Microsoft's Windows Phone "Mango" update adds new features for consumers and the enterprise. But can it help Microsoft challenge Google Android and the iPhone?
Will Microsoft's upcoming software
update for its Windows Phones, code-named "Mango," affect the company's
Certainly Mango represents a
substantial revamp of Microsoft's mobile platform, which is struggling for
adoption in the face of competition from Google Android and Apple's iPhone. In
contrast to those platforms, which offer gridlike screens of individual apps,
Windows Phone consolidates Web content and applications into a set of
subject-specific Hubs, including "Office" and "People."
As Microsoft executives demonstrated
for a small group of media and analysts during a May 24 press event in New York
City, the new features include a redesigned Xbox Live Hub, home-screen tiles
capable of displaying up-to-the-minute information such as instant messages and
social-networking data, the ability to consolidate friends and colleagues into
groups, and visual voicemail. All in all, Microsoft is planning to add some 500
new elements to Windows Phone.
Mango will be released sometime this
fall. That's some distance away for a company wrestling to hold onto its market
share. Although research firm Gartner estimated that Windows Phone sold 1.6
million units in the first quarter of 2011, recent data from comScore suggests
that Microsoft's share of the overall smartphone market continues to erode
situation probably not helped by some well-publicized snafus with the first two
Windows Phone software updates.
Even if the pre-Mango Windows Phone
continues a slide in market share, Microsoft has managed to secure some
long-term commitments from its manufacturing partners.
"We have some Windows Mango phones,"
HTC CEO Peter Chou reportedly told Reuters May 25
. "We are very committed to Windows
phone products." However, he offered no guidance on when those new devices
Analysts generally view Microsoft's
deal with Nokia, which will see Windows Phone ported onto the latter's
smartphones, as a chance for the Windows Phone platform to gain some additional
momentum-at least overseas, where Nokia continues to maintain a strong presence
despite challenges from Android and iOS.
In addition to HTC and Nokia, Samsung
and LG Electronics have apparently committed to building new Windows Phone
devices preloaded with Mango. Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE are also planning to
produce Windows Phone devices for the first time.
In other words, Windows Phone isn't
exactly in danger of dying within the next couple of months-especially since it
represents an all-or-nothing bet by Microsoft in the increasingly important
The question is whether a
Mango-enhanced Windows Phone can draw users who haven't already gravitated
toward Microsoft's offering. Here the question becomes more problematic.
Certainly a more robust smartphone platform helps spark increased adoption-for
an example of that, look no further than Android, which has seen its market share
increase with each successive version. But all the new gizmos in the world
won't help a platform that people don't inherently find attractive or useful in
their daily lives.
For enterprise users, Mango offers some
key additions, including the ability to search a server for email items no
longer stored to a device, and share and save Office documents via Office 365
and Windows SkyDrive. That could help drive Microsoft's share among business
For consumers, the revamped Xbox Live
and features like multitasking could make Windows Phone a more enticing
prospect. Mango also introduces unique applications like Local Scout, which
offers a view of everything to see and do in a particular neighborhood, and an
enhanced "People" Hub that includes Twitter feeds.
Despite all those new features, Windows
Phone has one weak spot: the number of apps available for download. In contrast
to Apple's App Store and Google's Android Marketplace, which respectively boast
hundreds of thousands of apps, Windows Phone's online storefront boasts only a
few thousand. While Microsoft executives argue that the apps' quality eclipses
the need for quantity, the fact remains that smartphone platforms with thriving
ecosystems-i.e., Apple and Google-have seen their market share only increase,
while those with comparatively few apps-Palm and Research In Motion come to
mind-have seen their device adoption rates soften over several quarters.
Microsoft continues to push developers
to build apps for Windows Phone. And Mango will be a giant step forward in the
company's attempts to offer a smartphone platform on par with Android and the
iPhone. The question is whether those app-developer efforts-and Mango's new
features-will give Microsoft the momentum it needs to take Windows Phone from
an also-ran to a major contender.