Microsoft demoed a handful of the “500” new features Ballmer promised for Mango. First up, Groups. Groups is kind of like bookmarks for people, or like a buddy list. It’ll let you filter all the social networking stuff for a particular group of people, so you can focus on the four or 10 people you actually care about. And it’s got integrated group chat, through Facebook chat or Windows Live Messenger. (Microsoft compares it to BBM.) Also, there’s now threading across services, a lot like webOS – you can start a conversation in SMS and pick it up in Facebook chat. You can (ugh, finally) bring all of your email accounts together in one view too – and there’s full message threading, which looks pretty decent. Same for Calendars, which now supports Facebook events. Oh, and People now has Twitter. All good, all things it should be doing.
The voice demo is pretty cool – receiving a text message while listening to music, the phone read out the message, and he was able to simply speak the reply, which the phone translated to text.
Office works better, with deeper SkyDrive integration. And the Xbox Live hub is redesigned, with more legit Live features – full Avatars and accessories, easy comparisons with your friends’ Gamerscores.
Multitasking looks solid, but also exactly what you’d expect: Apps “hydrate” and “rehydrate” for fast resuming (like iOS and Android), and when you want to switch quickly, it switches to a webOS-like card view (albeit, uglier). Other new app stuff: Developers can mix XNA and Silverlight, meaning run-of-the-mill apps like one for British Airways can do crazy 3D stuff, like take you on a tour of the plane. App shortcuts (another airplane app example) will let you dive directly to a certain part of the app from a tile, like your boarding pass.
Oh shit, things are getting real – to show much better Windows Phone is at the internet with Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft’s got a BlackBerry Torch, Samsung Charge (Android) and iPhone 4 up there. In this speedtest, BlackBerry’s got 4FPS, iPhone hasn’t loaded, Charge is doing 10FPS, and WP’s got 27FPS.
“Bing is not an app, it’s an integrated experience.” Quick Card turns a search for Water for Elephants (a movie) from a pile of links to a neat compilation of the relevant info, based on time and location – nearby showtimes, reviews, etc. It also includes things like an indoor map for a mall, and a list of upcoming events in the entry for Madison Square Garden. (This is really cool. It’s how search should be.)
Local Scout is a new part of Bing that’s like Yelp or Google Places but not shitty looking – it shows you stuff to “see + do” in a neighbourhood. Microsoft’s pitching it as letting you “live like a local”. Visual search is what you’d expect – it scans book covers, QR codes, DVDs – and then for a book, it’ll take you to a neat list of prices, reviews and the like. In the Miley Cyrus demo, shot the cover, he checked out reviews, and with App Shortcuts, was able to instantly jump into the Kindle app to buy and read it. And that’s it for the demos.
Naturally, 4G phones are coming from Samsung, LG and HTC. Nokia Windows Phones will launch with Mango.
Everything Microsoft showed off? Really slick and thoughtful. It’s also, fundamentally, stuff Windows Phone simply should be doing. It puts Windows Phone on very nearly equal ground with everybody else. But we’re talking about features that are literally months away, possibly even after iOS5 launches – and depending on how radical iOS5 is, Microsoft could again be catching up to what’s already been done. We’ll know in a couple weeks.
Here’s the official Microsoft rundown:
• Threads. Switch between text, Facebook chat and Windows Live Messenger within the same conversation. • Groups. Group contacts into personalized Live Tiles to see the latest status updates right from the Start Screen and quickly send a text, email or IM to the whole group. • Deeper social network integration. Twitter and LinkedIn feeds are now integrated into contact cards, and “Mango” includes built-in Facebook check-ins and new face detection software that makes it easier to quickly tag photos and post to the Web. • Linked inbox. See multiple email accounts in one linked inbox. Conversations are organized to make it easy to stay on top of the latest mail. • Hands-free messaging. Built-in voice-to-text and text-to-voice support enables hands-free texting or chatting. • App Connect. By connecting apps to search results and deepening their integration with Windows Phone Hubs, including Music and Video and Pictures, “Mango” allows apps to be surfaced when and where they make sense. • Improved Live Tiles. Get real-time information from apps without having to open them. Live Tiles can be more dynamic and hold more information. • Multitasking. Quickly switch between apps in use and allow apps to run in the background, helping to preserve battery life and performance. • Internet Explorer 9. A browser based on the powerful Internet Explorer 9 and including support for HTML5 and full hardware acceleration. • Local Scout. Provides hyperlocal search results and recommends nearby restaurants, shopping and activities in an easy-to-use guide. • Bing on Windows Phone. More ways to search the Web, including Bing Vision, Music Search and Voice so it’s easy to discover and decide. • Quick Cards. When searching for a product, movie, event or place, see a quick summary of relevant information, including related apps.