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Summary:

By fall, Microsoft will push the next Windows Phone 7 update, including an IE9 browser, developer access to the camera and motion sensors, improved performance, multitasking and support for an ever so slightly wider range of hardware. Where will competitors be and what’s taking so long?

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Microsoft outlined feature upgrades for its Windows Phone 7 smartphone platform this week at the MIX11 developer event in Las Vegas. The next update, codenamed “Mango,” is planned for release this fall and will bring the IE9 browser, developer access to the camera and motion sensor, improved system performance, and support for an ever so slightly wider range of hardware. Application multitasking will arrive in Mango as well, allowing for handset owners to run software in the background and transfer audio or video while other apps are running.

It’s a good thing the mobile handset market race is more of a marathon than a sprint, because although all the Mango features will be welcome, I can’t help but think of how they compare to competing phones — from 2009 or so. While the iPhone didn’t gain multitasking until 2010, for example, Google Android devices had it in late 2008. Both Apple and Google devices arrived with generally decent browsers and solid user interaction when they launched. And for the past few years, developers could leverage the sensors and cameras on these handsets as well.

I almost hate to bring up this criticism because I did buy a Windows Phone 7 device out-of-pocket, just like some readers have. Truth be told, there’s a world of potential in the platform, and in some ways, a Windows Phone 7 handset is more fun to use than an iPhone, Android device or other currently available platforms. My issue stems around one of timing, even though I do agree smartphone sales will continue to rise for the next several years. It just appears that while Microsoft is committed to staying in the high-stakes smartphone game, it’s really not going all-in. And that’s not going to get hardware partners jazzed.

I know the Windows Phone 7 fans will quickly chime in here to defend Microsoft, and I respect that. Just remember: I’m a Windows Phone 7 owner too. And as such, I’m struggling to understand the lack of speed for these updates. I won’t get into the NoDo update that was delayed, but I’ll admit it concerns me. Instead, I’m looking back to the Mobile World Congress event from this past February. Some of the key Mango features talked about this week were shown off on Windows Phone 7 devices two months ago. Multitasking seemed to work quite well in the demo, as did an early version of IE9. Xbox Live and Kinect integration from the handset even worked. So what’s taking so long?

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but the strategy of many months between updates just doesn’t seem to fit the reality of how fast the smartphone is maturing. That’s part of the reason Nokia had to abandon Symbian: The company reacted too slowly to the market. Even giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest not every Windows Phone 7 will see Mango by the end of the year, although I hope I’m wrong.

Where will competitors be at that time, and what new features will they have added? There’s sure to be a major revision of iOS to version 5 by then, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see most of Honeycomb’s features migrated over to the next version of Android smartphones, too. Add in HP’s handsets with the already-capable webOS platform, and the situation becomes even more challenging for Microsoft to stand out from the crowd.

Yes, the Windows Phone 7 fans will cry out against me on this one and I empathize. Some of the features on my HD7 are great. There just aren’t enough things that Windows Phone 7 devices do well enough to make them appealing to a wide audience If there are, Microsoft is holding back super sales numbers for reasons I can’t fathom. All I want to see is Microsoft better-level the smartphone playing field by picking up the pace in making a good mobile platform even better.

  1. I had a Focus and while I agree the platform had a lot of potential, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have a clue when it comes to customer satisfaction. I finally tossed it (literally, I couldn’t even give it away) but it was just as featureless and bland a couple weeks ago as it was when I bought it way back in November. Microsoft had done nothing and said nothing EXCEPT to backpedal on their update statement, allowing carriers to reject updates. Oh sure, they can reject it once and then the next one will be forced through or some such nonsense but who really believes that? Not I. Considering the Focus will most likely be at least a year old before the first feature update ever leaves Microsoft, who really believes the Focus will even be eligable for a real feature update? Not I. Will Microsoft add certain obvious features that $20 Nokias sold at Walmart include? Will they address certain obvious bugs and oversights that have been driving users nuts since November? Who knows. Microsoft says nothing about anything because why? What, does Windows Phone 7 contain national secrets or require Manhattan Project style privacy or does Microsoft simply have no idea how to communicate with a customer? My money is on the latter and so I’m done with Windows Phone 7. Microsoft should stick to something it actually understands…whatever that might be these days.

