Remove redundant TouchFlo Start Menu with WkTask

Taskbar Since getting a Touch Pro a couple weeks ago, I’ve been trying to figure out to best to optimize the TouchFlo interface. HTC has done some nice things with this device (the Touch Pro on Sprint or outside the US, the HTC Fuze on AT&T, as well as all the variants of HTC Diamond), and in a lot of ways they’ve brought the ease of use from Windows Mobile Standard’s sliding panels home screen and simple Home and Back buttons to Windows Mobile Professional. It’s nice, but there’s one problem. By default, the Start Menu is still up there in the upper left corner, potentially confusing matters by offering a completely different and contradictory way to launch programs and access system settings. Fortunately, you can get rid of it, simplify the user interface and get a nifty way to switch between running programs in the process. (While one of Windows Mobile’s strengths is that there’s more than one way to do almost everything, a design goal for an efficient user interface is to have as little overlap in functionality as possible; a place for everything and everything in its place.)

Settings WkTask is a free shell utility that partially replaces your Windows Mobile Pro taskbar. By default, it leaves the Start Menu and notification icons alone, and puts icons for your running programs where the window title would normally be. But for our purposes, since TouchFlo 3D (or 2D, if you’re using an older device and can remap the Windows button on the phone to show the Today screen instead of the Start Menu) duplicates and expands on the Start Menu functionality, we’re going to get rid of it.

In the settings, notice that the offset from the left edge is set to 0 pixels. This moves the running programs all the way to left, covering the Start Menu completely. With the clock changed to the analog clock (you have a huge digital one on your home screen anyway), this also gives the entire taskbar a nice “all icons” uniformity fitting to a phone user experience. You can enhance this effect by telling WkTask to display only task icons in the Design tab of WkTask preferences.

So how can you use a Windows Mobile Professional device with out ever touching the Start Menu? Pretty easily, as it turns out. Here’s how it breaks down.

Start Menu TouchFlo with WkTask
Programs All Programs soft button on the Programs tab in TouchFlo
Settings All Settings soft button on the Settings tab in TouchFlo
Recent applications Running applications in WkTask
Pinned applications Programs tab in TouchFlo (except now you have 18 slots instead of 7)
Start Menu Home key
OK button Back key or OK screen button
Kill application via Task Manager Tap and hold app icon on the taskbar to close or forcibly terminate

PopupThere are a couple of gotchas. For one, you’ll notice the running apps area, from pixels 0 to 225 on a VGA screen, completely covers the notification icon if you have Bluetooth turned on as well. I get around this by making sure all the notifications I have enabled display a message onscreen in Windows Mobile’s love-it-or-hate-it pop up “toast”. That way I don’t have to tap the now-hidden notification icon in the taskbar to get clear an alarm. Also, on my screen I only have room to display 5 running tasks at a time. I can run more than that, but when I do, the fifth icon is replaced by a double right chevron ( » ) and the rest are displayed in a little drop down menu.

Overall, though, this has greatly improved my ease of use on the device, making it easy to switch between apps without going to the home screen, and making the home screen the one and only way to launch applications. This dramatically cuts down on confusion when it comes time to do something, and makes Windows Mobile Professional feel more like Windows Mobile Standard; that is, makes it feel more like a phone. Give it a try and let me know how it works in the comments.