Fans of Apple’s iPhone are famously rabid and don’t try to pry a BlackBerry away from a devoted user. Even struggling Palm has a hard core of devotees of its aging Palm OS. But despite its wide global use, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile seems to be at best tolerated by its users. My recent Italian adventures gave me some fresh insight into why.

Keeping data flowing to a U.S.-based phone in Europe ofter requires a lot of fiddling with manual network selection to find a carrier that works properly. Comparing how this task is done on an iPhone and my Windows Mobile 6-based Motorola Q9h was highly educational.

On the iPhone, you click the Settings icon on the home screen, then choose Network Selection. (U.S. users, don't try this at home; the Network Selection item does not appear when you are connected to AT&T service.) A list of available networks appears and you just click on the service you want to try.

Getting to the same point on the Q required the following steps: Press and hold the Home button to get the Quick List and choose Wireless Manager. Select phone and press the Menu button. Select Phone Settings, then More, then Network. Choose Setup, the only choice on the superfluous menu that appears next. Press Menu again and choose Available Networks from the menu that appears. (As on the iPhone, this choice disappears when connected to AT&T.) Go through this process three or four times a day and you really appreciate the iPhone. The BlackBerry, which I did not have with me in Europe, is about as easy as the iPhone: Choose Settings from the home screen, then click Options and choose Mobile Network.

Of course, the designers of user interfaces have to make choices about what features to bring forward and which to hide. It might make sense to bury manual network selection, something that most folks won't use very often. The problem is that while this is an extreme case, just about everything on Windows Mobile requires more clicks (or taps) than the equivalent function on competing systems. Add to that the fact that the Windows Mobile clicks often bring up an annoying "wait until I'm finished" rotating color wheel for at least a couple of seconds and the annoyance grows.

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