Microsoft has officially unveiled the details about its upcoming Mango update for its smartphone operating system, revealing a number of features about the new and improved Windows Phone. These will include an updated web browser as well as a much greater support for multi-tasking.
First and foremost, owners of current WP7 handsets need not fret; the operating system update will be coming to users free of charge at the beginning of this fall. The upgrade will unfortunately not be available over-the-air, but rather, users will have to plug their phones into their PCs to receive the new version of the OS. Though Microsoft maintains that this is a relatively simple process, the company has a notoriously poor track record with releasing previous updates to WP7.
That being said, not everybody will have to endure the update process. The 7.1 version of the OS will come standard on the slew of new and upcoming devices that Microsoft has in the works, including those from new partners such as Acer, Fujitsu, ZTE, and, of course, Nokia.
Communications will be getting a new coat of polish in the update, with the introduction of conversation threads that allow users to seamlessly transition between multiple messaging services — including MSN messenger, SMS, and Facebook chat — within the same conversation.
Contact groups will also be assignable to the “live tiles” found on the home screen, which allow for sending emails or messages to entire groups of people. Mango will also bring further social network integration, with the press release mentioning the ability to integrate Twitter and LinkedIn feeds into contact cards, as well as face detection software that expedites the photo tagging process on Facebook.
Notably absent from the unveiling event in New York City this morning was any mention of Skype, the video-chatting and VoIP company that Microsoft recently purchased. Microsoft has promised to integrate Skype into future versions of Windows Phone, but it’s not happening in Mango.
Browsing and Internet
Web browsing is one of the major features of smartphones, and Microsoft is pulling out the stops by including the full version of Internet Explorer 9 in Mango — the company says this will be the exact same browser that’s running on desktops. At the unveiling, Microsoft demonstrated that its browser is faster at rendering complex web pages that smartphones running the Android OS, iOS, or BlackBerry OS.
The Bing search engine isn’t just an app in this new version, but has been integrated into the entire operating system. And it tries to give users the complete answer to what they are searching for. As demonstrated today, a search for “Madison Square Garden” brings up not just the address but a list of upcoming concerts.
Apps & Multi-tasking
After the Mango update, apps will be connected to search results, furthering their integration with Windows Phone Hubs and allowing them to surface when and where they are needed. Live tiles will also be improved to provide more information about apps that are tacked onto your home screen without having to actually open them. And, of course, those apps will now finally be able to multitask.
While one of the highlights of Mango is greater support for multitasking, it isn’t “true” multi-tasking. Instead, apps that are moved to the background freeze in place, but at least users will be able to switch easily between them.
This will be done by tapping and holding on the handset’s Back button, which will bring up a group of tiles for all the software that is currently running. These tiles show miniature screenshots of what was displayed by the app when the user switched away.
This “freeze in place” system is very similar to how Apple’s iOS handles multi-tasking. And, like the iOS, some tasks will continue to run in the background, such as streaming music services.
Bing will also bring voice recognition to this upcoming version of Windows Phone, as well as a turn-by-turn spoken directions.