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    1. Since when has Apple ever been forthcoming about fixes or feature updates? Sure, they may be releasing updates on a better schedule, and Microsoft should really improve this, but I distinctly remember a certain CEO basically calling his loyal fanboys morons for not holding the iPhone4 right. Instead of designing the antenna well (which is actually quite difficult), Apple decided that two pieces of glass would make an excellent phone, and then stuck the antenna on the outside, and didn’t test it with people (or deliberately wrote code to hide the issue, as some claim). Microsoft has always been secretive, but at least they don’t blame users for glaring design flaws.

      As far as Mango features, all of them are coming to every device, even the Samsung Focus. The recently released updated specs feature processors that aren’t too different from the current ones (a bit faster etc.). Microsoft isn’t going to leave their users behind like Google with Android. If anything their release schedule is too slow because they want everyone to get updates at the same time (AT&T was being difficult because of an added feature).

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  2. @Mark What the hell are you talking about? All phones have BIG flaws. Iphone is starting to look VERY VERY dated with bad notifications, a grid with a bunch of dead icons, poor Social intergration… Android is fragmented as hell on don’t even get me started on updating an Android device… I never got an update for my Nexus One.. What a piece of crap! Even NODO is better than updates on Android. So WP7 is pretty amazing, and I personally love. i don’t miss my iPhone at all, and would never get another f*** android again..

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    1. If you never got an update on your Nexus One, you or your network is doing something wrong. In case you had not noticed, Nexus One is now on Android 2.3.3 all over the world.

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    2. My old AT&T Fuze looks even more dated but it still has infinitely more functionality than WP7 which, despite it’s being unbearably slow, is still more useful than WP7. If a phone doesn’t do what I need it to do I couldn’t possibly care less about what it looks like and WP7 does practically nothing. It doesn’t even have a useful (in my opinion) API as it’s all going through the safe and barely functional Silverlight layer. Which makes it kind of funny that a WP7 phone can’t display any web based Silverlight content. Anyway, I have 1000 uses for my phone every day and WP7 barely covers any of it. In fact, the only thing it was really good for was email and Slingplayer. No RDP, no tethering, no VPN, it couldn’t connect to the wifi at the office or at my home, no Flash, browser plug-ins of any kind, unable to play common streaming audio formats, on and on (and on) goes the list. WP7 was way, WAY too little too late and as Kevin mentions, Microsoft seems to have absolutely no sense of urgency whatsoever. No urgency to be considered any real competition, no urgency to make my $500 brick actually do anything I consider useful, no urgency to make some kind of real API so developers can make useful apps (No RDP? Really, Microsoft? Are you TRYING to make every workplace on earth laugh at you?)…it seems to me Microsoft simply expects time to stand still until they catch up with, as was also accurately mentioned, 2009. Too bad it’s 2011, isn’t it?

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    3. I thought I laid it out pretty well, actually. My old AT&T Fuze looks dated, too, and it’s real, real slow but it’s still a magnitude more functional than my Focus was. As is the iPhone, Android phone, Blackberry 8800 and several other phones I have sitting around here. When I stopped taking the Focus to work because it couldn’t connect with the office wifi (nor could it connect to my home wifi) I was officially disgusted with it. When Microsoft backpedaled about carriers blocking updates I was even more disgusted with it. When I realized I bought it nearly six months ago and it had spent 5 of those months sitting on a desk getting dusty with no sign of help coming any time soon, I decided it was time to cut my losses and forget about it. Maybe in two years, if Microsoft manages to acquire a sense of urgency about anything, it’ll be worth looking at again. As it stands right now, and remember, I owned a Focus for 5 months, I have $50 Walmart phones that may not be as pretty or as fast but are far more functional. Oh yes, I most certainly do.

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    4. You are Right!! never I will buy an android phone again… Android is Crap!!!

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  3. I have an HD7 and I try to defend Microsoft as much as I can with Windows Phone 7, but I’m also getting impatient with the very slow updates. If the HD7 could dual boot both WP7 and Android I’d be happy. There’s pros and cons to WP7 and it has a ton of potential, and I know that they’re doing this slow so they don’t mess up but they need to hurry! I wish there was a way MS would allow techies to download a beta version of Mango just like they do other software on Windows.

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    1. Dump hd7 and get a hd2.

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  4. “There just aren’t enough things that Windows Phone 7 devices do well enough to make them appealing to a wide audience”

    I am curious what key things Andriod, iOS, and webOS do that WP7 is unable to do well enough? I am wondering because I use iOS, used webOS for over a year and I have been using Android now for over a year. I was thinking about getting the HTC Arrive since WP7 looks interesting, but if it lacks daily functionality I don’t want to waste my money.

