Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” Update Rolling Out Now

Microsoft has finally started rolling out its much-anticipated WP7.5 Mango update, for the first generation WP7 based phones.

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Majority of the WP7 (98%) will be getting the update in the next 4 weeks. Owners of HTC Surround, LG Quantum and Samsung Focus v1.3 will get the update within a month. However, owners of HD7S will need to wait a bit more since the WP7.5 Mango update for their handset is still under scheduling, while the update for the Focus (v1.4) is under testing.

Sadly, there is no confirmation whether the Dell Venue Pro will get the update or not. Microsoft also does not mention anything about the European version of the Focus, the Omnia 7.  Right now, the Mango update for the handset is still under planning. WP7 owners can check out the global Mango roll-out schedule from here.

The Wp7.5 Mango update brings many new and much-needed features to the Windows Phone Platform including Multi-tasking, front-facing camera support, Xbox Live Integration, better Social networking integration, Music search and much more. Overall, the Mango update brings more than 500 new features to existing WP7 handsets!

Once the Mango update hits a user’s phone, they need to connect their handset to a PC and fire up Zune Software for PC app, and head to the Update Central section to update the phone. Mac owners need to use Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac for the same purpose.

Windows Dev Center for Windows 8 Launched; Download Preview Release Now

Earlier today at the keynote of   BUILD conference, Steven Sinofsky, President, Windows & Windows Live Division at Microsoft announced that developers will be able to download the Windows Developer Preview via the new Windows Dev Center. Microsoft showcased a detailed preview of the next major release of Windows, code-named Windows 8.’ The Windows Developer Preview is a pre-beta version of Windows 8 for developers. Windows Dev Center

The new Windows Dev Center dev.windows.com – has just gone live and promises to make guides, tools, samples, forums, docs and other resources to build on Windows available soon. You can download the Windows Developer Preview right away.

Download Windows 8 Developer Preview

Windows Developer Preview with developer tools English, 64-bit (x64) – DOWNLOAD (4.8 GB)

All of the following come on a disk image file (.iso).

  • 64-bit Windows Developer Preview
  • Windows SDK for Metro style apps
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows Developer Preview
  • Microsoft Expression Blend 5 Developer Preview
  • 28 Metro style apps including the BUILD Conference app

Windows Developer Preview English, 64-bit (x64) – DOWNLOAD (3.6 GB)
Includes a disk image file (.iso) to install the Windows Developer Preview and Metro style apps on a 64-bit PC.

Windows Developer Preview English, 32-bit (x86) – DOWNLOAD (2.8 GB)
Includes a disk image file (.iso) to install the Windows Developer Preview and Metro style apps on a 32-bit PC.

System Requirements

Windows Developer Preview works great on the same hardware that powers Windows Vista and Windows 7:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
  • Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch

Note that you can’t uninstall the Windows Developer Preview. Also, the preview is available as-is, and is unsupported by Microsoft. The Windows Developer Preview is delivered as an .iso image that must be converted into installation media stored on a DVD or a USB flash drive.

Sinofsky mentioned that this developer preview will be followed by one beta version, and a release candidate before the final release. With Windows 7, a similar process took about a year to go from developer preview to final release. Microsoft hasn’t specified if and when a preview version of ARM-based version of Windows 8 will be made available.

Prior to this, all the developer information, downloads, and documentation was hosted at Microsoft’s developer portal MSDN. This included development for Windows client, and other Microsoft’s web and server technologies. With the launch of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft created App Hub, a developer portal for Windows Phone 7 app and games developers and Xbox LIVE game developers. Unless some integration or merger happens in the future around the release of Windows 8, this could create factions between developers on same technologies but on different portals.

Samsung Focus S Announced; Sports a 4.3-inch Super-AMOLED+ Display

Samsung and AT&T have just announced the Focus S, the successor to one of their first Windows Phone 7 based phone, the Focus.

Samsung_Focus_S

The Focus S continues the trend of manufacturers releasing a mildly updated version of a handset, and naming it xxx S. HTC started this trend with the Desire S and Incredible S, and Sony Ericsson continued the trend with the Xperia Arc S, and now Samsung is following on their footsteps.

The Focus S is among the slimmest WP7/WP7.5 Mango based phone around, with a slim waistline of 8.55mm.

