Windows Phone 'Mango': Ripe or Rotten?

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As soon as September, we may see the first smartphones based on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" release, the OS update with what CEO Steve Ballmer says has more than 500 new features. The first version of Windows Phone 7 had a compelling UI but fell far short of the iPhone and even Android devices in many areas critical to business users. It was a flop in the market, but Microsoft asked everyone to give it a second chance. "Mango" is that second chance, and Microsoft sent the final "reboot" OS to smartphone makers a month ago.

Does "Mango" address the many gaps in the first version of Windows Phone 7? It's hard to say, as working versions of the OS are not yet available for people like me to test. And although Microsoft has been dribbling out information for months on "Mango," there's little meaningful detail yet -- especially on the core business capabilities that the first version lacked. When I asked Microsoft for what "Mango" added for business users, it was unable to tell me, pointing me instead to a vapid blog entry that said nothing about business. The improvements Microsoft has focused on publicly tend to fall into two camps: social applications and information sharing.

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Chances are we won't know for sure about its use in business settings until the first Windows Phone 7.5 smartphones are released. But here's what to look for in the new OS, based on what was missing in the original. In some cases, Microsoft has promised to fill these gaps, so I note those potential fixes as well.

Security capabilities

It was a major shocker to me that Windows Phone 7 had no support for corporate-class security, which was available in its predecessor, Windows Mobile. In fact, Windows Mobile became widely used in government agencies because of these capabilities. As a consequence, few businesses could let users adopt Windows Phone 7 devices.

What's missing:

  • On-device encryption
  • Complex passwords and enforcement
  • Virtual private networks
  • Support for static IP addresses

Web and Internet capabilities

What's missing:

  • HTML5 support. The adoption of Internet Explorer 9 in "Mango" brings HTML5 support, though IE9 supports significantly fewer HTML5 features than any other mobile browser. Still, it's progress.
  • Adobe Flash support. Yes, iOS and BlackBerry OS don't support this either, and Flash support on Android and the now-defunct WebOS is limited, so this is not a big issue for me, but it is for some users.
  • Bookmark folders in the browser.

Application and UI capabilities

Windows Phone 7's user interface takes a tiled approach that really stands out from other mobile OSes, even WebOS, whose card-based metaphor shares philosophical roots. But Windows Phone 7 fell short in basic core OS capabilities, and it provided less-sophisticated email and business-oriented apps than Apple's iOS. Furthermore, Microsoft's Office apps for Windows Phone 7 are, to put it mildly, primitive, especially when compared to the Apple iWork, Dataviz Documents to Go, and Quickoffice apps available for iOS.

What's missing:

  • Multitasking. Microsoft says "Mango" will provide the ability to switch apps so that they continue to run in background.
  • Copy and paste. Microsoft also says it will add this capability to Windows Phone 7 "Mango."
  • Device-wide search.
  • App-specific location controls.
  • Message threading. Microsoft has said it will add this capability to its mail client and have it work across email accounts.
  • Email folder automatic syncing.
  • Email search by fields (such as From or Subject).

A reminder of where Windows Phone 7 does well
Although the first version of Windows Phone 7 had many gaps that mattered greatly to business users, the smartphone OS also includes several capabilities that show a more competitive side to the OS. Voice-based Web searches (also available on Google's Android), an onscreen keyboard containing emoticons, opt-in auto-correction, and the ability for the browser to represent itself to websites as a desktop browser (for better display) are all examples of its strengths.

In the social arena, Windows Phone 7 "Mango" promises some appealing capabilities, such as letting users engage in one conversation across multiple social networking and instant-messaging tools.

When "Mango" smartphones finally become available, we'll be able to see which omissions have been addressed. If they have, Windows Phone 7 could become a competitor to the iPhone and Android among business users. If not, it'll probably languish. After all, social networking by itself is not enough to attract users, as Microsoft learned the hard way with its ill-fated Kin "social" phone.

This article, "Windows Phone 'Mango': Ripe or rotten?," was originally published Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

This story, "Windows Phone 'Mango': Ripe or Rotten?" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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