HTC, Samsung and LG to Launch New WP7 Mango Smartphones in September

September is going to be an exciting month. The iPhone 5, or whatever the next version of the iPhone is going to be called, is supposed to be launched by Apple in the first week of September.

By September, we should also see the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S 2, the current king of Android smartphones in the U.S. smartphone market.

Today, Digitimes reported that there is going to be yet another major release in September. According to the report, HTC, Samsung, LG and some other manufacturers are going to launch new Windows Phone 7.5 Mango powered smartphones in September. The first WP7 Mango smartphone, the Fujitsu IS12T was announced last week.

Windows Phone 7

The new Mango phones by HTC will be powered by 1.5 GHz processors and will have display sizes ranging from 3.8 to 4.7 inches. Samsung is apparently working on a variant of the Galaxy S 2, which will be powered by Windows Phone 7.

Even Nokia is planning to unveil its first Windows Phone 7 device around the end of September. It will be interesting to see if all these new devices help Microsoft grab market share from Apple or Android.

Microsoft and its partners will have to time these launches right. It is very likely that the iPhone 5 launch may completely overshadow all these device launch announcements.

Windows Phone Mango RTM: What is still missing?

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Today came the exciting and unexpected news of Windows Phone Mango’s Release To Manufacturing (RTM). The Windows Phone team has completed the release and handed it to mobile operators and handset makers to start testing the latest update to Microsoft’s mobile operating system reboot.

Windows Phone Mango has several hundred new features which have been covered at various places across the web, including some of the v1 annoyances it has resolved for me personally. Here I want to make a few comments on what still remains to be added. Granted, these are smaller in some ways than the gap that Mango closed, it is still worth talking about what Windows Phone lacks in terms of features and functionality already available in (or announced for) iOS and/or Android.

  1. VPN functionality: Windows Phone still does not support connecting to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), typically used to connect devices to corporate networks from outside the company. iOS offers native VPN support as well as support for VPN client apps.
  2. At-rest encryption: Encryption of the storage on the device is a huge issue for corporate IT departments in being able to support a mobile device. As smartphones get more and more capable of performing computer-like tasks, and as they start storing more and more company data, they also become a huge liability in case the phones get lost or stolen. At-rest encryption protects the data on the device in such cases. Microsoft has said that the isolated storage on the device is only available to the specific app and that is how they quasi-protect the data, but I don’t think IT departments think that is enough. iOS for example, has encryption built into newer devices since iOS4.
  3. Complete backup/restore: As part of the recent NoDo update, Windows Phone introduced phone backup, but it is crippled in that only Zune desktop can execute it, and it cannot really be triggered manually (on demand). iOS (iTunes) on the other hand, does provide a way to backup and restore on demand.
  4. Multiple Windows Live ID’s per phone: Windows Phone links the device to a Windows Live ID which you enter during setup. This is the ID used to connect to the Marketplace for purchasing apps and other content, but more importantly, it is also the ID used to access other in-built platform services like Zune Pass music subscription and Windows Live-connected services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and obviously, Windows Live Messenger and Facebook chat. What if I want to share my purchased apps with my wife but we want to have our own Windows Live-connected services on our phones? It is impossible today without sharing a Live ID, but SkyDrive, IM, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are services which don’t translate well with a shared Live ID. On the other hand, iOS/iTunes allows you to use a different ID to purchase apps/content from the store, than from the one you associate with the device. So I envision that in Windows Phone you still enter a Windows Live ID at setup, which will tie the ID to all your platform services like SkyDrive, IM, Facebook, Twitter, etc., but when it comes time to purchase apps or content, you can choose which ID to use. 
  5. DLNA, Play To: When Windows Phone launched, DLNA capability was used by LG as a differentiator for their phones. Now that the initial launch dust has settled, it is about time Windows Phone included DLNA/Play To feature across the OS. This will be a good response to AirPlay which is one of the few really magical technologies that have come out of Apple. If I could beam my recently captured photos/videos from my Windows Phone to the TV via the XBOX or a TV-connected Windows 7 PC, it would be awesome. 
  6. [Updated 7/29/2011] Voice commands for Music/Zune: How could I miss this one? One feature that seems to be missing from Mango is the ability to use the excellent voice commands for Music playback (including of course podcasts), including controls like pause, play, stop and skip. I hope at least this one is a surprise feature in RTM which we have not seen in the beta builds.

Do you have anything else you would add to this list? Let me know!