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    1. To Brett, it’s a very good OS. I’d honestly say in my opinion it’s the best OS out. BUT, it doesn’t have a lot of features that Android and iOS already have RIGHT NOW. It definitely has basic functionality, think iPhone back in 2009 with the iPhone 3GS without multitasking is what WP7 is probably at right now with extra features unique to WP7 such as built in social networking with Facebook, etc.

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    2. Well for a start the most obvious feature lacking is language support. Microsoft seem to think all smartphone buyers are in English speaking (or close to it) countries. Considering how much more saturated the smartphone market is in the US than Asia, it’s beyond belief they dump marketing dollars and resource for Americans. If they had Asian language support from release, their sales figures would be massive now and they would have prevented the momentum of iPhone which Chinese in particular love because they think everyone else is using it so they must also. Incompetence on the part of Microsoft and I hope they get strategic help from their Japanese, Korean, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Asian business units.

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      1. MS has no interest in WP7 selling well in China, they are basically looking at US and Europe, hoping to get some Ad revenue. No OEM is going to pay MS for software, that is common sense.

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  5. I am not going to defend Microsoft because they have blown updates and as excited as I am about Mango, 6 months is a very long time away.

    But they are not catching up to 2009 – soon everyone will try to catch up with what they have done. They are also bringing some features that no one else has yet.

    They are playing tortoise … I dislike it as much as the next WinPhoneFan

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    1. I’ve been wanting to get WP7 for some time now. However, the slowness of updates and to Verizon I moved on and happy with Droid phone. Will look at WP7 im another year or two

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      1. In another year or two, WP7 won’t exist. It will be lucky if it makes it through Mango. Then MS will write it off as a loss, everyone who owns one (including myself) will be put out to pasture, then Microsoft will try to market Win8 Phones.

        Just look at the advertising landscape. Microsoft isn’t even TRYING to advertise WP7. Word of mouth has been negative for months and TV ads are disappearing. Now remember this is the company that spent 4 months aggressively marketing Kinect and had much success. They even spent 3 months aggressively marketing VISTA under the Mojave campaign, but the marketing for WP7 is nowhere to be found?

        Doesn’t sound like they care enough to invest in the long term viability of the platform. If I were NOKIA, I’d be running away, fast.

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      2. To Victor, aren’t WP7 and WP8 phones gonna be the same? Like how the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 are two different phones but they both run iOS4.

        And where do you see that MS doesn’t advertise WP7? I literally see WP7 ads EVERYDAY online. I don’t watch much TV, but when I did, I did see their ads on TV too.

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  6. I’m a bit mystified by the double standards of press analysis.

    Back when the iPhone couldn’t multitask nor offer Exchange integration, press analysts claimed those weren’t essential features.

    Now that Apple has them, they’re “vital.”

    People have got to stop framing the world in the context of what’s best for Apple’s users, and instead look at what the devices out there do to appeal to a wider audience. Windows Phone appeals, in its current form, to numerous users who want a fast, smooth and stable experience (not a crash-prone one ala Android), and a fully-modern, open approach to phones (not a closed one ala iPhone). Office, Xbox Live, and other Microsoft services are also differentiating features that set the handset apart (and which certainly weren’t available in 2009 on any platform).

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    1. It makes me wonder if Apple pays the press, in one form or another. Why are the tech blogs so nice to Apple but so harsh on Google, Microsft, Cisco, Oracle, every other damn company

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    2. Brian – Do you even have a clue what you’re talking about?

      WP7 is NOT open. It uses the same closed marketplace, closed OS model just like Apple. In fact, go look at the rules for certification for the WP7 Marketplace – they’re more STRICT than Apple!

      Docs2Go might not be Office, but it’s allowed Office file creation and modification for years and, unlike Office Mobile, it isn’t locked to e-mail or Sharepoint Server ONLY. Xbox Live is nice, but I get the very distinct feeling that not even MICROSOFT seems to consider it a part of the XBL family. It has it’s own page on Xbox.com, yes, but all of the Xbox Live product team won’t talk about it, won’t discuss games coming out for it.. oh and, yeah, IT DOESN’T TRULY SUPPORT MULTIPLAYER.. which is kinda what BUILT Xbox live.

