That list of 500 features that Mango is getting are more than just tweaks. A lot of these are essentially apps that are being brought into the OS, such as the Bing Vision, Messenger integration and SkyDrive. So instead of getting a phone and installing 25 apps you have them from day one. And this is a pretty deep concept for the OS. Here’s a chart that winphone7.info put together displaying the level which Windows Phones have built in apps compared to iOS5:
I think it’s a great strategy for Microsoft and in fact you see the same thing from the screenshots of Windows 8 as well where you see things like an RSS reader and weather app already being shown off. As a software company that’s what they should be doing. I know it got them in trouble once with that little anti-trust thing when they bundled everything together, but now that they’re behind they can do it again. And looking at this list I’d take it a step further and it’s a great way for Microsoft to see what they still have to integrate into the OS (particularly pdf viewer and YouTube support).
However, there’s a painful side effect to this strategy and it’s inherent in the way Microsoft has aligned itself. As we all know, the version of Bing on iOS is better than the version currently available on Windows Phones. Microsoft explained this – in iOS it’s an app but on Windows Phone’s it’s the OS so you need an OS update and not an app update. This is exactly the same issue Google was hit with when they were unable to update Google Maps in Android and ultimately they made the decision to remove Google Maps from the OS and make it an app so it’s updateable. Same issue, different platform.
If Microsoft wants to push out an OS update they have to go through the painful process of getting it approved by the manufacturer, then the carrier and then they can finally push it. So even a minor update is going to take months to push out and as time goes on and there are more devices, more manufacturers and more carriers it just becomes thornier for them. The solution is either they reconfigure the relationship they have with manufacturers and carriers on certain additions (like mapping, etc) or they create a method to turn these services into apps that are updateable through Marketplace. The latter option is likely the easier and less confrontational path and by merely making the features ‘apps’ updateable through Marketplace but preventing them from being uninstalled that would presumably put them in the same position.
But why spend so much time on this? Because the indications are one major update a year for Windows Phones and likely some incremental updates but nowhere near the number of updates we would see if these were apps. I’d love to see features get pushed as they’re ready and not require an major update. Of course, some features will still require major updates to work but if the platform is always having software features that are behind what Microsoft is distributing on other platforms then they’ll always be perceived as treating their own OS as inferior. In other words, fix it now Microsoft and don’t make me spend another year watching the future software I’m going to get on other platforms cause that burn is really starting to hurt.