Tag Archives: mango

A few observations on Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”

I received a Windows Phone running version 7.5 “Mango” for review yesterday. Here are some initial observations; I am not going to call it a review after such as short time.


There is still no screen capture utility – well, there is this one but it requires a developer accounts. So no screens, sorry. Microsoft should fix this – how difficult can it be?

Microsoft says there over 500 updates in Mango, and it does feel like a significant update, though retaining the look and feel of the first release. A half-version upgrade is about right.

Some things I noticed:

  • Task switching. Press and hold the back button, and swipe through running apps. This is excellent, better than iPhone or Android.
  • Voice control. This is expanded in Mango to include web search, text messaging and more. Tip: to see the commands, hold down the Windows key to go into speech mode, and click the help icon.

    It has great potential, especially with a bluetooth headset for true hands-free. I have a Plantronics Voyager Pro bluetooth headset, reviewed here. Using this guy, I can press and hold the call button on the headset, to put the phone into speech mode.

    I found this works well for calling people or simple searches, but general speech to text is not too good. I tried texting someone the message “Your parcels have arrived”. After several attempts, all of which were interpreted as various strings of garbage starting “George”, I gave up. I would still use it for making calls though; it seems that when the scope is narrowed to people in your contacts list, the interpretation is more reliable.

  • The search button is no longer contextual – it always takes you to Bing search. I think this is a retrograde step.
  • Local Scout is a feature that is meant to find restaurants, shops, things to do, and other handy information based on your location or the current map location. This is a neat idea, but when I tried it for my home town it did not work well. The first problem: I found that tapping the Local Scout tile is unreliable, and sometimes reports that Bing cannot find the location even when the location button in Bing Maps works fine.

    Fortunately you can also use Local Scout from Bing Maps. The Local Scout listing was not good though. Of the top 20 food and drink places, one had been closed for years, others were duplicated under old and new names, and there were hardly any ratings or reviews. Tap “Suggest changes” and you can submit changes to the address details or report closure, but you cannot add a review or rating, which seems a severe omission.

    I downloaded the TripAdvisor app which is a great deal more useful, mainly because of the amount of user-generated content.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to me that Microsoft needs to join a few dots here; Local Scout is only as good as its data.

  • Office and SharePoint integration. As soon as I gave Windows Phone my Live ID, it picked up my SkyDrive account and was able to open, edit and save documents there. I also hooked up Outlook to my own Exchange server, and added an Office 365 SharePoint account as well.

    SkyDrive support is new and a huge feature, especially considering that it is a free service. Editing features on the phone are limited, but you can include basic formatting.  More important, you can easily access what could be a large document repository.

    OneNote support is good, and notes made on your phone sync automatically to SkyDrive, where you can further view and edit them in a browser, or in desktop OneNote. I guess I can show a grab of the browser, which shows that the voice memo is inaccessible:


    I discovered a few oddities. I was unable to link Windows Phone to my own SharePoint 2010 test server, receiving a message “We don’t support this authentication scheme”. Later I found this information:

Unless your organization uses a Microsoft Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) server, you can only access a SharePoint 2010 site if you’re in the office and connected to your organization’s Wi-Fi network.

That is a considerable limitation. It did work OK with SharePoint on Office 365, except that for some reason I can find no way to create new documents on Office 365 – well, maybe in the browser. The Office Hub can create new documents on SkyDrive, but not on SharePoint, which is odd as the two have a lot in common.

Despite these issues, you get a lot out of the box for using Office on the move, particularly if you use a supported SharePoint configuration or SkyDrive. The on-screen keyboard is good too.

  • Music search. This is a fun feature. Go to Bing search, click the music icon, and it will try to recognize what is playing. It had no problem finding Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. It struggled a bit with the more obscure Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal by Dr. Strangely Strange; but on the second attempt it found that too.
  • The social media features seem strong to me, though you are limited to the baked-in services which are Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Windows Live (no Google+). You do have to link each service to your Live ID for full features; for example, you give permission to Windows Live to post to your Twitter account. The integration is smooth and if you spend your time juggling with these four services then this may well the phone for you. For example, you can post a message to all of them at once. I found the People hub good enough as a Twitter client.
  • Apps are still lacking. The issue is not the quantity of apps available, but their quality, and the lack of certain key apps. There is no official Dropbox app, for example, so you will need to use the web or a third-party workaround. On the positive side, the free Guardian app is great, especially since you can pin a section to the Start screen – I did this for Technology – and there are apps for WordPress, Amazon Kindle, the ubiquitous Angry Birds and some other essentials.

    I noticed that TripAdvisor has 61 ratings on the Windows Phone Marketplace, whereas the Android version has 39,930. That illustrates the scale problem Microsoft is facing.

