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Last month, Microsoft took the wraps off "Mango," a significant update to Windows Phone 7. Mango includes more than 500 new features that are designed to improve multitasking and to make apps and the OS work together more efficiently. Mango essentially takes the most likable features of Windows Phone 7 and improves them with new features, tweaks, and refinements. Mango is coming this fall, and it will be free for all Windows Phone 7 customers.
Video: First Look at Mango's New Features
Microsoft packed quite a few features and enhancements into this update, so I tried to focus on the most important ones. Let's dive in.
Threaded Messaging, Linked Inboxing, and Multitasking
Microsoft probably should have had these three essential features in place at the launch of Windows Phone 7; nevertheless, I'm glad to see them included in the Mango update.
In the messaging app, you can easily switch between SMS, Facebook chat, and Windows Live Messenger within the same thread. This concept sounds useful, though I don't use Facebook chat or Windows Live Messenger. At least for me, AIM or Google GTalk integration would be much more useful. Still, messaging worked smoothly when I switched from SMS to Facebook chat with my friend. If you get tired of texting, you can pull up your friend's Contact card (more on that in a bit) and call them.
Email messages are organized by conversation, with replies to a thread consolidated into a single view that you can follow more easily. You can make multiple inbox groups, too: If you have two work-related inboxes, for example, you can group them together to see all of the messages in one place, and you keep your work email accounts separate from your personal email. You can also pin any of your inboxes to your homescreen for quick and easy access.
Multitasking is an overall improvement. As Microsoft announced in April, Mango extends multitasking to third-party apps as well as to Internet Explorer 9. You can quickly switch among recently used applications by pressing and holding the back button. All of your open apps are elegantly displayed in chronological order based on when you last used them.
In Mango, all of the hubs have been enhanced with some sweet new features. For example, the People Hub will connect Facebook, Twitter, Outlook, LinkedIn, and Windows Live messenger in one place, so you won't have to jump from app to app to communicate with your friends and colleagues. You'll also be able to group and categorize your contacts based on how you think of them--friends, coworkers, enemies, or whatever.
The Picture Hub now has a tagging system, making it easier for you to organize your photos. When you share your photos on Facebook or SkyDrive, the Photo Hub will automatically detect any photo of a person and ask whether you want to tag it. It doesn't handle face recognition, however, so it won't perform automatic tagging.
YouTube, Last.fm, and Slacker are now integrated into your Music + Video Hub, so you can easily see a list of the videos you watched or the songs you listened to on those services. There's even a playlist creator in the Zune Player called Smart DJ (as opposed to iTunes Genius? Hmm.) that creates mixes based on similar songs in your collection. This has been a feature of the Zune desktop software for quite some time--and a welcome addition to Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft is aiming to make Windows Phone the phone for business customers. Windows Phone 7 owners will be able to save and share Office documents through Office 365 and Windows Live SkyDrive, ensuring them access to the latest documents when and where needed. One nice upgrade: You can now pin any Microsoft Office document--such as a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel spreadsheet--to your Start screen. We'll take a closer look at the Office Hub's new features in the next few days, so stay tuned.
Improved Live Tiles, Contacts, and Groups
Live Tiles--the always-updating widgets that you can customize and rearrange on your homescreen--will have more real-time information in Mango. You'll also be able to make personalized Live Tiles for individual friends or for a group to add to your homescreen. If you want to keep an eye on your partner or track what your boss is doing, you can pin that contact to your Start screen and see at a glance what they're writing on Facebook.
The updated 'Me' tile lets you share status updates (via Facebook, Windows Live, and Twitter) and check-ins (via Facebook). You can view notifications, such as Facebook messages or Tweet replies, in a single place. You can see your friends' status updates and activity across multiple social networks. And of course, you can pin your own tile to your Start screen for quick access. Like the other Live Tiles, the new Me tile will display more information--for instance, indicating when you have a missed call or a new text message.
In Mango, you can group your contacts together by how they relate to your life--family, friends, coworkers, frenemies, and the like. It automatically placed my brother, my mom, and me in a group based on our last names. But if you have a common last name (like Smith), I wonder whether Windows Phone will think that every Smith in your phone is related to you. You can pin Groups to your Start screen, just as you can individual contacts.