      A smooth experience that doesn’t crash? Like how Marketplace would crash repeatedly pre-NoDo? Every time requiring a hard reboot of the device? A smooth experience like bricked phones on a small update?

      These features are considered vital because every other smartphone has them now and there is ZERO reason for a smartphone to come to market WITHOUT them. This argument that a 2010/2011 smartphone that is lacking features is OK because a 2007/2008 iPhone didn’t have them either is outright ludicrous.

      Enjoy the dwindling marketshare. -1.3% last quarter (comScore). Let’s see the next one.

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    3. Well, when all the other major phone OS (iOS, Android) have those features yes it is vital.

      If you build a car today, having turn-signals are “vital” even though the Model T didn’t.

      MS isn’t a new player to the mobile phones so I don’t understand how they make excuses like they are a start-up.

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  7. @anyone who bought a wp7 handset and then say they hate it and cant give it away I WILL HAVE IT i busted my hd7 and the insurance wont pay (i was careless or something like that) and i miss my phone so much that im thinking of selling my fish tank to get a new one. I have an iPhone from my company and it is nothing on wp7 bar 1 thing the price of apps.

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    1. Buy one on Ebay, I’ve been watching the WP7 phone prices and they all between 200-300$ mostly.

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  8. MS does need to be updating much faster. The schedule is puzzling but the 2009 jibe is just just mindless flamebait and gives no credit to the interesting stuff MS is doing. Dynamic content on iOS is pitiful not really even in the game on that front compared to android and I don’t see real deep linking within an app available at all. Frankly the best thing about iOS is not the OS but the tools apple has made available to utilize it and it looks like it will be the same with wp7. Some of the stuff opening up to devs is 2009ish for sure but in fairness there are 1,500 new apis some which do not exist on other platforms so if you really think the platform will be stuck in 2009 when it hits you must have been using a fictional phone back then.

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    1. How is it “flamebait”? In 2009, I had a Blackberry that allowed me to use custom ringtones, sync to Exchange Servers and manage multiple e-mail accounts seamlessly, so on and so forth. It did most things most people would consider “basic”. In 2005, I had a Motorola dumb phone that could connect to WiFi – even hidden ones – and also allowed something as basic as custom ringtones (albeit, it required Motorola’s software).

      WP7 cannot connect to static IPs, cannot connect to hidden WiFi, does not allow custom ringtones without extensive hacking, does not allow customization beyond the 10 accent colors and one lock screen – and these are all problems from a consumer standpoint. For enterprise, it has problems with Microsoft’s own software including Exchange Server, has problems installing custom certificates, and Office Integration REQUIRES Sharepoint Server until Mango. From a developer standpoint, the sandbox nature of the platform is a problem – what good is it if nothing can share data – and Microsoft, if you follow the development of Win8, is gradually downplaying, if not phasing out, XNA and Silverlight by rolling them into the new AppX design (as it stands now, Silverlight works on WP7, yet it can’t use Silverlight on the web?).

      WP7’s featureset, at launch, was already a year and a half, if not more, behind what iOS, Android and Blackberry were capable of. They can show off all these new bells and whistles and APIs, but that doesn’t change the fact that the platform will still be years behind. Oh, so it gives us a Compass and IE9 with HTML5 support and pure hardware acceleratio, but we won’t see these for another 7-8 months! The bells and whistles are just that – they still are NOT addressing the core problems with the platform.

      My day one launch Samsung Focus sits here collecting dust while I use an LG Optimus V that can do more and costs me significantly less.

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  9. I am also bitterly disappointed by the way Microsoft has dropped the ball with Windows Phone 7.

    The Metro UI was the best part of it, and was what attracted many users to Windows Phone 7. But I think Microsoft has ruined the platform by being slovenly.

    Microsoft seems to have tripped over and fallen in its inability to fix what must be trivial issues. A camera driver. A compass driver. Currently, app developers can’t access the phone’s compass, which was a compulsory hardware feature for Windows Phone 7 handsets.

    A compass is not a sophisticated device. Its output is simply a numeral between 0 and 360. How hard is it for a billion dollar company like Microsoft to write a driver for it. What is the reason this is taking a year-and-a-half?

    Yes, a year-and-a-half. Windows Phone 7 went Release-To-Manufacture (RTM) on 31 August, 2010. That’s when the OS was finished. The compass API won’t be ready until Mango, which comes out at the end of 2011 at best, and probably won’t be seen in people’s handsets until March 2012.

