The big Windows Phone 7 Mango news coming out of Redmond today is all about the hardware, baby! Microsoft Corp. wrapped up its VIP preview event on Tuesday by officially announcing new OEM partnerships with phone makers Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE. These companies will manufacture Windows smartphones using the Mango operating system upgrade that will become available in the fall. Current owners of Windows smartphones will be able to download the Mango update for free. Microsoft pledged to roll out the Windows Phone handsets by the end of this year.
Microsoft’s press release characterized the Mango OS upgrade as a “smarter smartphone,” featuring improvements in the integration of social networking, apps and web browsing. The tech giant placed particular emphasis on a new feature dubbed App Connect, which automatically anticipates a user’s need for a certain app, based on their browsing activity. Whether these enhancements are enough to make significant headway against its rivals Google, Apple and RIM in the crowded smartphone market is an open question. But for those consumers who are more comfortable using a Windows operating system, the Mango upgrade and new handsets certainly can’t hurt.
Earlier in the week, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer boasted that Mango offered “over 500” new features. So, far Microsoft has only previewed a few dozen, but referred to “hundreds” in its press release.
What can we expect from the Windows Phone 7 Mango? It’s all about the apps and making it easier to communicate with the outside world. Greg Sullivan, senior product manager of mobile communications at Microsoft, said “Mango builds on the work that we did in Windows Phone 7 and extends a lot of key scenarios around communications, apps, and Internet experiences – with even more capability and a deeper level of integration.”
The new improvements, include live tiles, live agents and easier back-and-forth multitasking. The Mango update also allows hands-free operation with a voice-to-text and text-to-voice feature.
Local Scout helps customers find local restaurants and other venues. And a visual recognition feature enables a Web search by “photographing barcodes, QR codes and Microsoft Tags.”
Music search allows users to capture the artist’s name and song title from a song playing nearby.
Most of these functions are already available on Google and Apple smartphones using apps, but Microsoft is offering them as browser built-ins.
All told, the Windows Phone 7 Mango has more than enough bells, whistles and functionality to at least hold its own with its competitors. But whether that translates into increased U.S. sales is another story.
Before its official release in the fall, Microsoft is offering developers a beta version of Mango.
The entire press release is available here.