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Microsoft Works to Catch Up With Mango Windows Phone 7 Update

With the smartphone market zooming forward, Microsoft (s msft) officially announced the latest update to its new Windows Phone 7 operating system today, which brings a host of features to leverage Bing, Facebook and richer use of hardware. The Mango update features more than 500 new improvements, including many pre-announced features such as multitasking, an IE9 browser and more access to APIs but it also throws in some extras like speech-to-text, facial detection for photo tagging, local guides and better integration of apps in search results and live tiles. Mango is set to be available for all Windows Phone 7 devices this fall while developer tools were released today.

As my colleague Kevin mentioned, Mango is meant to help Windows Phone 7 catch-up to where iOS(s aapl) and Android(s goog) already are. But it’s a necessary maturation process for Microsoft’s smartphone platform, which shows promise but is still in need of evolution and refinement. And in many ways, it shows what Microsoft can do when it starts to marshall all its resources into one product, creating something that is more intelligent and user friendly. But is it enough to close the gap in a fast-moving smartphone market? It’s unclear. Microsoft still didn’t release end user sales but said that it now has 18,000 apps now for WP7 devices.

The new Windows Phone Mango update is designed around easing the way people communicate with a linked e-mail inbox, new groups for messaging a set of people and a threaded view for handling text messages, Facebook Chat and Windows Live Messenger all in one stream. There’s also deep Twitter and LinkedIn (s lnkd) integration in contact cards. Also included are speech-to-text and text-to-speech functionality for easier input so users can answer a text without using their hands while listening to a song, for example.

I like the groups integration because it creates mini social networks among your contacts, letting you message them and follow them. Facebook integration is tapped in several ways including new support for Facebook events in the calendar and integration with the group messaging tool. It shows that Microsoft is working to align itself with Facebook as a partner where it makes sense and adds value.

With Mango, Windows Phone 7 is also updating its hubs to better integrate with applications so users can find more relevant apps within the hubs. When uploading pictures in the Photos hub, a facial recognition tool can tag friends before uploading photos to Facebook. The Office hub includes new versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint and lets users now connect to Office365, Microsoft’s subscription service and Skydrive, its cloud storage tool. That’s expected for Microsoft, which needed to build on its first WP7 Office apps and integrate more with its cloud tools.

Developers are able to build richer Windows Phone apps with 3-D graphics using XNA in non-gaming apps. They can get more access to the underlying hardware and can tap a local SQL database for storage. And they can create live tiles on the home screen that feature live notifications and app shortcutting, so users can jump to specific areas in an app. For example, an upcoming British Airways app allows users to pick a seat using a 3-D seat locator and then get a flight check-in barcode to appear right on the live tile. Multitasking, a long-talked about feature, is finally appearing on Windows Phone 7. It appears more like the fast app switching on iOS, but it’s a needed addition.

Mango is geared toward connecting apps to other parts of the phone. That’s evident in the new IE9 browser, which brings up apps in search results to help users complete a task when appropriate. For example, a user can look up a movie on Bing and then the IMDb app will appear as a result. It’s part of an enhanced Bing on Windows Phone 7, which now serves up quick cards full of information on popular search results like movies or venues. The cards actually scrape live data so they can offer up concert information, for example at Madison Square Garden, or movie times. It also includes indoor maps for popular malls and other large locations. And it has a feature called Local Scout, which helps users learn about a particular neighborhood by organizing restaurants, things to do and attractions in one view.

Microsoft is trying to make smart use of its hardware similar to what Android (s goog) does. It’s not only implementing speech recognition for input, but it’s also doing barcode scanning, music recognition a la Shazam and visual search for products, so users can take a picture of a book, much like Google Goggles.

A lot of these features are simply catching Microsoft up in the smartphone race. But I like some of the smart touches with Bing, more flexibility for apps and better communications tools. And it’s got some nice new hardware partners in Nokia (s nok) and newly announced manufacturers Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE. But it would be great if these improvements appeared faster. We’re about to see a new OS from Apple (s aapl) and Android continues to evolve in elegance and functionality. Microsoft Windows Phone devices are gaining some nice features but the competition is still moving fast. It could still be playing catch up for some time if the market keeps moving like it does.

13 Responses to “Microsoft Works to Catch Up With Mango Windows Phone 7 Update”

  1. The deep integration with facebook/twitter/linkedin already makes it a competitive overall phone. The app-stitching by Bing/the app-aggregation through the People’s hub that allows you, for example, to tap into a friend and see ALL your communications with them (facebook/twitter/linkedin/IM/emails/phone logs) is way cooler than anything out there. But all this covers only 1/3rd of the phone. The Enterprise/Gaming ecosystem offered by Mango isn’t even operable in the iPhone/Android world. This remaining 2/3rd of the phone covers two aspects both of which are market leaders on their own! To me that puts Mango way beyond what competitors offer. Sure, iPhone and Android won’t be sitting still. We have to see what changes they bring out by the time Mango comes out. But do we not already know part of the outcome. What can they do? They just don’t have the Office/XBox ecosystem that Windows has – so nothing there. As regards the consumer end – they have taken an app centric approach. Microsoft, I offer, has got it right. 90% of the people who use these app stores work off a small pool of 100 apps that do not share any intelligence. WP has set out to deeply integrate the most prolific of those apps into the OS so you do not have to worry about launching 50 different apps on your phone.