Windows Phone Mango Beta Refreshed; Twitter Integration Debuts

Yesterday, Microsoft announced Windows Phone Mango RTM. The RTM implies that the code is finished, and handed over to carriers and device manufacturers for testing and distribution to the customers. Today, Microsoft surprised developers by releasing Beta 2 Refresh of the Windows Phone SDK 7.1.

Also, Microsoft is pushing an OS update for developer-unlocked phones allowing developers to refresh the Mango update to Build 7712 corresponding to the SDK release. The RTM build is 7720. The Beta 2 of Windows Phone SDK 7.1 was released last month and developer-unlocked phones were updated to Mango (Build 7661). Although, the update has a RC moniker in the name when the tools are installed, this is an early version. The final Release Candidate would be released next month. The final Mango update would not be available to developers early, and would be pushed through the usual official channels.

Today’s update is available through the Mango Connect site. You would need to download and install the updated Zune software (4.8.2134.0) and an UpdateWP.exe file. Also download the Windows Phone SDK tools. Before you install any of these, first uninstall the previous versions of all three from your computer.

The latest update showcases Twitter integration in Windows Phone for the first time. Although the Twitter integration was announced and demoed earlier, the feature wasn’t included in the last update. I did a post on all points of Windows Phone experience where Twitter integrates.

The comprehensive integration touches all bases in Windows Phone. The integration is present in the Me tile, People Hub, Pictures hub, and Internet Explorer 9. The Twitter integration is very solid, and for infrequent Twitter users, this might just do away with the need for a Twitter client.

The tools update also adds a nifty screenshot capability built-in into Windows Phone Emulator allowing you to quickly take screenshots of your apps without using a separate app.

Microsoft Evangelist To Donate $1000 If Web-Celebs Don’t Like WP7

Here’s something you don’t come across often. Microsoft developer evangelist Brandon Watson has decided to put a $1000 on the line if Internet-celebrities give Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 a try.

In a challenge that seems to be his idea, Watson is going after users who’ve had problems with Android and are considering the iPhone. A few hours ago, he commented on the widely-popular comic strip Dilbert’s blog where author Scott Adams ranted about Android’s battery. Watson’s challenge is he will send Scott a Windows Phone 7 developer device (running mango) for Scott to try and if Scott doesn’t like it, Watson will donate a $1000 to any charity of Scott’s choice.

Watson extended this challenge to CNET reporter Molly Wood who complained about having issues with her Droid X. This definitely is a ballsy move and I have to say, Brandon Watson is changing the rules of the game. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s competitors can’t say, “I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson.”

Update: Molly Wood has accepted the challenge. And so has Scott Adams.

Nokia’s Windows Phone 7 ‘Sea Ray’ Taken Out Of Testing Shell

It would seem that Nokia is having a hard time keeping things under wraps when it comes to their recently leaked Windows Phone 7 device, the ‘Sea Ray’. First unveiled by CEO, Stephen Elop in a “super confidential” showing, the Sea Ray carries the same design cues at the Nokia N9, save for a few external changes such as camera component arrangement as well as the addition of camera key.

In what appears to be an assembly factory, the ‘Sea Ray’ is removed from a bulky disguise case, taken for a quick hardware tour and is turned on. A new “7” boot animation as well as many other subtle UI changes indicate the device is running the ‘Mango’ build of Windows Phone 7. The usual front facing capacitive buttons, Back, Home and  Search are present along with a covered microUSB port on the top, a domed power button and 3.5mm headphone jack. Presumably the third side button below the volume keys is for locking and unlocking the device.

Although this won’t be the first device to have Mango on it, the Sea Ray is rumored to be Nokia’s first Windows Phone 7 device to launch and is said to be available in the coming 2012 year. A step off of the proverbial ‘burning platform‘ and into cold waters. A ray  of light in a cold and dark sea. Hopefully it can keep the company afloat.

Via WPCentral

WP7 Developer Dashboard Updated With Much Needed Improvements

My twitter feed is filled with excited Windows Phone 7 developers within Microsoft and outside. App Hub, the developer dashboard to submit Windows Phone 7 applications for verification received a major update today.

The two widely appreciated feature additions are:

  • Private beta
  • Editing application details

The Private Beta option has been a desired feature by app developers and bloggers. Developers can now allow a set of users to try (and review) their applications before they go live in the marketplace. So far this process needed sharing and side loading of the application file on a developer unlocked phone, which was a hassle.

The second feature makes it easy for application developers to make changes to the application’s listing in the marketplace and description without having to submit a new version. The developer can edit application’s category and artwork. Daniel at WPCentral has listed a few more changes that include better crash reports (critical for developers) and a new layout.

