Exploring the New Consumer Features of Windows Phone Mango
Mobile Corner columnist Nick Randolph breaks down some of the key improvements announced at yesterday's Windows Phone "Mango" launch event, and says the raft of new consumer-oriented features make Mango a more attractive developer target.
Looks like Tuesday was Mango day. There has been growing excitement around the next version of the Windows Phone platform, from the initial announcement earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, to the developer announcements at MIX11 and then via a number of Microsoft blog posts that hinted at features to come. On Tuesday, the new features of Windows Phone Mango were announced
There's been a little confusion as to the purpose of this week's announcement, in part due to the parallel release of the Windows Phone Developer Tools (WPDT) 7.1 Beta. A lot of the new developer features were announced at MIX11, including multiple live tiles, database support, improved sensor APIs, fast application switching, background agents, sockets and Silverlight 4. Today's announcement was about the new consumer features coming in Mango.
Let's start with the Web browser. In Windows Phone 7 the browser was based on Internet Explorer (IE) 7 from the desktop. This has been dramatically improved to use the same core engine as IE 9, including support for HTML 5, making Windows Phone one of the best mobile Web browsing experiences available. There are some limitations, such as no support for inline HTML 5 video, but we do get support for GPS. The ability to access geo-location information about the device enables Web sites to provide more personal and relevant information to the user.
One of the features that I believe will set Windows Phone apart in the market is the continued integration of social capabilities into the core platform. In Windows Phone 7 we saw Facebook integration display 'what's new' information about contacts. With Mango this integration has been extended to include Twitter and Linked In. Furthermore, in addition to being able to keep track of what your contacts are doing, you can now interact with them directly from the phone. The messaging capabilities within Mango allow you to start a thread or conversation with any of your contacts across Facebook chat, Live Messenger or via text messaging.
While we're on the topic of contacts, the other neat feature of Mango is that you can now establish groups of contacts. For example, I can create a group called Family to incorporate the members of my family. With this group defined I can not only keep track of what they're up to, I can start a group discussion, right from the Windows Phone.
Another feature that I think differentiates Windows Phone are the live tiles located on the Start screen. Windows Phone Mango features the default live tile, which is added to the Start screen when the user clicks "pin to start" from the applications list. Mango also allows applications to create multiple live tiles, representing different areas within the application. The live tiles now support both front and back images, which the platform will flip periodically, thus allowing for more information to be displayed via the live tile UI. These tiles can be updated independently either via the application or via push notifications.
All Windows Phone devices have three hardware buttons on the front of the device: Back, Start and Search. , In Windows Phone 7, the Back button allows the user to step back through applications. Now in Mango users press and hold the Back button to fast task-switch to previously opened applications. Start button functionality is unchanged in Mango, but the Search button resolves a source of confusion due to inconsistent behavior. In some cases, pressing Search would open Bing search; other times it would open in-context search for the current applications. The Mango release will address this issue by changing the Search button to always launch Bing search. While this may appear to be a backward step, Mango also includes the ability for applications to extend search results.
Mango is said to be shipping in the "fall of 2011" (US), which will mean that we should see devices and updates by the end of the year. With additional OEMs building phones and increased language and Marketplace coverage, now is a great time to be a Windows Phone user and an event better time to be a Windows Phone developer.
Nick runs Built to Roam a consulting company that specializes in training, mentoring and assisting other companies build mobile applications. With a heritage in rich client applications for both the desktop and a variety of mobile platforms, Nick currently presents, writes and educates on the Windows Phone 7 platform.