On May 24, Microsoft execs shared a few more details about some of the promised 500 features coming to the "Mango" Windows Phone release, due out later this year.Mango preview in New York City, Microsoft didn't provide an exact launch or availability date for Mango. (Officials reiterated Mango would be out on new phones some time this fall.) They didn't share a list of all of the 500 features and showed off a small subset of them only. They wouldn't answer questions about rumored features that were not mentioned at the preview (like turn-by-turn directions, Zune music/video and Flash). And they didn't have any new Mango phones available for those of us who attended the press/analyst preview event to play with -- which may be a mixed blessing, given Microsoft doesn't want to completely kill off the not-so-robust demand for existing Windows Phones.
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But Andy Lees, the President of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, did discuss some of the coming features of Mango -- some of which have leaked or been shown previously at other Microsoft events, and a couple of which were brand-new.
Lees said Microsoft's goal with Mango is to make smartphones smarter and easier to use. He showed off three buckets of features today: Those which allow users to connect and share with family, friends and colleagues; "rich applications" that are built into the core phone experience; and Internet connectivity.
Here's what Microsoft did say about Mango today:
A beta of the Mango developer tools is available for download as of today. Microsoft still isnt' saying when the Mango bits will be available to developers (beyond the select few who have test builds of Mango now).
Fujitsu, Acer and ZTE are all going to have Windows Mango phones out this year. Existing Windows Phone partners HTC, LG, Samsung and Nokia will have Mango phones, as well. Nokia's first WP7 phones will run Mango and are currently being tested in Microsoft's labs. No word if Nokia will have phones out late this year or not until next year. Update: Sounds as if Microsoft officials told preview attendees in other cities that the first Nokia Mango phones would be out in calendar 2011.
Microsoft is adding Windows Phone Marketplace support for 19 more countries, in addition to the 16 that already have support, as of Mango. (But Microsoft isn't saying whether Bing and Zune support will also be coming to countries beyond the small number that already have those features in time for the Mango release.)
On the communications front, Mango will get "Threads, the ability to switch between text, Facebook chat and Windows Live Messenger within the same conversation; "Groups," the ability to group contacts into personalized Live Tiles so as to text, email or IM a group; built-in Facebook check-ins and new face-detection software for tagging photos; linked inboxes, allowing users to see multiple mail accounts in one linked inbox; and built-in voice-to-text and text-to-voice support for hands-free texting/chatting.
On the applications front, third-party multitasking is coming (as previously announced). A new "App Connect" feature is going to more tightly tie search into Windows Phone Hubs, including Music and Video and Pictures.
On the "beyond the browser" front, "Local Scout" will provide hyperlocal search results and recommendations; Bing Vision and Music Search ("Bing Audio") will be added; and "Quick Cards" will provide summaries of relevant information for users searching for products, movies, events or places.
Here's what the Softies didn't show and wouldn't talk about (beyond the statements I've included below):
Flash support: IE 9 Mobile doesn't support plug-ins, but Microsoft is seemingly not ruling out Flash support in the future (for some reason). A spokesperson said, re: Flash: "(T)here’s nothing new on this front. Adobe and Microsoft have a strong history of partnership and continue to work together to deliver Flash technology available in the market today to all Windows Mobile 6.5-based Windows Phones available now and in the future."
Is Dell abandoning the WP platform? (Dell wasn't listed in Microsoft's list of OEMs who will have Mango phones). When I asked about Dell, a Microsoft spokesperson said: "We don’t have anything to announce right now but we deeply value our partnerships with our existing partners and we will continue to invest with them."
What's the version number of the Mango operating system? (Microsoft inadvertently said earlier this year it would be Windows Phone OS 7.5.) Answer: No comment at this time -- in spite of the fact that Microsoft's own site mentions 7.1 as the new seemingly final name. But wait... maybe OS 7.5 will triumph, after all.
When will existing Windows Phone users get Mango pushed to them? It's anyone's guess how long carriers may take to test the Mango bits once they are available to them (that availability to carriers date is rumored to be this summer).
Will third-party applications ever be able to be integrated directly into Microsoft's Windows Phone hubs? No word. Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore says yes.
Update: And regarding turn-by-turn directions -- another feature the Softies didn't discuss at the preview -- developers have found that feature does exist in the coming Mango release. But it sounds as if Microsoft execs admitted at the London preview that tethering won't supported in Mango.
Mango is the successor to the "NoDo" Windows Phone OS update that Microsoft has been rolling out over the past few months. In addition to the features listed above, Mango is slated to include IE 9 Mobile, improvements around accessing apps via Microsoft's Live SkyDrive, integrated Windows Live Messenger functionality, and new private/beta marketplace support.
What's your take after today's preview? Will Mango enable Microsoft to catch up and grow its smartphone share? Or are there still glaring omissions on the feature side of its phone house that need addressing?