Microsoft Holds Windows Phone "Mango" Press Conference but Leaves Questions Unanswered

At a press conference in New York on Tuesday, Microsoft stepped up its reveal on the second major version of Windows Phone, code-named "Mango" and now scheduled for early fall. However, the software giant fell well short of the full disclosure that many (including me) were expecting, instead claiming that the release would include "500 new features" while only divulging perhaps a dozen of them.

What's with all the secrecy?

It's hard to understand why Microsoft has been so tight-lipped about Windows Phone since ... well, since the company announced the first version last year. This year, the company has squeezed out little bits of information about Mango, its v2 mulligan, at various events—CES in January, Mobile World Congress in February, MIX in April, and then TechEd earlier this May—so it was assumed that this week's "VIP Preview" event, as the press conference was billed, would be the full meal deal, a final and full revelation of Mango's expected feature set.

Instead, Microsoft President Andy Lees hosted a short press conference devoid of Q&A and actual hands-on time with the product. He focused on three key areas for Mango—easier communications, a smarter approach to apps, and going beyond the browser—that evolve the key and differentiating features of Windows Phone compared with its better-selling competition. And he briefly mentioned new language support and some new hardware partners that will come to market with Windows Phone handsets late this year.

To be clear, Mango looks excellent. In fact, though the cynical might believe that Mango is the release Microsoft should have come to market with in late 2010, I'm simply happy to see the company remain consistent in its Windows Phone messaging—that is, it's a different kind of phone, yes, but also a better phone than, say, the iPhone or Android—while expanding on the first version's core capabilities. Sure, Microsoft has moved slowly to evolve Windows Phone this first year, but Mango is the Windows Phone you've been waiting for.

I'll be writing up a much more thorough preview of the new Mango features this week on the SuperSite for Windows, but a short list of newly announced functionality—skipping features that were previously revealed—includes a few real gems: a new Threads feature (which will allow Windows Phone users to switch seamlessly between text messaging [SMS/MMS]), Facebook chat, and Windows Live Messenger instant messaging (IM) through a unified communications experience. Contacts Groups will allow users to group their friends, family, and other contacts into meaningful groups that mimic real-world relationships and then interact with them all—via text messaging, email, or IM—via a pinned Live Tile on the phone's home screen.

Facebook integration is being expanded dramatically in Mango, and though we already knew Twitter integration was on the way, Microsoft revealed that LinkedIn integration is happening too. Bing is being dramatically improved and is not an app, Microsoft said, but rather a deeply integrated experience across the phone's various UIs: It's getting voice search, visual search (through Bing Visual, using the phone's camera to interact with real-world objects), music search, new Local Scout and Cards features, and more.

To improve the availability of Windows Phone in international markets, Mango will also add support for new languages such as Brazilian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Swedish. The Windows Phone Marketplace will be available in more than 35 countries beginning this fall—almost double the current availability. And there will be more phones (including some at "more price points"): HTC, LG, and Samsung have all announced that they'll be releasing new Mango-specific devices this fall, and new hardware partners such as Acer, Fujitsu, and ZTE are coming on board with this release as well (as, of course, is Nokia).

Microsoft also announced the immediate availability of the "Mango" developer tools, providing programmers with access to the new features so they can begin incorporating that functionality into their apps. Interestingly, the company refers to these tools as the Windows Phone Developer Tools 7.1 Beta (download here), suggesting that the internal version number of Mango will be 7.1. I've been told, however, that the product will still be marketed as Windows Phone 7.5. (There is precedence for this. Windows 7 is really Windows 6.1 internally, for example.)

Mango looks solid overall. But instead of coming clean on the expected feature set—I've been told that Mango has been "feature complete," but not "code complete," for months now—Microsoft continues to tease customers and existing users about the full list of features it contains.

"The stars are aligning and Mango will be a tipping point of opportunity," Mr. Lees said during his closing remarks Tuesday. "This fall will be the best yet for us and our partners. You've seen an awful lot from us in seven months, but you haven't seen anything yet."

And that's the problem, really. The strategy here seems to be to tease, but when you're coming from behind and are just beginning to clean up an updating mess that riveted your audience in all the wrong ways for at least three of those seven months, it's time to engage the user base in a more positive fashion. This week's announcement, such as it was, is a great start.

But I want to know more. And I'd like to start with that list of 500 new features.

TAGS: Windows 8
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