    It is inconceivable. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t recommend Windows Phone 7 to anyone else when it is not being updated properly. It’s a slap in the face for early adopters.

    But it is not just the compass. It’s the inability to log onto a hidden WiFi hotspot, or the inability to log onto a network with a static IP. My home WiFi router has a static IP. Most companies use a static IP address. Again, how (**add expletive here**) hard is it for Microsoft to achieve this utterly simple task?

    We could go on and on. Why is Microsoft incapable of allowing strong passwords in Windows Phone 7? Where’s my ‘Weekly View’ in the calendar? Even Exchange access is broken, as Windows Phone 7 doesn’t understand a large proportion of Exchange policies. If Microsoft can’t add its own formats to Windows Phone, what hope is there?

    I remember when Microsoft released Windows Mobile 6.5. The gadget magazines condemned it, describing it as “lipstick on a pig”. Microsoft later admitted that Windows Mobile 6.5 was a stopgap on the way to Windows Phone 7.

    Could Windows Phone 7 be another stopgap? Has Microsoft neglected it because the company is working on something else more important?

    Are all Microsoft’s engineers too busy porting Windows 8 to phones and tablets to have time to finish off Windows Phone 7?
    Whatever the reason, Windows Phone 7 has been left in a sorry state. Us early adopters have reason to be angry.

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    1. I’m sad to say I think you’re right, Greg. The writing is on the wall if you follow all the various development blogs. Microsoft is talking up Win8 working on ARM devices and AppX to be able to seamlessly port applications and data between devices running Win8…

      Seems, to me, they let WP7 out and have decided to just let it go as slow as they can, trying to keep their users who will stick with it (which probably are not many, market share reports will be interesting to watch) until they push Win8 to phones and tablets.

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  10. funny, last time i checked android, in 2009 (or 2011 for that matter), did not have:

    1. a music player worth using, remotely comparable to the zune hub
    2. full facebook integration out of the box
    3. gaming network remotely comarable to xbox live
    4. full 3d games will great quality
    5. fast fluid UI designed by designers not engineers
    6. no bloated UI skins from chinese hardware OEMs (those belong on dumbphones)

    list goes on and on. android is a fragmented pile of dung, and youre just a fanboy.

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    1. Which platform am I a fanboy of, considering I’ve purchased devices over the past few years on platforms from Nokia, Palm, Apple, Google, and Microsoft? Just wanted to check, so we’re clear. ;)

      Yup, you’ve pointed out some of the key advantages that WP7 offers. But your carefully culled list is also comprised of opinion and some fallacies:

      1. In my own opinion, the new Amazon Cloud Player app is fine for most people’s needs and adds cloud streaming. Folks that want a subscription service like Zune also have third-party options on Android, so it’s basically a wash.
      2. Palm’s webOS was actually the first to have FB integration out of the box in 2009. And Android devices support it today too.
      3. I love Xbox Live on the WP7 platform, so no argument here. Of course, folks that aren’t Xbox Live subscribers won’t get the full benefit and may not care.
      4. Many full 3D games will get “great quality” on all of the platforms. Sorry but you’re not convincing anyone of anything with that statement.
      5. I’ve mentioned many times here that the WP7 UI is fresh and new. I like it. But perhaps engineers should have had more input: to find an app not on your home screen you have to scroll through an alphabetical list that grows with every app download. Not good UI or engineering.
      6. The UIs I’ve used from Samsung and HTC are quite good – so good that some Android owners hack their devices to get them on a handset.

      Normally, I wouldn’t go point to point because smartphone preferences are very subjective; a thought you missed when you brought “fanboy” into the mix. Here’s an idea: buy what you like and let others do the same = everyone wins. ;)

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      1. just migrate back to wherever it was you came from dude….I have had iOS and palm phones, neither were that brilliant…My HD7 rocks, its beautiful, functional and so what if it doesn’t do some stuff, the i-phone 5 should be out soon….no doubt you will be waiting, sleeping outside some doorway waiting for that to launch like some sad little cretin, do you really think Microsoft gives a hoot about you…theyre out to make a real platform that just works, mine works and has done since day 1 UK time, it will get better, it’s called patience, i dont see any other platform making any deep integration with anything, cos guess what, they dont have anything else worth integrating with….nuff said!

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        1. Hmmm…. a fairly classless comment based on incorrect personal assumptions. That’s disappointing because it took away from your otherwise reasonable point about deep integration.

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