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Quick Take: Microsoft Bing and Windows Live for Windows Phone

Update: I originally meant to post this article late last year, and since then, Microsoft has indeeed upgrade that Bing software for Windows Mobile. I will update this article to reflect that upgrade once I've had some time to examine it. --Paul

Now that I've got some modern Windows Mobile devices for testing purposes, I can turn my attention to some of the products and services that Microsoft has provided to accompany these devices. Key among them are two applications: The new Bing for Windows Mobile and a new version of Windows Live for Windows Mobile. These native Windows Mobile applications extend Microsoft's compelling online services to their currently-less-than-stellar smart phones. Let's see how they fare.

Note: these overviews are based on usage with touch-based Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional devices only. The experience may differ with Windows Mobile 6.5 Standard.

Bing for Windows Mobile

If you are familiar with the gorgeous and graphical Bing for iPhone, you may expect something similar on Microsoft's flagship mobile OS. (If you're not, please read my Bing for iPhone Quick Take.) Sadly, this is not the case: The Bing app for Windows Mobile is an old-school affair, with a grid of icons representing common search actions, including Categories, Map, Directions, Traffic, Movies, Gas Prices, Collections, Web, and Weather. It's a decidedly non-graphical and unimpressive looking app, yes. But fortunately, the actual functionality is worthwhile.

The key here, of course, is that Bing is location aware and can help you find out about things near you using the GPS hardware in your smart phone. Here, more than on the PC even, Bing's focus on vertical searches makes a lot of sense. Yes, you can make general web searches from the app. But when you're out and about, you will more frequently need to find a nearby location, like a restaurant, movie theater, or store. Or the best local gas prices. Or traffic conditions.

Bing for Windows Mobile
Bing for Windows Mobile

So yeah, it's utilitarian. But it gets the job done, and some of the search modules--notably those based around Map (including Map itself, Traffic, and Gas Prices)--are actually as graphically rich as anything on the iPhone.

Looking ahead, Microsoft has promised a beautiful Windows Mobile app for Bing, one that will apparently rival the iPhone version. That was due by the end of 2009, so we can likely expect to see it appear soon. Hopefully, the design will improve to match the functionality: It seems like parity with the iPhone version should be a priority.

Windows Live for Windows Mobile

As with Bing, Microsoft offers both a native application and a mobile web experience for Windows Live. The application, while more limited in some ways than the web version, also offers some very unique integration points with Windows Mobile. If you're involved in the Windows Live ecosystem in any way--i.e. have a Windows Live ID, Hotmail account, and so on--than this app is a no-brainer.

The most recent version of Windows Live for Windows Mobile--sometimes called Windows Live for Windows Phone--is a major update that maps roughly to the wave 3 updates that Microsoft previously rolled out on the web and on the PC. Looking at the app home screen, which has been redesigned in a simple, touch-friendly fashion, you'll see a number of items, which can vary depending on how you configured it during installation. These include:

Windows Live Home. Provides access to your centralized What's New feed via Windows Live, Windows Live Photos content, your contacts in Windows Live People, and status/network invitation information.

Windows Live for Windows Mobile
Windows Live for Windows Mobile

Messenger. A full-featured mobile version of the Windows Live Messenger instant messaging (IM) application.

Hotmail. A front-end to your Windows Live Hotmail-based email, which triggers the Mobile Outlook Mail application.

Sync. Provides information about the status of your last sync and lets you manually sync with the cloud at any time.

Bing. At the bottom of the home screen, you'll see a Bing search box. Curiously, search results appear in the web version of Bing. (But then they do if you choose Web search from the Bing native app as well.)

You won't typically need to access the Windows Live application directly, since virtually all of its functionality is available outside of that front-end and, as is often the case, directly from the Windows Mobile 6.5 home screen. (You get the option to integrate Windows Live with the home screen during install.) So if you wish to access Windows Live Messenger or force a manual sync with your Windows Live services, you can do so via the Windows Live entry on your phone's Home screen. Hotmail-based email will appear in the Email entry. And of course Bing searches are available from the web and the native Bing app.

Ultimately, the point of installing Windows Live for Windows Mobile is to get these integration points, and on that note Microsoft does pretty well by those users who have adopted its solutions across the board. Now if we could just get them to integrate Windows Live Calendar into Windows Mobile.

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