Microsoft understands the importance of developers in the mobile OS race. They have been actively developing and supporting the community. The App Hub update comes after the public beta of Windows Phone 7 Mango which fixes a lot of shortcomings and introduces some compelling features to the phone.

h/t @matthidinger  for the information on editing app details.

Update: Long Zheng has shared details about Private Beta, the beta lasts for 90 days and a developer can share the app with up to 100 users.

Microsoft Shows 4 New WP7 Phones

Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference for 2011 is currently underway at Los Angeles and after Steve Ballmer’s keynote yesterday, it was all about devices today.

During their VIP event in May where they officially unveiled Mango, Microsoft shared details about new hardware partners for WP7. A notable absenty was Dell. At WPC, a demo of WP7 Mango was followed by Steve Guggenheimer showing a lot of Windows PCs and four upcoming Windows Phone 7 devices.

Three new devices are from the new OEM partners and one is from Samsung. The new Samsung phone has a front facing camera which is expected to be in Nokia’s N9 version running WP7 too. The devices are Acer, Fujitsu and ZTE:

WMPU says the Samsung handset is the SGH-i937, the Galaxy SII running Windows Phone 7. The phone clearly has a front facing camera:

The guys over at WMPowerUser have uploaded an edited video of the conference showing just the phones which they have had to remove due to a confusion at Microsoft’s end.

Update: Rafael at WithinWindows has uploaded the clip. Here is the presentation that Microsoft didn’t want you to see:

How Mango Has Fixed Some of the Annoyances of Windows Phone 7

I have been excited about Windows Phone ever since it was unveiled at MIX last year. I bought it almost as soon as it was launched (I had to wait to get out of my corporate contract) and there were a lot of things that delighted me like Metro UI, Live Tiles and hubs, despite coming to this platform from iPhone 3GS. But at the same time, as a user, there were many things that annoyed me, some of which were bugs, and some were just the incompleteness of the platform. After all, Windows Phone was in fact a complete reboot for Microsoft in mobile.

Over the July 4th weekend, which was long weekend here in the US, I was able to successfully put the beta 2 of the next version of Windows Phone OS, codenamed Windows Phone Mango (Mango). I am now using it as my primary phone, and already noticing that some of those annoyances (most of them, in fact!) go away!

Video timestamp

Videos taken on the phone would end up getting the download/sync timestamp rather than capture date and timestamp. This was highly annoying, because for a trip, I would end up having all the pictures in the correct order, but the videos would get lumped together at the end. I had to then manually fix the date and time by looking at the still pictures taken before and after the videos (thankfully, the filenames are in sequence, so I was able to get approximations ok).

With Mango, the videos still get the timestamp of the download/sync but instead of a generic sequential filename, the videos get named with the capture date and time (up to the second!) in UTC time. So instead of WP_000001.mp4, I now would have something like WP_20110705_134523Z.mp4. Way better!

Windows Phone NoDovideo filename

Image 1: Windows Phone NoDovideo filename

Windows Phone Mangovideo filename showing video capture date and time

Image 2: Windows Phone Mangovideo filename showing video capture date and time

Video sharing

There was absolutely no way to do anything with videos on the phone; no email, no sharing via MMS, no upload to Skydrive, no upload to Facebook. The only contextual menu option on videos was delete.

With Mango, videos get the same treatment as still pictures. They can be emailed. They can be shared. The only thing Mango does not do is auto-upload in the background to Skydrive. I could choose videos to upload to Skydrive, but it just does not happen automatically. I am ok with that. [Note: It seems like upload to Skydrive is not working in the current build, but I am certain that it’s a problem due to it being a beta. The feature, to upload videos to Skydrive, is here to stay. So yay!]

Windows Phone Mangocontextual menu on videos taken on the phone

Image 3: Windows Phone Mangocontextual menu on videos taken on the phone

Windows Phone Mangovideo sharing options including Facebook and Skydrive

Image 4: Windows Phone Mangovideo sharing options including Facebook and Skydrive

Jumplist on applications list and Search

After I got my Windows Phone, I had the urge to install new and cool apps as soon as they were released. I did not delete most of these apps, because I wanted to get notifications when they get updated, that way I can keep up with what’s new and when there are updates. The problem for me was that the list of applications became extremely long, and I had to keep scrolling up and down that list to launch an app which I had not pinned. I can use voice to launch an app, and it is quite cool, but I am just not used to launching apps with voice.

