When windows phone unveiled back in February of 2010 it had many skeptics including myself. The UI (user interface) was rather bare bones and it was such a completely new direction in the Smartphone market that many of us didn’t understand what Microsoft was thinking. As time progressed and more features were shown off in depth like the live tiles and Facebook integration I started to understand where Microsoft was going with this new platform. It was a radical new direction that completely left windows mobile on the side of the road. There was no backwards compatibility, multitasking or even copy & Paste. As a former windows mobile user I was fed up with the instability of windows mobile and had to make a move. Android was making waves but the fragmentation and issues with the platform reminded me of windows mobile too much and I wasn’t looking to install iTunes again after it tried to take control of too many things on my pc one too many times. Thus began my tango with windows phone 7.
Windows phone is much like the iPhone in many ways. It’s a completely new look at a Smartphone, similar to how iPhone was when it first released; there is no side loading of apps, the UI is new and refreshing, its missing features at launch, every phone should be getting updates at the same time (theoretically speaking) and it has a robust marketplace of apps, music and video. With that said many windows mobile users were skeptical of it in much the same way they were with the iPhone. I was as well but it was what I thought to be the best of both worlds making it the best choice for me. Since the launch in November 2010, copy & paste was added along with a stability update in April and May, leading us to the big mango update this fall.
In February Microsoft showed off the beginnings of the mango update at Mobile World Congress 2011, these included:
1. Twitter Integration in the People Hub
2. Office Document Storage in the Cloud
3. Next Generation Browsing with Internet Explorer 9
4. Additional Multi-tasking Capabilities
Not a huge list of features for an update expected around a year after the platform launched but enough to appease the rabid journalists and consumers who were looking for the major update to “make windows phone 7 competitive.”
Again in April mango was shown off at the MIX 11 developers’ conference. This time the list of new features were more directed at the developers and included:
1. Deep Linking – a way to make shortcuts to parts of an app instead of going to the main entry of the app and having to navigate to the feature yourself
2. Motion sensor library – access to the motion sensor for apps
3. Camera API – native camera access for apps
4. Open sockets – something needed for apps like Skype
5. Database access for apps and games – access to phone data like calendar and contacts
6. Extra functionality with existing APIs for live tiles, extras and push notification
7. Ability to use Silverlight and XNA on the same project
8. Better emulator and dev tools
While these don’t seem to be huge features for consumers they actually are, giving these abilities to developers will make development easier and allow for more immersive applications to be brought to the windows phone marketplace. At this time I was pretty excited with the mango update and thought Microsoft has a really big update for consumers to look forward to here. Little did I know a month later Steve Ballmer would announce that mango would have over 500 new features.
May 24th Microsoft held a preview event for mango running on dev phones and showed off quite a few new features while still holding back plenty of features to keep consumers interested for the fall release with the plan to show off a little at a time keeping their platform visible to consumers. The features they showed off were split in to three groups; “Taking the internet beyond the browser”, “A smarter approach to apps” and “Communication”. Each of these had some very useful features added.
Taking the internet beyond the browser
1. Internet explorer 9 – windows phone 7 will be using the same core as windows 7 IE9 browser giving it better hardware acceleration, better internet browsing and saving battery life as well
2. Local scout – this is a localization feature in Bing that will just look at where you are and give you useful information about where you are such as restaurants, events, shopping, activities and landmarks
3. Bing search – updated to now include visual search using the camera, music search using the microphone and voice search. Results have also been expanded to include different results like images
4. Quick cards – when searching for movies Bing will intelligently search for movies in your local area and give you show times as well as apps you have installed to jump in to. This will also work for other things like products, events and places
A smarter approach to apps:
1. App connect – connecting apps to search results like searching for movies and giving you the option to go to the IMDB app for more detailed information or searching for a book and giving you the option to buy it on the Amazon kindle app
2. Improved live tile support – this gives you more information than before like flight information for multiple flights from the same app on multiple live tiles
3. Multitasking – Microsoft took the apple route with multitasking for battery and data conservation.
4. Web based marketplace
1. Threaded messaging – allowing you to keep SMS, Facebook chat and windows live messenger conversations streamlined in the same messaging hub
2. Groups – group contacts together for personalized live tiles to see status update as well as quickly message the whole group
3. Social networks added – twitter has already been announced but LinkedIn is also added in your social stream
4. Facebook events added to the calendar app
5. Photo tagging – now when you send photos to social networks they automatically recognize faces and ask for names
6. Linked inbox – this is like the iPhone’s unified inbox but manageable, you can link inboxes you chose together while keeping others separate.
7. Pin folders – you can pin folders from your e-mail to the start screen keeping important projects visible
8. Hands free messaging – voice to text and text to voice
9. Predictive text entry
If this wasn’t enough to excite people I don’t know what is. Even if you aren’t planning on switching Smartphone platforms the innovation Microsoft is showing is great competition and should motivate other platforms to innovate as well. But that’s not all, the developer emulator was released a couple days after the event and more features keep coming out of the woodworks. Here are a few:
1. Voice guided turn by turn GPS navigation
2. Camera settings will be saved from one use to the next, currently they are reset every time you open the camera app
3. Video share features via SMS and direct upload to Facebook
4. Battery saver mode
5. Updated functionality for the Zune player
6. Group calendar event invitation
7. Streamlined Xbox live functionality
8. Scrolling to be much smoother
9. Enhanced emoticon support in the messaging app
10. Native podcast subscription
11. Task integration
12. Sky drive file browser
13. Video translation feature
I just noticed a “check in” option in the press photos provided above. Another feature integrated in to the OS that hasn’t been announced?!?!?
This is an amazing jump in functionality over just a years time and we still haven’t seen or heard about everything. Let us know in the comments if you think this is enough to bring windows phone up to par with other smartphone platforms or if it is still lacking.