  • Still no Adobe Flash.
  • Microsoft’s new Windows Phone site is clean and informative. Not always the case with Microsoft’s sites. The My Windows Phone site lets you find your, lock or erase your phone, once configured.
  • Internet sharing, which makes your phone into a wireless hotspot, is coming but subject to operator support and approval. This means you will likely pay extra for “tethering”. I have a free app which does this on my Android phone and find it useful, though whether it is worth paying extra every month is another matter.
  • Microsoft has introduced some features aimed at enterprises. In particular, Information Rights Management is now supported for Outlook and Office mobile documents. Another important feature is the ability to deploy custom applications as hidden apps, which do not appear in Marketplace searches, but can be downloaded from a link circulated internally. There is now a Lync (business messaging and conferencing) client for both Office 365 and on-premise Lync servers.

Future of Windows Phone?

My guess is that Microsoft is badly disappointed by the sales performance of Windows Phone to date. The problem is not so much the phone itself, but that it has failed to convince either the operators, or the retailers, or the general public, that it is something special and worth choosing ahead of either an Apple iPhone or Google Android device. In fact, typically retailers have few if any Windows Phones on display, and even customers asking specifically for one may be redirected to something else. The truth is, there is a disadvantage in having a minority-choice device, most obviously in the selection of apps available, but also in features that rely on user-generated content.

I asked about this problem at the Mango press launch and was told that the Nokia partnership will be the solution.

My review device is a first-generation HTC Trophy, and while it is decent enough it is not outstanding. Give Windows Phone some truly desirable hardware and a few must-have apps, and its fortunes will change, but that is not an outcome that I take for granted.

I do like the SkyDrive and Office 365 integration though, with the caveats noted above, and if I were Microsoft I would be pushing the value of those features.

The Adobe Flash and Windows Phone 7 mystery

I attended Microsoft’s Mix event in March 2010, where Microsoft gave us the first detailed preview of Windows Phone 7 from the developer perspective. At that time, Microsoft made it clear that the Adobe Flash plug-in would not be supported in the first release, but implied that it would follow.

Did Microsoft ever announce that Flash support would definitely come? I am not sure that it was quite promised, though I do recall Microsoft spokespersons including Charlie Kindel explaining that native code development would not be possible for developers, other than for operators customising the device – the HTC Hub is an example – and for Adobe building Flash.

Adobe’s Mike Chambers did state that:

Adobe and Microsoft are working together to bring Flash Player 10.1 to Internet Explorer Mobile on Windows Phone 7 Series

In June, still pre-release, I spoke to Adobe’s Michael Chaize who told me that work on Flash for Windows Phone 7 was well advanced and that it would follow “within months” of the initial release.

There has also been contrary evidence. Microsoft’s Andy Lees explained to Mary Branscombe:

There is no ActiveX plug-in extensibility [in the browser] because of the security model; we’re not going to do that. And with no ActiveX plug-in model, how would we do Flash?

Fair enough and even sensible, but why did Microsoft imply earlier that Flash was on the way if in fact the security architecture made it impossible? Plans change of course, but I have never been able to get a clear statement on the matter other than vague expressions of cooperation between Adobe and Microsoft. Like this one from Microsoft’s Joe Marini:

We are working with Adobe, but it has not yet been decided the last time I checked – part of that is Adobe is doing what they have to do and we’re doing what we have to do. The last I checked the team is working with them but I don’t think they have any announcement whether it’s going to definitely work or not.

Now Microsoft has just released Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango”, the first major update to the the Phone OS, and Flash is still not supported. Either because Adobe has not yet done “what they have to do”, or because Microsoft has not done “what we have to do”, or because the architecture prevents it, who knows?

You can debate of course whether Flash support is a selling point or a burden for a smartphone – but it would be good to have clarity on the matter.

My own best guess is that if it has not come by now, it never will. Although Microsoft will not say so, for obvious reasons, I also think it is inevitable that the Windows Runtime and the Metro-style development model found in Windows 8 will form the operating system for a future Windows Phone, though I am not sure if it will be Windows Phone 8 or later, but that will change the rules. Currently IE in Metro does not support plug-ins, so I would say the prospects for Flash in the browser on Microsoft’s phone are not good.

What about Adobe AIR for Windows Phone? Interesting question, though it might be difficult given that Adobe would have to in effect create a Flash to Silverlight conversion tool which might hurt a bit. This would be easier on Metro since native code development is supported.

Adobe’s MAX conference is on next week so there may be further information on this long-running topic then.

Windows Phone at Mix 2011: what Microsoft said and did not say

Yesterday Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore (phone VP) and Scott Guthrie (developer VP) took the stage at the Mix 2011 conference in Las Vegas to tell us what is new with Windows Phone.

The opening part of the keynote was significant. Belfiore spent some time talking about the “update situation”.


