Windows Phone Mango's here, and it's a particularly juicy piece of fruit. But aside from the new features (both cool and catchup), one stands out: search. Windows Phones will rattle off information like a friend, not a cyborg.
When I search for a movie I'd like to see, or a sandwich I'd like to eat, I don't want a list of text. I don't want to have to click a lot. I don't want links. I want search to be the equivalent of asking a (very) smart person a question. When you ask a smart person a question, they give you an answer. They don't give you a list of other people who can help you out. Windows Phone's new Bing search is sort of like that. One question, one answer - spoken eloquently, above all.
From what we've seen today, Windows Phone 7.1 is going to do just this- better than anyone's ever done mobile search, ever. Googling a music venue? There's its calendar - no link necessary. Looking for movies? You'll have the synopsis, reviews and showtimes - gorgeously formatted. Other phones do this, yes - but not with the thoughtful design MIcrosoft's shown off, and not as extensively. For instance, that same movie search? WP will automatically give you links to relevant apps you already have - say, Fandango to buy tickets, or IMDB. Don't have a pertinent app? It'll ask if you want one. Everything is woven together tighter than we've seen it before.
WP also tackles searching in a more physical sense - the times we find ourselves just wandering the hell around. Find yourself in a new neighbourhood? WP will give you an auto-itinerary. Cafes, museums, yoga - activities, mapped, indoors and out. And if something catches your eye during the urban trek, Bing has some pretty nifty features built-in: visual search (a la Google Goggles), and, more impressively, a visual auto-translate function that overlays text upon the real world. We've seen it before with WordLens, and it's just as impressive as it was then. But these aren't apps - this is built into the phone's guts, integrated as tightly as possible. As it should be.
All this isn't just functional. It's gorgeous. And it's useful in the ways we actually live. My brain isn't a library card catalog. It's a restless, active thing, just like yours. It doesn't want to process a list of text and data dumped willy nilly. It wants a pal. Advice.
WP's search looks tops today, but Microsofts (northern) "fall" is a long way off. There's no telling what iOS 5 and Android will do with search in the near future. By the time the next releases of Microsoft's cellular rivals are in our pockets, all the above may not seem so special anymore. They could kick Windows Phone's arse. But Microsoft's thoughtfulness - the same attention to design and human use that made us love WP7 to begin with, was today more vibrant than ever.