The next version of Windows Phone, dubbed “Mango” and arriving in September, will add 500 new features to Microsoft’s mobile OS, Andy Lees, president of Microsoft’s mobile communications business said at an event in New York today.
“We wanted to provide the customer with less clutter, more clarity… innovation and choices, but without fragmentation and frustration,” Lees said.
That includes more seamless communications options, a better Web browser, and much richer Bing search, for instance.
Windows Phone 7 is currently available on phones for AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint and has gotten generally strong reviews, but not particularly strong sales. According to a Gartner report released last week, Microsoft sold 1.6 million Windows Phone 7 devices in the first quarter for a 3.6% share of the global smartphone market compared to leader Android’s 36% share. Verizon announced its first Windows Phone last week, but previously made it clear that the carrier’s heart was in Apple and iOS devices.
Hubs, Not Apps
This is very different from Apple’s approach, which generally requires people to jump between different apps to communicate with social networking services. On the other hand, HP’s approach in WebOS is much more like Microsoft’s.
On other OSes, “people need to be able to hunt and peck to be able to communicate and share,” Lees said. Windows Phone has “a people-centric approach to communications.”
Email becomes more flexible, too. You can create custom unified mailboxes that group together some, but not all, of your multiple mailboxes – for instance, keeping work and personal email separate, but offering one inbox for multiple personal accounts. Microsoft Exchange email gets a conversation view, and IT administrators can put access restrictions on specific messages.
Bing offers much deeper local search, including a “local scout” feature which lets you browse the businesses and events in a specific neighborhood. Bing Maps now includes interior maps of malls and other large buildings. Bing Visual is a Google Goggles-like search mode where you take a picture of something and then get a search result, for instance comparing the price of an item you find on a shelf to various online stores. Bing Music Search is like Shazam built into the OS, letting the phone ID a song it hears and then jump immediately to the Zune player to download, stream or bookmark it.
None of this means Microsoft is abandoning the 18,000 third-party apps available for Windows Phone. Mango offers new opportunities for third-party app developers, Lees said. For instance, Bing searches can connect to apps with relevant information – an example he showed was a movie showtime search connecting to the IMDB app, or a search for a book connecting directly to purchasing it in the Kindle app.
“We blur the lines between Internet search and applications … [Windows Phone] can hand off seamlessly and effortlessly between the searches you do on the phone and the applications,” Windows Phone senior product manager Derek Snyder said.
So Where Are The Phones?
“Windows Phone Mango will be the release used for the first Nokia Windows phones,” Lees said.
But this September’s Windows phones won’t feature cutting-edge specs like dual-core processors and “qHD” 960-by-540 screens. Sullivan said Microsoft was focused first on “user experience” and secondly right now on expanding the number of countries and languages Windows Phones are available in, rather than in supporting a wider range of hardware.
Updates for existing phones will come “this fall,” but Sullivan wouldn’t say when this fall, or whether all Windows Phone owners would get the updates at the same time. A first set of Windows Phone updates, dubbed “NoDo,” was criticized for rolling out in a piecemeal manner.
“We’ve been learning from the update process; we’ve had a couple of bumps early on, but we’re improving our processes,” Sullivan said.
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