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Windows Phone Mango thoughts

Unlike the mild mannered NODO update delivered (or not delivered depending on what device you own,) Mango is poised to be a much needed addition to the platform. Mango represents a bridge in a huge gap of missing features many thought should have been included from launch. And so, Microsoft rallied the troops to show the world what Mango is and what it will be delivering.

Mango’s focus is divided into three main categories, the first of these highlighted was communications. The people’s hub itself received some tweaking and the addition of something called threading. From a contact view, you now have a new “text + chat” feature. Text + Chat include conversations you’ve had with this person over all of the supported services. You will be able to see text messages, emails and even Facebook chat messages all in a threaded view. This concept should be friendly to the WebOS fans among us. Also added to the contact view is the ability to see pictures of that person. This assumes the behavior from the pictures hub where images are pulled from the different services subscribed to. For instance, from a contact view, you can now see this person’s Facebook or linked in albums.

Groups are also a newly added feature. You will have the ability to create a listing of multiple contacts to form a group. Once done, you gain an entirely new way to communicate with these contacts as one entity. The text + chat features are also available in groups, so you’ll be looking at one feed or conversation for all the grouped contacts. Just like the contact view, pictures and albums are supported as well. You will be able to see not only pictures of everyone in the group, but pictures where you’ve been tagged with people in the group. As expected, groups can be pinned to the start menu and also include support for live tile updates.

The way pictures are shared and updated has received an interesting update. Upon uploading pictures to Facebook, there is an auto tag feature where people are identified with ease before uploading.

To continue the threading trend, threading is now supported in the email client as well. You will be able to read your emails in a conversational view. Also added is the ability to link email accounts to umbrella as one. You can select which accounts you want to be linked, this leads to some liberating account management. Calendar has been giving the same treatment and now supports Facebook events.

Voice commands have been taking a bit further with hands free messaging. Once enable, the phone will alert you to a message and ask you what you would like to do. You can ignore it, at this point the phone returns to what it was doing, or you can read it. If you choose to have it read, the phone will read the message out loud. Once done, it will give you the option to reply. Speaking out loud to the phone will have it write it all out, and then send it for you. This is a feature Android users have enjoyed for some time, but it gets a little more effortless with Mango.

The second highlighted category was applications. Great attention was giving to this category as well. The office hub and office suite were given some much needed updates. Office hub now integrates with the small business driven service Office 365 and its consumer solution SkyDrive. Improved SharePoint integration and ability to work on live shared documents will also be available.

The Xbox Live hub was completely redone. Now with faster more complete experience and features. Avatars will be present and animated directly in the hub along with any accessories you may have. The ability to view friend’s gaming list as well as compare has been added.

Besides games, Microsoft put XNA to work in an interesting way. Now Silverlight and XNA can coincide in the same application to offer a new breed of apps. The demo of this was an unsuspecting British Airways app. Perhaps you wanted to change your seat location, thanks to XNA, you are taken on a virtual 3D tour of the plane to look for a seat that better suits you. It really was amazing to see the UI and such heavy 3D acceleration working together.

The British Airways app wasn’t done showing its technical valor just yet; it featured something known as “app shortcut.” For instance, if you wanted to check the status of your flight, you would have to launch the app, and then proceed to a series of screens and submenus. With app shortcuts, you are able to pin a section of the app most important to you to the start menu. So you can pin your flight status or boarding pass or both the start menu for easy viewing. But not only viewing, those tiles are still very much real, and can receive real time updates like an actual app would.

Live tile updates themselves received a minor but significant update. Now tiles can receive updates and information without actually launching the app.

Multitasking and task switching will be very much present in Mango. Although multitasking is a bit of an annoyance in its absence, if the platform is to survive it must be implemented. Microsoft has done exactly that win Mango. Naturally with multitasking comes task switching. Task switching is engaged by holding the back button. You will be presented by a “cards like” UI, familiar to WebOS fans, where you can see a screen shot or card of available apps to select. It isn’t the most glamorous thing you have ever seen, but it is highly effective.

