With its Mango mobile OS, Microsoft is betting consumers want something just a little different in their smartphone diet. Like its namesake fruit, which is sweet and juicy but in a different way than other produce section offerings, the mobile Mango offers plenty of what we like about iOS or Android, but with a different overall experience.
A perfect illustration of Mango's attempt to take a different approach with some old mobile standbys is its Quick Cards feature, which is Microsoft's attempt at fusing search with the experience of an app. Type in a Bing search query and get a round-up of related information and apps - it's a more dynamic kind of search experience that Google has been pioneering for almost a decade, but Microsoft has adapted it to a mobile platform, and at first glance it seems pretty cool.
However, despite Microsoft's touting of Mango's "500 new features," the reality is that the company is just now getting up to speed after a slow start in the mobile market.
"Mango is an evolutionary release. Multitasking and the addition of a better browser in the form of IE9 add functionality that was sorely lacking in the initial release of Windows Phone," said Will Croft, an analyst with Wireless Intelligence. "Arguably, these were always table stakes given the maturity of the current smartphone OS market, so elements of catch-up are in play here."
Ross Rubin, NPD's Wireless and CE industry analyst, said Microsoft needed to catch up in terms of features and apps. "Mango addresses some of these issues, including adding multitasking, a more modern browser, and integrating augmented reality via Bing Vision," he said. Mango also improves the familiar Metro user interface and Microsoft's use of "tiles" rather than the widgets and app shortcuts that iOS and Android users are used to -showing that Microsoft is betting on differentiating itself from the two leading mobile platforms. But not everyone thinks Redmond has gone far enough to set itself apart in the eyes of phone makers.
"Mango still lacks the potential for customization and brand differentiation that some manufacturers are looking for," according to Tony Cripps, a principal analyst at Ovum.
HTC, Samsung, Acer, Fujitsu and Acer are among the makers that Microsoft says will produce devices for its platform, but Nokia is expected to dominate the Windows phone market, given its new partnership with Microsoft. Ovum thinks Microsoft might have to address the differentiation issue to keep some of the higher-end manufacturers on-board.
Croft concurs that hardware availability will be key to the success of Mango and the debut of Windows Phone on Nokia devices "will of course greatly improve the reach of the release." In fact, Croft doesn't see Mango as the key factor in Microsoft's future success or failure in the smartphone market.
"Current sales levels from existing Windows Phone vendors are unlikely to change purely on the basis of Mango-improved devices, but Nokia's entry into the market certainly will."