Microsoft's Windows Phone "Mango" update makes the smartphone platform a serious contender in the mobility space.
Phone's "Mango" update feels like the smartphone platform Microsoft
wanted to debut 12 months ago, loaded with tons of features and deeply
integrated with services ranging from Twitter and LinkedIn to Office 365.
Phone represents Microsoft's attempt to establish itself as a viable competitor
in the smartphone arena. To its credit, Microsoft realized that creating a
platform that cloned Apple's iOS or Google Android wouldn't resonate with
users; instead, the company consolidated apps and features into a set of
subject-specific hubs, such as "People" and "Games." This
tile interface (which relies on a design aesthetic Microsoft calls "Metro")
is aesthetically pleasing and a welcome change from the gridlike screens of
apps that define other smartphones.
first released Windows Phone near the end of 2010 with this interface in place,
but the platform seemed a bit barren. It lacked some vital features, such as
multitasking, which already existed on competitors' phones. The Marketplace for
apps, despite Microsoft's attempts to enlist developers to its cause, likewise
felt empty in comparison to Apple's App Store and the Android Marketplace, both
of which offered hundreds of thousands of apps.
Windows Phone is a vital part of Microsoft's overall cloud strategy, and the
company decided to keep investing in the platform. Earlier in 2011, it released
some minor tweaks to the platform. Mango, however, is major: the equivalent of
taking your car, detailing the frame a bit, and adding a whole new engine and
there are 500 new features in all, some of them extremely useful. Multitasking
is an elegant addition, and involves pressing the "back" button until
a separate screen appears with images of your recent apps. The calendar consolidates
dates from multiple sources, including Facebook and Outlook: Unlike my regular
PC, I can flip through my smartphone's calendar agenda and see a friend's party
(Facebook) living alongside a trip to Tokyo (Outlook).
the email front, you can now link together email inboxes instead of (if you
have multiple accounts on different services) filling your Start screen with
email-related tiles. There's now a "conversation view" that groups
emails by subject. Messaging comes in threads with cartoonlike "bubbles"
for each message, and consolidates missives from texting, Facebook and
also spent considerable time revamping its People hub, and now offers Windows
Phone users the ability to consolidate certain contacts into Groups such as Family
or Work. The People hub also supports Twitter and LinkedIn, meaning you can
receive feeds from those services. And via the Windows Phone "Me"
tile, you can see the latest notifications and set your chat status.
addition, Mango offers a new app called Local Scout, which offers a quick
glance at local restaurants and shopping. You can scan reviews for eateries,
for example, and find their location on a map.
Phone's Photo Hub is more robust, with the ability to share images on Facebook,
SkyDrive, Twitter and Google Mail. There's also an "auto fix" feature
that "improves" photos before you send them into the world-it
lightened some extremely dark photos I snapped at Amazon's Kindle Fire press
conference in New York and might have performed some other tweaks as well.
those who plan on using their Windows Phone for work, Microsoft has revamped
the Office Hub. You can use it to access documents stored on Microsoft's
SkyDrive or Office 365 cloud services. Excel has been given a hefty dose of
steroids, with the ability to perform light calculations and re-sort cells.
also revamped the Xbox Live hub. Even if you don't have an account, you can
still download games from the Marketplace and play them within the games hub
(Gravity Guy is worth checking out, especially if you want something different
from Angry Birds).
regard to search, Bing now offers music search (you let the phone "listen"
to any ambient music playing in the vicinity, and it does its best to name the
song) and the ability to scan tags and QR codes.
other Mango tweaks aren't quite so apparent. When you shut your device down, a
new "Slide down to power off" screen appears. The live tiles seem
livelier than in the previous Windows Phone version, the animations a little
smoother. One can assume Microsoft adjusted the under-the-hood performance.
Mango represents a substantial improvement to Windows Phone. Microsoft's
decision to integrate services such as Facebook into its features and its focus
on creating seamless experiences within the hubs (such as consolidating
messages and email) make the platform a far more serious contender in the
smartphone wars. At its best, features like Local Scout and the revamped Office
hub make Windows Phone Mango less a phone and more a true digital assistant.
question is whether Mango will help Microsoft build a more substantial presence
in smartphones, where its market share has fallen over the past few quarters. A
recent report from research firm NPD Group's Connected Intelligence Service
suggested that some 44 percent of smartphone owners are considering the
purchase of a Windows Phone device. But time will tell whether Mango, in
conjunction with new partnerships with hardware vendors like Nokia, will pay
off for Redmond in a big way.
began rolling out Mango to smartphones starting Sept. 27, but it could be
several weeks before all devices receive the update.
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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.