The last of the categories focused on is internet. One heavy hitter in this category is Bing. From Bing’s first introduction, it was marketed as a decision engine as opposed to a search engine. No one really knew what the hell that meant at the time, but now we all have a solid idea what Bing is. This “decision engine” behavior continues on the Windows Phone platform. Much to my surprise, it thrives like I would have never known.

The Bing services have been sectioned off into individual features. Available will be Bing voice, Bing music search and Bing vision. The most interesting of these is Bing vision. Bing vision works by using the phones camera to take a picture of an item, let’s say a DVD cover. It then finds the product and displays information accordingly. Search results like prices, stores where it is available, reviews and even a list of apps in the marketplace that might have any significance to that DVD.

The manner in which this information is displayed is also a new feature called “quick cards.” Think of it as a template for searched items which include all possible information you would want to know. Quick cards get even more interesting when you are looking for a place or event. For instance, when searching for Madison Square Garden, the quick card will not only include regular business information like operation hours or contact numbers, but you will find a tab for “upcoming” events.

This then leads to another new Bing feature called “local scout.” When searching for something, the quick card might contain a “neighborhood” option. Once accessed, the local scout feature will give you a list of things to do in that neighborhood.

Also demoed was a really cool feature called “indoor maps.” This was pretty much an autocad-isk layout of something like a mall. You will be able to see exactly where stores are located in the layout and even what floor.

Internet explorer 9 also has a lot to offer. Hardware acceleration has been added to greatly improve loading times. A comparison test of four devices was conducted to prove the effectiveness of IE9 and hardware acceleration. A Blackberry Torch, iPhone 4, Droid Charge and Windows Phone were all side by side when running the same test. Even the Charge’s dual core processor and LTE network, couldn’t beat IE’s performance. It was a sight to see. Also worth noting, the address bar will now be accessible when the phone is in landscape mode.

Aside from the focused categories, there were two major announcements for the platform and Mango. LTE was announced! Although the carriers aren’t even close to having a suitable network as yet, it’s always good to see the standard supported.

Three more hardware manufacturers were announced. Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE all joined the party. Microsoft also mentioned Nokia Windows Phones will be ready to go by Mango.

Well, is this enough? Yes. Mango is more than enough to catapult Microsoft right in the middle of it all. In fact, in most areas Windows Phone will be leagues ahead of the competition. The operating system offers something unique and completely new; an OS that does everything you need it to do without an app. That may sound weird to some, but for those who actually took the time to use a Windows Phone, this concept is gold. Mango continues to blur the line between how we do things and how they should be done. The coming features in Mango will free us from working for information we need or thinking about the communications we have. Instead, the subject of our information and people we want to communicate with, will always be up front and center with little effort.

This is all very exciting, but I still walked away from the Mango event somewhat disappointed. My disappointment has nothing to do with the showings that went on today, in fact the bar has been raised and expectations were met and surpassed. But a release date of fall seems really far. Plenty of people will read this and find themselves impressed, but when they ask when can I get it? It all crumbles. We’ve still months to wait for these features.

Besides the long wait, no new hardware was announced. Many were expecting and waiting for hope that there are some phones with front facing cameras, still no word. At the end of the event, the speaker left us with a “500 features coming to mango.” I found this highly frustrating, after all I was at the Mango event, so why not tell me what these 500 features will be?

I often questioned Microsoft’s update patterns and behavior. Over in the PC world this would be called a service pack. One big roll up of features and bug fixes, sure, why not. Except, there is one thing wrong here. This isn’t the PC market, this isn’t the enterprise market, this is consumer-ville. Consumers like to know they’re being thought of. When you disappear for months at a time, they really don’t care if you come back with candy or fruit; the only thing they remember is how long you’ve been gone. And so, it would have been nice to see Microsoft roll these features out as soon as they were done baking. Let the consumer feel as if they’re doing something.

Personal gripes aside, Mango will be an epic update and win for the platform. It will change the minds of those sitting on the sideline watching and it will even be good enough for the “hey mom, try this phone” crowd. Over all, Mango is an overachiever, now…we wait.