With Mango, there is now the familiar alphabetical jump-list like the one which is available in the People Hub, now for applications. This way I can quickly jump to a letter and get all the apps starting with that letter. Better yet, there is also a search button now which allows me to just search (very quickly too) for the app. As Windows Team Blog states, the jump-list is smart, since it shows the alphabets for jumping only when the number of installed apps exceeds 45.

Jump-list and Search in Windows Phone Mangoapplication list

Image 5: Jump-list and Search in Windows Phone Mangoapplication list

Contact history

In Windows Phone NoDo, the history of a contact was limited to only the call history, and that it wasn’t really a contact history, but more of a call log.

With Mango, we have an extremely rich contact history, which you can get to via the contact card’s history. It groups not only calls in and out, but also all messages (SMS/MMS) and email to and from the contact, neatly split by weeks.

Over-The-Air (OTA) Podcast subscription

Podcasts were only possible to be loaded on the phone via Zune desktop (or the Connector software if you were on a Mac) and nothing on the phone. This was a pain because some of the podcasts that I listen to are daily, and I knew that there was a new episode but I had to wait till I got home and sync-ed with my home PC.

With Mango, I can not only subscribe to and manage my podcasts on the phone, but I can now listen to a one-off episode of a podcast, streaming directly from the Marketplace. Simply superb.

Windows Phone Mangopodcast listing and subscription screen, with option to play (stream) an episode

Image 6: Windows Phone Mangopodcast listing and subscription screen, with option to play (stream) an episode

Windows Phone Mangopodcast subscription settings details

Image 7: Windows Phone Mangopodcast subscription settings details

In addition to these annoyances there are many bugs which have been fixed in Mango, like Marketplace search, Live Tiles notifications (cannot open notification channelissue), bluetooth bugs, etc.

Manan Kakkar has already written about some of the cool new things he has noticed in Mango, and I concur, Mango is in fact a juicy and sweet as a release. There are also some of the new features which are well-written about, and I am genuinely excited about, like Internet Explorer 9 with HTML5, in-built IM, OS-based Facebook chat and OS-based Facebook check-ins, among others.

With new hardware, especially from Nokia, to support this Mango release, we can only get more excited about Fall! I am looking forward to it.

11 Neat Features In Windows Phone 7 Mango

Steve Ballmer announced that Mango will have over 500 new features and we’ve seen quite a few of those. Having played around with Windows Phone 7 Mango for more than 24 hours I’ve found the beta release to be stable and pretty functional. There have been lengthy reviews of the update and I won’t be getting into that. I will however share a list of my top additions (or tweaks) in the upcoming update. Here are 11 that complement the features linked above:

Call Log (History):

I stumbled on this when I was at a bar and looking at a friend’s profile only to realize that I hadn’t seen such a comprehensive (and clean) log of contact activity. Divided by weeks, the log displays SMS, email and call activity with ability to see more activity with synced email accounts like Google or Outlook.

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Conversation View

My inbox used to be filled with 20+ emails when I turned my data connection ON and it used to be annoying to manual delete each email in a thread I am not interested in. Not anymore. Threaded mail or conversation view is a feature I would like to thank the overlords in Redmond for.

PS: Linked Inboxes isn’t in my list since I’ve got only three mailboxes that I follow.

Battery Saver

Windows Phone 7 did not show a lot of statistics and it felt incomplete. In Mango, Microsoft has introduced a new feature that shows you how long (time) your battery will last and also an option to initiate a battery saver mode when the battery is low. The battery saver mode turns the following services off:

  • Push Email
  • WiFi
  • Background Applications

The well thought-out tweak under Battery Saver is the control allowing us to initiate battery saver whenever we want to till the phone is connected to a power source. While I am not sure what is battery low but I guess when remaining life is around 20%.

DSC03204

Switch between SMS and Facebook chat

It is one those attention to detail features that as users we want. All text conversation threads with friends now have an icon at the bottom that allows us to quickly switch between SMS or IM. If the user is listed as online we can have a IM conversation. Unfortunately, we can’t send a private Facebook message if the user is offline. Nevertheless, the seamless switching between Facebook chat & SMS is fun!

IM-switch IM-switch2

Facebook Notifications

As I wrote earlier, with Mango the Me tile has become a lot more useful. The tile allows users to set their IM status, update their social status and check in using Facebook Places. The tile also lists Facebook notifications, coupled with push notifications introduced in the Facebook app, being able to glance at the latest notifications within the phone is handy.

