10 reasons why Microsoft Mango may be a game changer

The Mango update to the Windows Phone 7 platform -- which is expected to be out this fall -- promises a number of improvements. A big number, in fact: 500+.

Even though the Windows Phone 7 operating system is a huge improvement over previous versions of Windows Mobile, Microsoft really missed the mark in several areas. Thankfully, many of these issues are going to be addressed in a forthcoming update, which Microsoft has dubbed Mango (aka Windows Phone 7.5). According to Microsoft, Mango will include more than 500 new features (many of which have not yet been announced), so it is impossible to talk about all of them within the confines of an article. But I did want to discuss 10 reasons why Mango is worth paying attention to.

1: Social networking features

Windows Phone 7 was nice, in that it offered built-in Facebook integration. However, this integration was limited. You could view and post to your friends' walls, and you could post status updates, but that was about it. Mango improves upon the Facebook integration and offers many other new social networking capabilities, including integration for Twitter and Linked-In, Facebook check-ins, photo tagging, face detection, Facebook chat, and even verbal SMS text messaging.

2: Multitasking

When Windows Phone 7 was first released, one of the biggest complaints that industry analyst raised was that the phone did not offer multitasking. Microsoft is going to allow multitasking in Mango, but in a limited way. In the interest of preserving battery life, not every application will be allowed to run in the background. However, certain services (such as music) will be able to run in the background while the user is working on other things. Users will also be able to switch back and forth between applications without losing the application's current state.

3: A desktop-worthy browser

One of the worst things about Windows Mobile has been the built-in Web browser. Internet Explorer Mobile has always had a hard time rendering all but the simplest Web pages. I have owned a Windows Phone 7 device since it was first made available, and I can tell you that the version of Internet Explorer Mobile that is included with it is a huge improvement over what was previously available. But it isn't perfect. I have run into a few Web pages that are not displayed correctly.

Mango will be the first Windows Mobile release to include a desktop browser. The version of Internet Explorer 9 that will ship with Mango is allegedly identical to the desktop version.

4: Live tiles

The Windows Phone 7 Start screen is filled with live tiles, which are designed to convey information through that screen. For example, live tiles currently show you how many phone calls you have missed and how many email messages you have waiting. Microsoft also uses live tiles to show elements from your photo and music collection, as well as head shots of your contacts.

Live tiles seem to be a good idea, but Microsoft uses them somewhat sparingly and has yet to open them to third-party developers. This is going to change in Mango. In a recent demo, I saw flight status updates conveyed in real time through a live tile. Another live tile displayed the weather forecast. It should be interesting to see what other creative uses developers will find for live tiles.

5: Cloud support

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Microsoft's latest flagship product is the Office 365 cloud service. As one would expect, Mango adds the ability for the phone to interact with Office 365. In addition, Mango improves upon the Sky Drive and SharePoint integration found in the original Windows Phone 7 release.

6: Group messaging

One of my favorite new features that Mango will offer is something called Group Messaging, which allows you to create distribution lists on your Windows phone. You can then send email messages or SMS text messages to a group of people.

7: Bing makeover

The Bing search engine that is built into Windows Phone 7 is surprisingly good, but it is going to be vastly improved in Mango with the addition of Bing Audio and Bing Vision. Bing Audio will allow the phone to identify songs just by listening to them (similar to the way that Shazam works). Bing Vision will make it possible to use the device's camera to perform various types of searches. I recently saw a demo in which someone snapped a photograph of a book and Bing was able to locate the book on Amazon. It will also be possible to use Bing Vision to scan barcodes, Microsoft Tags, and text. Rumor has it that Bing Vision will even be able to identify CDs and DVDs.

8: IRM support

One thing that has long been missing from mobile platforms is the ability to open Information Rights Management (IRM) protected content. Mango will allow users to open IRM-protected email messages and Microsoft Office documents.

9: Stronger password support

Right now, Windows Phone 7 passwords are something of a joke. If you want to lock the device, you're limited to using a four-digit PIN. Mango will improve security by supporting the use of complex alphanumeric passwords.

10: Numerous email improvements

One thing I liked about the original Windows Phone 7 release was its ability to set up multiple email accounts. Aside from that and a new touchscreen interface, however, Outlook Mobile remained largely unchanged from previous versions. Mango is going to offer several improvements to Outlook Mobile, including conversation view and the ability to pin an individual email folder to the Start screen. More important, Mango will let you search the mail server for old messages that are not stored locally on the phone.

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