Mango, the future of Windows phone | Futurespace Magazine Ive never been a fan of Microsofts mobile phone software, but having played with Mango, the next version of Windows Phone, I confess to being somewhat impressed. My reaction to the first version, which I used for a week when it was launched late last year, was that it might be nice when its finished. Today, it looks like becoming a contender. Mango which will be available free for existing Windows Phones is not going to knock the iPhone off its perch, but it looks like a good upgrade for Nokia feature phones, and they sell hundreds of millions. Mango also looks a good buy if you are a Microsoft user. Its the only mobile that plumbs straight into Bing, Hotmail, Microsoft Messenger, Xbox Live gaming, Zune music, the online Office 365, OneNote, SharePoint Server, and 25GB of free online storage in SkyDrive. Those properties have more than 500 million users, so the main question is whether Microsoft can capitalise on its user base the way Google is doing with Android. Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer said Mango had more than 500 new features, but only a handful are important. One is the use of the IE9, which provides desktop-quality browsing, though other phones will no doubt catch up in due course. Another is the integrated messaging, where your familiar conversation screen includes not just SMS texts, or Windows Live Messenger messages, or Facebook messages but all three. You can hold a cross-platform conversion and Mango threads them together beautifully. As a bonus, you can create a group of friends or work colleagues, BlackBerry style, and message the whole group. Theres also a new multitasking experience where you can flick through screens and continue paused third-party apps and games where you left off. Mango is designed for social networking, and it includes new apps for Twitter and LinkedIn, but Skype could turn out to be the most important. Microsoft liked it so much its buying the company. If you have a Wi-Fi connection, you can use Skype to make local or international calls as you would on a desktop PC. This could be a huge money-saver. At the VIP preview in London, Microsofts Achim Berg, corporate vice president of Windows Phone marketing, trumpeted the fact that there were now more than 18,000 apps and we are about to overtake RIM! Microsoft still has a long way to go, but most people will probably be able to get most of the apps they want, including Angry Birds. Also, Mango apps tend to look nicer than Android apps, which is presumably due to Microsofts superior development tools. It doesnt necessarily mean theyll work better, but the smartphone market seems particularly susceptible to appearances. Berg also announced that Windows Phone now had four new handset manufacturers in Acer, Fujitsu, Nokia and the cut-price Chinese supplier ZTE. It also had more than 50 operators, he said, including Brazil, Japan and South Korea. Nokia is, of course, the most important. The Finnish company is in relative decline at the moment, but it is still the worlds largest phone manufacturer. It may be weak in the US, but its a big brand in Europe and a huge brand in developing countries such as China and India. In fact, Nokia is generally strong where Apple is weak, so the battle for global market share is not necessarily over. Nokia plans to enter the market with phones based on Mango later this year. Its brand power and exceptional hardware skills could turn Windows Phone into a success after what has been a somewhat lacklustre start. I suspect it will be tough going, for two reasons. First, the glanceable tile- and hub-based Metro interface really is innovative, its not just a decade-old icon paradigm rejigged for touch operation. Really innovative means unfamiliar, though it is easy to use if you jump in. Second, Mango gets better the more you use it, and your phone becomes populated with contacts, photos, music files, messages, documents and so on. Mangos integration isnt visible when theres nothing to integrate, and glanceability has little appeal when theres nothing to glance at. Either way, Microsoft is clearly committed to the Windows Phone market for strategic reasons. Which is just as well, because it looks a very long way from making any money out of it.