The Focus S is powered by a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (MSM8255T) processor and an Adreno 205 GPU, and packs 512MB of RAM. The original Super-AMOLED screen on the Focus has also been upgraded to a 4.3-inch Super-AMOLED Plus screen. The resolution of the camera at the back of the phone has been bumped to 8MP, and there is a 1.3MP camera in the front as well.

The press release from AT&T also states that the Focus S will be capable of 4G speeds, but does not mention anything whether it’s the so-called 4G (HSDPA+) network, or the real’ upcoming 4G LTE network from AT&T.

The Focus S will hit the States under the AT&T’s network, sometime in fall.

HTC Radar Announced; Runs on Windows Phone Mango

HTC have just announced a couple of Windows Phone Mango phones at their on-going event in London. Firstly, the company  announced the much more portable, Radar. The handset comes with a 3.8-inch S-LCD screen with WVGA (800×480) resolution.

The Radar is powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, while an Adreno 205 GPU handles the GPU department. The handset has 512MB of RAM on-board, along with 8GB of internal storage, of which only 6.54GB is available to the end-user. Since, WP7.5 Mango does not support microSD card slots, the extremely low internal memory is going to be a concern for many future Radar owners.

Other than this, the Radar features the usual run-of-the-mill Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS with A-GPS, 3G/HSDPA support, and a bunch of sensors. Like the Titan, the Radar also comes with a decent camera, albeit with a lower resolution. At the back of the Radar is a 5MP camera with F2.2 lens, accompanied by an LED flash. There is also a VGA camera in the front. The phone is also capable of playing back and recording 720p HD videos.

Like the Titan, the Radar runs on the latest version of Windows Phone, Mango. Beside the improved SoC and cameras, the Radar is just another run-of-the-mill handset. Most of the caveats of the first generation WP7 phones like the lack of full HD video recording, no display resolution higher than WVGA, and no microSD card slot still remain.

HTC did not announce anything about the availability and pricing of the Radar.

HTC Titan Announced; Sports a 4.7-inch S-LCD Screen!

Along with the HTC Radar, the Taiwanese company also announced a giant Windows Phone Mango based phone, the Titan. The Titan sports a 4.7-inch screen, with a disappointing WVGA (480×800) resolution screen. Like all other recent HTC handsets, the Titan also has a unibody aluminium design.

The handset is powered by a 1.5GHz single core processor from Snapdragon, and comes with 512MB of RAM and 16GB of on-board memory. The usual Wi-Fi b/g/n, GPS with A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1, and sensors like Gyroscope, Proximity sensor and Ambient light sensors are also present.

The back of the HTC Titan sports an 8MP camera with a t/2.2 aperture, accompanied by dual-LED flash. The Titan is among the first Windows Phone to sport a front-facing camera. The handset is also capable of recording and playing back 720p HD videos.

Except for a faster processor and an improved GPU, the Titan is just another run-of-the-mill Windows Phone. The only major difference is that the handset runs on Mango right out of the box, while other WP7 handsets will get the update sometime this month.

Overall, the Titan lacks a lot of features, which is now a common place in the Android smartphone world, including HDMI out, microSD card slot, FM radio and 1080p video recording.

While the improved 8MP camera on the back and a front-facing camera in the front is a welcome addition, a dual-core processor and/or more internal memory would have been highly appreciated by Windows Phone users.

 

Zune Update Paves Way for Mango

Microsoft has released the next version of the Zune software to pave the way for the next release of Windows Phone, codenamed Mango. Zune software is a key companion for a Windows Phone device allowing you to update your phone software, sync photos and videos, shop for apps, and more.

zunetile

You can download the v4.8 of Zune software here or update the current installed version on your computer. To update your current version, click Settings > Software > General, and then click Check For Updates. The latest release does not introduce any visual changes but there are a few apparent additions.

    • 48-hour movie rentals
    • Parental Controls now support M-rated (Mature) content
    • Option to hide purchase confirmation dialog for faster app checkout
    • See what apps are compatible with the Windows Phone you own

 

Apart from the the under-the-hood refinements and fixes, the update sets up things for the Mango update. It streamlines the process to update your Windows Phone software. Zune 4.8 introduces progressive updates and the ability to skip phone backup. Since, Mango will expand the number of locations and languages where Windows Phone is available around the world, Zune 4.8 improves on the same.

Zune 4.8 now supports 22 display languages and is available in these countries or regions: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and the United States.

