Microsoft Windows Phone Mango Update Is Major Upgrade

Microsoft showed off enough features of its upcoming Windows Phone "Mango" upgrade to suggest that it's planning a major overhaul of its iPhone and Android competitor.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) demonstrated some features of its upcoming "Mango" software update for Windows Phones at a small New York City presentation for media and analysts May 24. This "sneak peak" at the Windows Phone update suggests that Microsoft is getting more serious about expanding its mobile platform's capabilities, as it continues its fight against Android and the iPhone, both of which lead Microsoft in smartphone market share.

Microsoft claims that Mango, slated to push its way onto Windows Phone devices sometime this fall, will introduce more than 500 new elements to the smartphone platform, with a mix of new features for both consumers and businesses.

In contrast to Google Android devices and the iPhone, which offer grid-like screens of individual applications, Windows Phone consolidates Web content and applications into a set of subject-specific Hubs. The Windows Phone user's home screen consists of "live tiles" that display information such as the number of new emails. Mango will expand the information available to those tiles, including call history, instant messages and social-networking data.

Information from Twitter and LinkedIn will display in the "People" Hub, along with new images added by friends. Windows Phone users will also have the ability to consolidate their friends and colleagues into Groups, the easier to send mass-messages and emails. Visual voicemail and the ability to see "threaded" conversations in emails buttress Mango's communications enhancements.

The Xbox Live Hub, meanwhile, has been completely redesigned for Mango, particularly to take advantage of the update's multitasking abilities. If the user is called away by an email, say, they can move back to the homepage to answer that message before transitioning back to the game. The Hub also elevates the social experience related to Xbox games, making scores and other information widely available to the user's friends.

Mango's new enterprise functionality includes the ability to search a server for email items no longer stored on the device, and share and save Office documents via Office 365 and Windows SkyDrive. There's also an upgraded Internet experience, one that tightly bakes Microsoft's Bing search engine into the interface.

"Rather than providing blue-link answers, we bring the Internet in this innovative [way] called Quick Cards," Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, told media and analysts gathered for the presentation. In essence, that means a Bing search for something in particular-such as restaurants-will lead the user not to a browser window, but a series of cards with images, access to related applications (in the case of restaurants, Yelp's application is a good example), and other information.

Mango also introduces Local Scout, which allows users to access everything to see and do in a particular neighborhood. In the context of that, Bing Maps offers indoor diagrams for malls and other public places. Quick Cards comes into play here, too, with information on upcoming events and other location-specific data.

Samsung, LG Electronics and HTC already build Windows Phone devices, and will release new ones in conjunction with Mango. Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE will produce Mango-loaded Windows Phone devices for the first time. The first smartphones from Microsoft's partnership with Nokia will also come with Mango pre-loaded; the actual street-date for any of these new devices, however, remains unclear.

Windows Phone sold 1.6 million units in the first quarter of 2011, according to new data from research firm Gartner. "[Microsoft] devices launched at the end of 2010 failed to grow in consumer preference and CSPs [communication service providers] continued to focus on Android," read Gartner's May 19 research note. However, the firm believes, "in the long term, Nokia's support will accelerate Windows Phone's momentum."

Microsoft doubtlessly hopes that Mango will also help with that momentum.