab, it is the only thing that made the move from a pocket pc device to a WM smartphone device possible for me because I use spreadsheets for everything. For example, when I go to the gym and work out, I use a spreadsheet to track information. When I buy something, i use a spreadsheet as my checkbook. When I want to plan out a purchase, or organize my thoughts I use spreadsheets. I think the success of PTab, it's currently the 2nd most popular program on, only reinforces the fact that WM smartphone users want the functionality that an office suite provides, yet no one has developed a complete solution.

There are several companies that sells what are called "office viewers". These programs allow you to view Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents, but do not allow you to edit them. Unfortunately, for the most part these programs are fairly useless. The reason is, that most viewers simply create an image of the document that you can then zoom in, out and around in. Especially for Word documents, this involves a ton of vertical scrolling, horizontal scrolling and zooming. If you absolutely need to get some information off of a document, then yes it is a nice feature to have, but if, for instance, you are on the go and want to quickly read a 2 page memo that's important to the meeting your headed to, its just painful. On a device where an entire web page can be reformatted to easily fit on my screen, there is no reason why I should have to read a document 5 words at a time.

Some of you might say that I'm just being unreasonable. WM smartphone devices are supposed to be less powerful and provide less functionality. Plus you really need a touchscreen to properly edit office documents. To those of you who say that, I say Bollocks! and Bollocks! First of all, except for this office suite issue, there is almost nothing I can't do on my WM smartphone that I could do on my pocket pc. As for the need for a touchscreen, there simply couldn't be anything further from the truth. As proof, I direct you to Symbian S60 devices, which lack a touchscreen but have had fully functional office suites for ages. In fact there is competition in the S60 world for which company is going to provide you with that functionality.

So again I'm left to ask, why the lack of an office suite for WM smartphone? It's not like there's a lack of demand, in fact in an article I read a month or so ago (I tried to find the source but sadly couldn't so your just going to have to trust me on this one) a poll of all cell phone users found that the number one requested feature was the ability to view and edit office documents. And that was all cell phone users, I would imagine that amongst those who use the WM smartphone platform the demand would be even greater. And with the proliferation of WM smartphone devices that include a QWERTY keyboard and larger screen, a la the Motorola Q, it becomes even easier to view and edit office documents.

Despite my righteous indignation, I have to admit that there are legitimate barriers. Probably the largest is that there simply aren't that many people developing software for the WM smartphone platform. In fact of the major smartphone platforms, WM smartphone probably has the fewest third party programs available for it. It is also possible that given my (and I believe others) expectation that Microsoft will address this problem in the next version of Windows Mobile, it may simply not be worth the expense of developing a full office suite only to be knocked off 2 years down the road by a native solution.

Despite these barriers, I would challenge developers out there to fill this gap. I believe you will find it to be well worth your time and effort. You can expect that I will be first in line to dish out my hard earned cash for your product.

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