Microsoft has unveiled the latest version of its Windows Phone operating system, code-named 'Mango', promising greater integration between different methods of communication and a faster web experience.
Introducing the OS update on Tuesday, Achim Berg, corporate vice-president of Microsoft's Windows Phone marketing, told an audience of journos at London's Millbank that the old-fashioned, application-based attitude to mobile operating systems "needs to change".
A number of Mango features based on Microsoft's Bing have already been widely leaked - and many, such as the new 'Local Scout' localised information tool, appear to be playing catch-up with competitors such as Google. But Berg promised a few innovations in when it comes to root-and-branch app integration.
Connect and share
"We put the consumer at the centre of our focus," Berg claimed. "Mango brings together all the way you connect and share into one integrated experience, so you will never miss a moment."
The new Mango update enables users to bundle together related contacts in 'Groups', and even collect in a single 'thread' all conversations the user has with a particular contact, irrespective of the medium used - SMS, email or Facebook messages. Unlike with competitors' products, users will be able to separately manage different web -based email accounts - there would, Berg said, be "no all-or-nothing".
A Microsoftie demonstrates Groups - one of Mango's new usability features.
The updated platform, due to be released in the autumn, promises to allow developers to create software that doesn't just talk to the user, but which features routines that can talk to each other, providing what Berg described as a "seamless hand-off". Competitors' old-fashioned apps, he claimed, were like "wanting to go into the kitchen, but always having to go round to the front door first".
On example demonstrated to hacks was the phone's Zune music player, which muted output while the user responded to an incoming text message using voice-operated commands, enabling completely hands-free use.
Berg announced that the Windows Phone platform now boasted a total of 18,000 apps - including a new app from British Airways, due to launch next week, that allows passengers to make live reservations and even book specific seats on a virtual aircraft.
In future software would make greater use of cloud-based storage such as Microsoft's SkyDrive, Berg said, to enable documents to be synced instantly so that users could switch from their phone to their PC and continue working.
Closer integration between phone and PC platforms was also in evidence with the inclusion of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 browser into Mango - using, said the company, exactly the same code as the desktop version. By taking advantage of Windows Phone's built-in GPU, IE9 would, the company claimed, deliver a hefty performance benefit over rival browsers. A fairly unscientific HTML 5 rendering test showed Mango knock out 23 frames per second, against just 2fps by Apple's Safari.
Microsoft announces the addition of new partners Acer, Fujitsu, ZTE and Nokia to its line-up for handset maunfacturers for Mango's launch in the autumn.
Introducing new handset makers
Coinciding with the update, the software giant revealed that four new manufacturers are to join the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell, who announced devices at the original launch of Windows Phone 7 platform back in October. Acer, Fujitsu and Chinese maker ZTE would be bringing out handsets for the Mango launch - as, Microsoft confirmed, would much-trumpeted partner Nokia.
Responding a question from thinq_ about the rumours of ever-deepening ties between Microsoft and the Finnish mobile maker - including talks of a takeover - a Microsoft spokesman proved somewhat defensive:
"I can't comment on that," he said. "I really can't comment on that at all."
(Below) BA's new Windows Phone app, out next week, enables users to instantly book flights.
...And (bottom) even select seats from a virtual aircraft cabin.