How Microsoft-Nokia pact ripens in Mango

Matt Bencke, the Microsoft executive heavily involved in the Nokia deal, talks to ZDNet UK as details of the Mango update for Windows Phone 7 surface
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor

As a clearer picture of the Mango update for Windows Phone 7 emerges, ZDNet UK spoke to Matt Bencke, the general manager of the Microsoft developer and marketplace team behind the Nokia deal.

We asked him what Microsoft wants Nokia to bring to Windows Phone, where Ovi Maps fits in, what mobile means for web apps on the phone, and how that relates to Windows on ARM.

The first Windows Phone update is barely out of the door and Microsoft is already talking about the next — and much more significant — free upgrade. It first showed off some features at Mobile World Congress in February, shortly after announcing its tie-up with mobile giant Nokia.

At its MIX11 conference in April, Microsoft went into far more detail on this next version of Windows Phone, codenamed Mango, showing how it handles multitasking, improves performance and updates the interface.

Nokia's first Microsoft-powered phones will use the Mango Windows Phone release, due in autumn 2011, but shipping in volume in 2012. Nokia's relationship with Microsoft is about more than Windows Phone, as it will bring its Navteq maps and navigation tools to Bing, along with its international marketing expertise in the Ovi Store.

Microsoft's mobile future is more than just Windows Phone. It's also Windows and Internet Explorer, with Mango set to include a full version of IE9 — along with its fast JavaScript engine for mobile web applications. A mobile Windows isn't far away, with the company demonstrating an ARM version of the next Windows release at CES, and following it up with a demonstration of IE10 on ARM at MIX11.

Q: How far is the deal with Nokia a way to extend some of the services for Windows Phone outside the US, where Bing has a lot of detail, and into international markets?
A: Nokia is a good accelerator and motivator for us to go global faster. Part of what we liked when we stared across the room at each other was we have inverse geographic footprints in some ways, in terms of where Microsoft is strong — not just Windows Phone but Xbox, Bing, Zune.

The fingers go like this [he mimes interlocking hands] when you look at Nokia with 70-percent smartphone share, plus or minus, in Russia, Egypt, Indonesia — and China and India in that 50-percent plus-or-minus range. [It's] crazy market share where we aren't robust.

So do the new countries you've announced for Mango build on Nokia strengths?
The Mango countries were picked before the Nokia deal, so not on purpose. It wasn't like a master plan. But the truth is, getting into a much broader footprint around Europe is a big deal. Nokia is obviously a top-five brand in Europe, but not a big deal in the US. But people walk into stores in Germany and the UK and say, 'I'd like a Nokia' all day long.

Nokia's market share would be a great thing for Windows Phone, but what about its technologies?
People haven't necessarily connected all the dots. Nokia cares a lot about MO [mobile operator] billing integration. It is a matter of public record that Nokia has MO billing with 112 carriers today. Which is, what, 110 more than Android? Android only has...

...MO billing in the US. Apple has, of course, zero. And I think that's the preferred way people like to buy apps because it's just so easy and worry free. Those are the kinds of assets we get pretty excited about. I'm actually surprised people haven't picked up on this — that Nokia sells more cameras than anybody, more camera lenses than Sharp or Sony or Casio.

So how does that fact relate to what's new in Mango? Is there Ovi Maps integration?
We bring into play what I call 'threaded user scenarios'. The easy example is: I'm getting off work, I'm done reading my email on my phone and I look up a person or I do local search. I see a restaurant nearby. I see what the buzz is at the restaurant. I can see the reviews. I swipe over to extras and make a reservation — all without having to keep going back, back, back or home.

Smart people know how to do it today; if you're on an Android phone, if you are a super-invested geek who is willing to go through the app store — which isn't super-well merchandised — you can find an app probably for almost anything. But If you want to live like a real person lives and thread together this scenario I just described, by the time you've figured out how to use the sixth app to do it, you're done — because it's such a hassle; it would be easier to pull out the subway map from your back pocket than to play with your phone.

We're just trying to make it effortless in a way that developers can be a part of that, because the developers are always going be more creative and innovative than we can be. Things like breaking developers out of static app tiles with real live tiles and deep linking and extras, better Bing indexing of Marketplace — all those things are just tools for developers to take assets we're working on together already with Nokia and make them shine.

And there's other stuff that I think, because we're not first to market, we can actually be smarter about. Multitasking is one example. Only the geeks really care but the customers notice the difference when you can do the same thing with 30-percent less memory.

Nokia has many strengths but the user interface isn't always one of them, whereas that has been key for Windows Phone. What happens with the extra licence you're giving Nokia in the interface?
It's really important to us that a Windows Phone user recognises it as a Windows Phone no matter who our device partner is, and you'll continue to see that integrity of user experience.

It's really important that a Windows Phone user recognises it as a Windows Phone no matter who our device partner is.

Nokia has a lot of neat assets and neat ideas not all of which have seen the light of day quite yet. I have to give Nokia credit because they have really elevated industrial design and user experience design in their organisation in terms of the talent and where it sits and what kind of influence it has.

It's bit of a balancing act — we're going to work together with them to really bring some of those Nokia assets and Nokia signature elements to the fore on phones in ways that are going to be special, and preserve the integrity of user interface.

On the other hand, you're introducing a gyroscope sensor that will be optional.
We are trying to balance, 'we build the hardware, it's our way or the highway', and the fragmented, 'anything goes' thing. We're trying to balance giving device makers some flexibility so they can charge higher or lower prices and yet not eliminate addressable market for developers.

It's worth a manufacturer thinking it wants to produce a low-end Windows Phone if we're thinking that's maybe not such a bad idea, given a market that's growing 57 percent this year.

With IE9 coming to the phone, what does that mean for web apps? Will you be able to pin web apps, and will we see them in the Marketplace?
Yes, you can pin a site. That's kind of cool but for developers we're making it very easy for you to frame HTML 5 code. And yes you can publish an HTML 5 app in the store. But you can do all kinds of other things that are a little more sophisticated that take you into that hybrid area.

You can use Visual Studio with a little bit of Silverlight framing or you can take it all the way and it gets pretty blurred. The nice thing about Mango is you can blur HTML 5, Silverlight, maybe XNA for some 3D rendering — all in the same package. That will give us some opportunities for developers who want to see their stuff running on different platforms.

Does IE9 having the Chakra JavaScript engine that takes advantage of multicore chips on the desktop imply that we'll see multicore phones?
I don't have anything I can say on the record about that except dual-core hardware is out there. You saw IE10 running on ARM, so we're thinking about different architectures. It's nice to have hardware accelerated and different chipset architectures.

The integrity of the user experience is such a strong principle that every decision that gets made about the product is done within that framework. So if it's a great user experience, that's something the company looks at.

One last question: we haven't seen any more details of the Twitter integration you promised in February — how is that progressing?
Well, we're doing Twitter integration. It will be in the next version. It'll be good. I don't mind confessing that copy-paste with full integration is a really beautiful thing. Today I was going to tweet a short link to a blog post and it was easier to do on my PC — that's a hassle.

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