MIX'11: Microsoft Details Future of Windows Phone

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore offered the first comprehensive look at the developer-oriented features of "Mango," the major Windows Phone 7 software update that the software giant plans to ship by the end of the year. And although he said the future Mango revelations surrounding consumer and business end-user features would wait for a future date, enough details slipped out to please even the most jaded Windows Phone fan.

"The next release of Windows Phone represents the evolution of our strategy for ensuring that developers are at the forefront of 'what's next' by investing in even richer customer experiences, a powerful application platform, and a thriving ecosystem," Belfiore said. "We will soon deliver a new set of Windows Phone Developer Tools that will enable developers to create a new generation of apps that are even faster, more capable, and better integrated with Windows Phone."

Unlike the minor "NoDo" update that Microsoft has had trouble delivering to customers this spring, Mango is a major effort that will bump the Windows Phone OS version number from 7 to 7.5, though final branding has yet to be established, Microsoft says. And on that note, it includes a wide range of improvements and changes. Some of the key Mango details Microsoft shared at MIX this week include:

Internet Explorer 9 Mobile. Mango will ship with a mobile version of Internet Explorer (IE) that utilizes the same rendering engine as Microsoft's desktop browser, providing hardware acceleration and HTML 5 and standards support. In side-by-side demos with iPhone and an Android handset, Belfiore demonstrated IE 9 Mobile as the notably faster performer.

Third-party multitasking. Although the current version of the Windows Phone OS does provide multitasking capabilities, it does so only for the built-in apps that Microsoft provides. In Mango, Microsoft is extending multitasking capabilities to third-party apps, and is doing so in a way that it says will preserve battery life. This will include fast application switching, and background audio and file-transfer capabilities.

Better phone-integration features. Microsoft highlighted some interesting capabilities around new Live Tiles features, "Extras" integration for third-party multimedia services, and new push notifications and alarms integration.

Better hardware access. In Mango, developers can access raw camera data and the Motion Sensor library, which Microsoft says enables "augmented reality experiences."

Better software capabilities. Mango will include TCP/IP socket access (enabling such apps as Skype, which was shown off at the show) and an open database engine that will for now use the Compact SQL database but could later swap that out for something else without breaking apps. Developers will be able to access user data in the contacts and calendar data stores as well.

Improved developer tools. Microsoft's best-in-class mobile developer tools are getting better still with a new profiler, a new device emulator that includes accelerometer and location emulation capabilities, support for mixing Silverlight and XNA in the same project, and more. A beta version of these new tools will ship in May, Microsoft says.

Improved developer reach. With the release of Mango and the Mango developer tools, programmers will be able to reach more customers more easily, Microsoft says: It's expanding the number of countries in which developers can create and sell apps to more than 35, and it's enhancing the Windows Phone Marketplace with a dedicated storefront for games and better apps discoverability.

(Previously, Microsoft described some other Mango features including Twitter integration in Windows Phone's People hub and SkyDrive integration for the Office hub, allowing customers to store and access documents in the cloud.)

Of course, Mango is still at least six months away. And though Microsoft has no publicly announced plans to improve the Windows Phone platform before then, Belfiore did show off some interesting upcoming apps, some of which will appear before Mango. These include Skype, Spotify, Layar, and Qantas Airways. And the bestselling game Angry Birds will hit Windows Phone on May 25, Microsoft says. Doodle Jump and Plants vs. Zombies are coming to Windows Phone this year, as well.

TAGS: Windows 8
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