This is all to do with who controls what ends up on your phone. If you buy a Windows PC or laptop, you can get updates from Microsoft using Windows update or by downloading service packs; the process is between you and Microsoft.

Not so with Windows Phone. The operators have a say as well; and operators are not noted for delivering speedy OS updates to users. Operators seem to have difficulty with the notion that by delivering strong updates to existing devices that have already been purchased, they build user loyalty and satisfaction. They are more geared to the idea of delivering new features with new hardware. Updating existing phones can cause support calls and other hassles, or even at worst bricked devices. They would rather leave well alone.

When Microsoft launched Windows Phone it announced that there would be regular updates under Microsoft’s control; but this has not been the case with the first update, codenamed “NoDo”. The update process has been delayed and inconsistent between operators, just like the bad old days of Windows Mobile.

Belfiore went on about testing and phones being different from PCs and improvements to the process; but in the end it seems to me that Microsoft has given in:

Mobile operators have a very real and reasonable interest in testing updates and making sure they’re going to work well on their phones and on their network. Especially if you think about large operators with huge networks, they are the retailer who sells the phone, so they have to deal with returns, they take the support calls and they have to worry about whether their network will stay up and perform well for everyone … From our point of view, that’s quite reasonable, and our belief and understanding is that it’s standard practice in the industry that phones from all different vendors undergo operator testing before updates are made available.

That “testing” label can cover any amount of prevarication. It appears that Microsoft is unable to achieve what Apple has achieved: the ability to update its phone OS when it wants to. That is a disadvantage for Microsoft and there is no sign of improvement.

More positively, Microsoft announced a number of significant new features in the first major update to the OS, codenamed Mango. This is for existing devices as well as new ones, though new devices will have enhanced hardware. He focused on what matters for developers, and hinted that there will be other end user features. A few bullet points:

  • Internet Explorer 9 is on Mango – “The same exact code that has just shipped and is now getting installed on tons and tons of PCs is the code base that will be on the phone” said Belfiore. No, it is not built in Silverlight.
  • Limited multitasking for third-party apps. This is in the form of “Live agents” which run in the background. Full apps cannot multitask as I understand, though they can be suspended in memory for fast switching. Currently apps appear to do this but it is faked; now it will be for real, with the proviso that a suspended app may get shut down if its memory is needed by the OS.
  • Multiple live tiles for a single app.
  • Fixed marketplace search so that music does not appear when you search for an app.
  • Apps can register with search so that Bing searches can integrate with an app.
  • There will be a built in SQL Server CE database with programmatic access using Linq (Language Integrated Query).
  • Full TCP/IP socket support
  • Access to raw camera data for interesting imaging applications or barcode  processing
  • 1,500 new APIs in Mango
  • Performance improvements including a better garbage collector that apparently gives a significant boost
  • Improved tools with the ability to simulate GPS on the emulator, capture performance trace log from phone

It adds up to a decent update, though more Window Phone 7.5 than Windows Phone 8 (I do not know what the official name will be). Belfiore also mentioned new apps coming to Windows Phone 7, including Spotify, Skype and Angry Birds.

But what was not said? Here are a few things I would like to have heard:

  • When will get Adobe Flash on Windows Phone? Not mentioned.
  • What about Silverlight in the browser? You would think this would be easy to implement; but I have not seen it confirmed (let me know if you have news).
  • When will Nokia ship Windows Phone devices? Nokia’s Marco Argenti appeared on stage but said nothing of substance.
  • The Mango update is coming “in the fall” but when will current users get updates?
  • Will Windows Phone 8 move away from Windows CE to full Windows, so the same OS will work across phone, tablets and desktop PCs?

Above all, I would like convincing news about how Microsoft intends to get Windows Phone better exposure and fuller support from operators. I still hardly see it in retailers, and it seems a long way down the list when you talk to a salesperson about what new phone you should buy. I do not have a Windows Phone at the moment, but when I tried it for a  couple of weeks I mostly liked the user interface – I found the soft buttons on the Mozart annoying because they are easy to press accidentally – and I also like the developer tools, though I would like to see a native code development option. In the end though, it is no use developing for Windows Phone if your customers are asking for Apple iOS and Google Android.

Microsoft shared the following figures:

  • 12,000+ apps
  • 35,000 registered developers
  • 1.5 million tool downloads

It is a start, but these are not really big numbers, and the proportion of tool downloaders that end up delivering apps seems small so far.

A lot rests on the Nokia partnership and how that plays out.

It now appears that we will need to wait until September and the newly announced PDC (Professional Developers Conference) in Anaheim 13th-16th September before we learn more about the long-term mobile strategy.

Update: Microsoft’s Phil Winstanley tells me that the Windows Phone OS is just called “Windows Phone” regardless of version; but that the Mango update is referred to as “Windows Phone OS 7.5” when it is necessary to differentiate. If that sounds confusing, do not blame me!