As I wrote in my post on I Love Windows Phone, this update and Microsoft’s other announcement allowing developers to submit Mango apps to AppHub indicates that time is ripe for Mango. Although no specific dates have been shared by Microsoft as yet, Mango update for Windows Phone looks likely to come in September.

Skype Buying GroupMe Isn’t for Windows Phone

Microsoft buys Skype and Skype buys GroupMe. Using a=b and b=c; Microsoft effectively bought GroupMe. Which sounds plausible and fine. As the news spread Windows Phone 7 integration possibilities were being thought. I decided to wait it out hoping either companies would explain their strategy. Unfortunately, neither have. So here’s my theory…

Windows Phone 7 has a lot of thought and focus on what phones are for—communication. Clubbing contacts into groups and sending group emails or texts is a Windows Phone 7 Mango feature. In this scenario, GroupMe’s purchase looks out of place for Windows Phone (and Microsoft). Secondly, Microsoft’s cozy relationship with Facebook and the tight Windows Phone 7 integration would suggest Facebook Messenger on WP7 to come out soon.

GroupMe has a Windows Phone 7 client, as a result, any immediate platform integration or even Skype integration for the phone won’t be happening. Reading Michael Arrington’s article on TechCrunch, it is clear that Skype was already eyeing GroupMe while talks of acquisition with Microsoft were happening. Skype introduced group video chats not long ago and has phone calling. It makes a lot of sense for Skype as a platform to add text messaging in addition to voice communication. Putting all of this together it suggests:

  • Skype bought GroupMe for the Skype platform (and it doesn’t have anything to do with WP7)
  • It’s a good old talent acquisition
The New York based GroupMe team has individuals who’ve worked with products like Tumblr and the growing Gilt Groupe. Though this deal has to have Microsoft’s blessings, it’s a Skype deal for Skype as a platform. Not Microsoft and Windows Phone.

 

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 Everywhere Just Doesn’t Seem Right

Yes, I would  like Windows Everywhere too on my phone, PC, and TV. Developers too. So will Microsoft. Although, I have my share of doubts. I think there are three tenants of the integrated vision: Brand, Technology, and Ecosystem. Let’s explore these in detail.

Windows

Brand

Make a cut on any of the old guard folks at Redmond HQ, and he will bleed Windows. (Please do not try this literally. Culpable homicide is an offence.) I’m sure Nilay Patel at This is my next knows what he’s saying when he talks about the end of Windows brand. Even if it is on the table, I’m not very sure this would happen. Microsoft may pursue two brands Windows for the operating system and Xbox for services. The recent indication of Zune service to be rebranded Xbox Music suggests the same. Although as of now, no definite name has been announced for Windows 8, but a strong push for the Windows Phone branding would mean that  Microsoft would not dump Windows’ easily. Along with Apple, Coca Cola, and the like, it is one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Technology

This is primary reason that most believe in the vision of Windows Everywhere. Microsoft has demoed and announced that Windows 8 would run on system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures. This isn’t possible yet, and hence Windows Embedded was the platform for devices like PoS and set-top boxes, and formed the core for Windows Phone. Xbox 360 is a different deal altogether. In technical theory, all devices can then run Windows with a layer of customization on the top. Let’s see if that happens, and if the long-standing investment in Windows Embedded space and the legacy systems in place are pushed aside.

However, there is a technically fallacy to this vision as well. Even if the platform across devices would be same, application development can’t be unified. Code once, run everywhere does not work in practice. Each device has its strengths and weaknesses. An app which consumes too much data is okay on my work PC connected to DSL, but would not work for my phone with a metered data plan. Network traffic, screen estate, battery constraints, and other factors define app preference on diverse devices apart from the usage scenarios. Consider this: the iTunes app store serves both iPad and iPhone, but several publishers offer different editions of their apps for the two. Ask a Silverlight developer if developing for Windows Phone 7 devices and a Web experience is similar. Even with the HTML5 enthusiasm around, a Web service would prefer to develop a mobile Web site separately.

Ecosystem

While Windows 8 is expected to have an application marketplace, it may well be integrated with the Windows Phone Marketplace and the Xbox Live Marketplace.   A unified application marketplace makes all sense for ISVs and consumers.

For hardware manufacturers and OEM partners, an integrated platform streamlines innovation. Working on a single platform for phones, tablet computers, and PCs, makes it easy in research and product development.

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.