It’s about time! Microsoft has just detailed its next update to Windows Phone 7. This update, codenamed ‘Mango’, will bump the version number from 7.0.7 to 7.1, and will include 500 new features (how Redmond reached that number, god only knows). The developer tools are out in beta form today. There’s a lot of cool stuff in there, such as the already known pseudo-multitasking and the hardware accelerated Internet Explorer 9, but also a lot of stuff we didn’t know anything about. Also, news on new hardware partners, and, of course, Nokia.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way first. As we already knew (and honestly, why is this news?), Windows Phone 7.1 will be free for all WP7 devices. It will arrive at the beginning of autumn this year, in a (hopefully, this time) simultaneous release. The documentation for Mango has been posted at MSDN, and lists a boatload of new APIs for developers to benefit from.
Speaking of the SDK, the beta developer tools for Mango have been released as well, and delivers loads of new features that I, as a Windows Phone 7 user, surely welcome: background processing, the use of Silverlight and XNA together, Silverlight 4, IE9 web browser control, several Live Tile enhancements, deep linking into applications from notifications and Live Tiles, direct camera/compass/gyro access, fast application switching, and more. I have the sneaking suspicion this release is really going to lead to some damn fine applications.
The Windows Phone Marketplace will also expand into a boatload of new countries – including, finally, the glorified swamp I live in. Apart from The Netherlands, the Marketplace will also expand to Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, India, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden and Taiwan. I’m hoping this happens before the Mango release, though, since as ti stands, I can’t use my own Windows Live ID (and thus, no Xbox integration), and I can’t buy any content (only free applications). I’m missing out. Also, the Marketplace will get a web frontend (finally!), so you can select applications on your PC and send them straight to your phone.
Now, moving on to user-visible features – there’s a whole lot going on here besides the stuff we already knew from earlier this year (multitasking, IE9). For instance, Messenger is finally coming to Windows Phone, and will be fully integrated into the device – seamlessly merging text messages and IM without the need of ever opening a specific application. You’ll also be able to create a live tile for a contact that gets updated when you receive emails, text messages, or whatever else from that contact. Pretty neat.
Mango will also greatly enhance the text-to-speech and speech-to-text features of your mobile phone. Mango will be able to announce incoming messages, and read them aloud should you so desire. You can then give the ‘reply’ command, dictate your message and preview it, and then proceed to send it. All hands-free.
Windows Phone 7’s search functionality will also be greatly expanded, including audio and visual search. You’ll be able to take a photo of a product, and then check prices and reviews online automatically. For instance, you can take a photo of a book, and the phone will find the title in the Kindle application.
There’s a whole lot more going on here, but we’ll cut the new features talk here. Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone, demonstrates some of the new features in the following video.
As far as hardware goes, Microsoft announced three new partners: Acer, Fujitsu, and ZTE. More importantly, Nokia has stated that Mango will be the release that will be on its first WP7 device. “This is the software that will be used on the first Nokia with Windows Phone device, and so should be of keen interest to Nokia-watchers everywhere,” Nokia stated.
“We are very excited about our strategic partnership with Microsoft, and Mango is a great milestone for the first Nokia with Windows Phone devices,” said Jo Harlow, Nokia’s executive vice president for smart devices, “We believe Mango offers developers opportunities to create new mobile experiences leveraging both companies complementary assets while providing consumers with a new choice in mobile.â€
Microsoft and Qualcomm have also confirmed that just like the current crop of Windows Phone 7 devices, the next series of devices will also make use of the Snapdragon processor. “Qualcomm has a long history of working closely with Microsoft and we continue to support the launches of new Windows Phones based on our Snapdragon processors,” said Steve Mollenkopf, executive vice president at Qualcomm, “We are excited about this next Windows Phone Mango release that will leverage the synergy of our highly integrated second generation Snapdragon solution and Microsoft’s Windows Phone software.â€
That’s about it when it comes to Windows Phone 7.1.
I really hoped Microsoft would bring something more with, but for now i can see that WP7.1 is only a catch-up release:
1. IE gets an upgrade. WP finally gets an HTML5 capable browser which is hardware accelerated.
2. Bing Scout looks like Google Places.
3. Bing Vision looks like Google Goggles.
4. Multi-tasking looks like the same thing in WebOS. That’s probably the most obvious way to do multi-tasking, but it is a bit unclear how it will actually work (applications are paused when switching between them in the demo) especially when you have a lot of apps opened.
5. Notifications look good, but it can be difficult to notice if you have many tiles and some of them want to notify you while others are just showing some other random things.