  2. @Fahrenheit, Bing outgrew the market 5 times last month and is rapidly growing as a compelling and innovative service. I work for Nokia and I’m excited that it will be at the heart of the coming ecosystem with MS.

  3. Marco

    Just switched from iOS to WP7 and loving the integrated experience, which will only get better with the Mango update. Bing experience is phenomenal on WP7 and saves me lot of time searching. Also, facebook is integrated really well under the “people” tile. Barring a big update from Apple, I think MSFT will have a good lead in the “social mobile” area. Sure, they have been late to the mobile game but I saw their WP7 and Mango presentations and believe they are serious about competing in the mobile and search this time. And Nokia might just be the wild card for MSFT, you never know!

  4. With this update, isn’t WP7 mostly done catching up? I’d be curious to hear about the main missing features compared to iOS, Android, BB, since I’m considering taking the WP7 plunge after spending two years on iOS.

    • matt_in_michigan

      I have a Samsung Focus WP7, previously had a Samsung BlackJack II with WM 6.1, bought my wife an iPhone 4 at the same time as my Focus. I should’ve gotten the Iphone. I have to wait until FALL? 1 full year from the original release date for an update to a OS that is lacking? Look for the “Like New Focus” on Ebay.

      Just my opinion, and I suppose I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it in Vegas.

    • The only feature missing compared to Android and iOS is tethering, AFACT.

      And in many ways surpasses them both. The multitasking for example is richer than iOS and yet as powerful as Androids (w/o the downside of the battery drain).

      Additionally the deep links and live tiles best what are on iOS and Android. And the browser is way better than mobile Safari.

      Of course it’s Apple’s turn now, so we’ll see. But if its just cloud music then that’s a loser. Android already announced Ice Cream Sandwich which frankly wasn’t very impressive, and due out the same time as Mango.

      At this point WP seems almost strictly better than Android. As it has the feature set, way better games, and generally a more responsive UI.

      WP vs iOS, I’d say that with Mango WP passes the core iOS platform, but the iOS app ecosystem is much better.

      At this point it looks like a legit 3-way race.

      • I agree, minus tethering, WP7 (Mango) seems to have caught up in features with iOS and Android. As an iPhone user myself, I am intrigued by Windows Phone OS, however, there are some apps that I use heavily that are not available in Windows Phone yet. I think the big negative Microsoft has going for it, is that it doesn’t control the update cycle. Until Microsoft can prove that it can update existing phones on schedule, I’m not jumping into the Windows Phone world.

    • oh boy

      It’s missing about 400,000-500,000 features of other platforms. Someone’s main feature is another persons trinket.

      Developers, developers, developers.

      As you can see Android and iOS marketshare has come at the expense of Nokia and MS not Blackberry.

      With Nokia users having to re-purchase all their apps if WP7 is their “new” upgrade path – expect a massive implosion and further brand destruction when those users pick their next phone. For both WP7 and Nokia.

      People will then choose the ecosystem that is stable and has the largest application base and won’t burn them yet again. Unlike Nokia and MS “ecosystems”. Too bad for the suckers that invested in Win 6.5 and/or Nokia. Developers included.

      And unlike the massive shift to the cloud undermining Windows on the desktop there is no platform shift on the horizon to disrupt mobile. Those positions have been staked out and are entrenched in a way similar to Windows on the desktop in the 90’s.

      Which means even more market share and apps for iOS and Android in the consumer space and BB in the corporate space.

      Nokia is the Titanic and WP7 is the Captain. The next upgrade cycle is the Iceberg not the saviour of either.

      Even IBM market cap surpassed MS recently.

      You can’t even say MS is the IBM of the 80’s anymore. It’s worse. And pouring 8.5 billion down the drain for Skype isn’t helping their position. It’s simply desperation. Developers will create apps for WP7 with that in mind. As a last resort if they have time left over from the other platforms.

  5. Prof. Peabody

    Not only catch-up, but also too late. The Mango update won’t be available until “the Fall” which will be after the announcement of, and possibly even after the wide deployment of, iOS 5.0 which is supposed to be a big big update for Apple.

    All Apple has to do is show a bit of integration in iOS 5, and they will be far ahead of this catch up effort before it’s even released.

    • Ryan Kim

      I think there’s still an opportunity for Microsoft but they really need more wow factor for WP7. I do like the improvements but they’re more subtle in their benefits. I think MS needs to nail this partnership with Nokia, develop some more awesome features and i think the marketing messaging around this phone needs to be very clear on why WP7.