DSC03243

Bing Local Scout & Music Search

Apps like Foursquare (Explore) and Yelp are quite handy to know what’s happening around your location but with Mango, Microsoft has built this functionality into Bing. In a feature named Scout, Bing lists the following:

  • Restaurants
  • Shopping locations
  • Local activates
  • Highlights

I will be doing a more detailed look into Scout in the coming days.

The other addition to Bing on WP7 is a Shazam-killer. A few weeks back, Shazam introduced a paid version of their popular music search app for WP7 and crippled the free version. As a user I was annoyed, not anymore. Microsoft has introduced Shazam-like feature in Bing and it works splendidly well! With Bing’s music search, a user can directly buy identified song from the Zune marketplace or go through his scanned music history later.

DSC03223

Facebook Events Integration

Windows Phone 7 syncs calendars from all email accounts but for all the Facebook integration, it did not sync Facebook Events. This changed in Mango. While I am not a heavy user of Facebook events, the reason I find this feature pretty damn cool is because now I can see all my Facebook friends’ birthdays as calendar entries on the phone.

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Background Tasks

As a Windows users, the Task Manager is a feature I love. I like to know what processes are running in the background and what is the resource usage like. With Multitasking being introduced in Mango, a Task Manager to know the tasks running in the background and probably kill them if needed is crucial. While I haven’t been able to test it as yet, since there are no apps currently in the marketplace that can run in background, I’ve added this as a worth mentioning addition.

DSC03242

Now Playing Lock Screen

Till NoDo, the lock screen showed the wallpaper with notifications about new messages and calendar entries. To control the currently playing songs one had to press the volume buttons. In Mango however, the lock screen turns into a whole new level of awesome. If there is album art for the currently playing artist, the lock screen wallpaper will be replaced with gorgeous images from Zune with big play/pause control buttons.

DSC03239

Share Links from IE to Social Networks

In iOS 5, Apple has introduced deeper Twitter integration with users being able to tweet images and links from within the Safari and camera roll. You will be able to do it in Windows Phone 7 too. As of now, you can share links on LinkedIn, Facebook and Windows Live. With the expected Twitter integration I expect Twitter being added to the social networks.

PS: I would like to see this Social Networks share option under Pictures and even in the marketplace.

DSC03235

Autofix Pictures

In NoDo, options under images showed an entry called Extras that allowed third party apps to list themselves for interaction with the images. I was able to open an image in Thumba Photo Editor and edit the image or tweet the picture using the TwitPic app, in Mango this option isn’t there (I assume it’ll be back). Meanwhile, a new option has been  introduced under image menu called Auto-Fix. This is a quick image editing option that applies certain basic fixes to the image such as hue, saturation etc. It does seem to work; before/after images below:

before after

Unfortunately, the edited image isn’t stored as a separate image, so once fixed there’s no undo.

Next time I’m in Redmond I would like to take the guys behind these features for a drink, they’ve made Mango pretty damn useful to me.

Why a Windows Phone 7 Based Samsung Galaxy S 2 is the Right Move for Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy S was the most popular Android smartphone of 2010. Its successor, the Samsung Galaxy S 2, which was launched about 2 months back has been a huge hit too, selling over 3 million units in just 55 days. It has been declared the best Android smartphone of 2011 by almost every gadget review blog, and is the one of the few phones which can rival the popularity of the iPhone.

Naturally, when there were rumors that Samsung was working on a Windows Phone 7 based version of the Galaxy S 2 (codenamed the Samsung SGH-i937), everyone, including me, was very excited about the possibilities. Windows Phone 7 is a very promising OS, and with the Mango update, it is probably the best alternative to iOS.

Many people I know prefer Windows Phone 7.5 to Android 2.3.4, but since Android has a much better choice and selection of hardware, they have stuck with Android. You may argue that Android has far more apps than Windows Phone 7, but Windows Marketplace’s app count is growing rapidly; it recently passed the 25,000 mark and is still growing.

If Samsung does launch a variant of the Samsung Galaxy S 2 powered by Windows Phone 7, it would probably be the best option for anyone wanting to buy Windows Phone 7 devices. It could capture a majority of the Windows Phone 7 market share in one move, before Nokia even manages to launch its first Windows Phone 7 device. It would have a much better chance at becoming the world’s largest smartphone vendor then, with devices on three smartphone platforms – Android, Windows Phone 7 and BADA OS. This is why launching a Windows Phone 7 based variant of the Samsung Galaxy S 2 would be an excellent move for Samsung. If I wanted to, I would probably go short some Nokia stock. Its prospects aren’t looking very good.

Disclosure: I have no open stock positions in any of the companies mentioned in this post.