The Competition: Windows Phone 7.5 Mango
If you hadn't realized it yet, another big competitor in the smartphone market has made some pretty massive steps this past week to take ground from current behemoths Apple and Google. Microsoft made Windows Phone 7.5 Mango available to nearly all WP7 device owners just a few days ago, and while our sister-site WPCentral has been doing a phenomenal job at showing off all of the new features, we wanted to give a closer look at the OS ourselves to determine how it compares to the current iteration of webOS.
There are some similarities between WP Mango and webOS, the least of which is the multitasking card-metaphor shown above (photo Dan Nosowitz of PopSci), but it's hard to deny that these changes, no matter how blatently they are copied from webOS, are a great move for Microsoft. HTC's own executives endorsed WP7 in a big way recently, saying that they "... believe that Windows Phone 7 will eventually be better than other platforms and will give Android a run for its money."
Is all of the hype really warranted? Is Microsoft taking the best parts of webOS and preparing to succeed in the smartphone market (just as they took some of our developers)? Or are they doomed to the same fate as HP in the long run? Hit the break to read more about what WP 7.5 Mango brings to the table, and see if there is anything we can learn to keep our own platform alive..
Having owned a WP7 device myself for a while, I was looking forward to the Mango update that came out a few days ago. Like the major updates for webOS that have been released a couple times a year, Mango was supposed to take the WP7 experience to a new level. It brings a multitasking behavior that is eerily similar to webOS, better notifications that don't interrupt your workflow (again, like webOS), tighter integration with social networks like Facebook and Twitter (known to us as webOS Synergy); plus a slew of improvements for features that are unique to WP7, like Live Tiles and XBox Live. And I've got to say it right up front, even though there isn't an app available for it yet, Scrapbook actually looks pretty cool.
Though these improvements are very good, they don't quite do everything I would have liked. The new multitasking feature is a great example of this: Hold down the back button to go into "card view" and see all of the apps you currently have open and quickly switch between each one. The limitations are seen when you realize that developers have to build their apps to specifically to take advantage of the multitasking APIs. Music apps don't continue to keep running in the background unless they are built to do so (this seems to be a problem for every platform except webOS). Microsoft needs to incentivize their 50,000 member developer community to update their apps to work with this new system, otherwise it's very nearly impractical to have at all. I cannot tell you how annoyed I get when I go into an app and find that it has frozen while I was "multitasking". It is 2011, I shouldn't have to reload a web page when I switch from an app back to the browser.
Notifications continue to stay out of the way so that you can continue doing whatever it is you're doing without responding immediately to that text message or email you just got. An extension of these notifications comes with Live Tiles, which I personally love. If you go to your home screen, for example, the Email app "tile" will spring to life and show you how many messages you need to respond to, the weather app will show the current temperature outside, and that favorite game of yours will show if someone beat your high score. Developers can add their own functionality to these Live Tiles as well, which further extends not just the unobtrusive notifications, but the efficiency by which we can use these devices. Unfortunately, and unlike webOS, there is no way to interact with these notifications without stopping what you are currently doing and going into the app that the notification corresponds to (which you can do by using the new multi-tasking feature, but that's still not the most power-user friendly way of doing things).
WP7 Mango brings something else to the table that webOS does not have - enhanced Twitter integration with contacts. Much like webOS Synergy integrates apps like Facebook and Google (and any other services that a developer wants to hook into), Mango integrates these services (and now adds Twitter to that list) in a more fantastic way than webOS has been able to. From one screen you can not only see someone's latest status updates from their connected networks, but you can call them, send a text, reply via Twitter, start an IM conversation or look at their photos without pausing to think about what you're doing. Mango doesn't allow contact data manipulation like webOS Synergy does, but let's get real here, when's the last time a developer built an app to tie into webOS Synergy API's? Which is sad, because Enhanced Synergy was the feature I was most excited for when 2.0 was released.
There are few other features that really stand out in Mango: You can arrange your contacts into groups right on the device so that you can see all of your friends or family or co-workers in one place. There's face-detection for your photos that will make sharing those pics you took at last night's party much easier to deal with than ever before. You can even search the web for information using your camera, which does a quick scan and then searches Bing for relevant information. Microsoft has tried to make WP7 a "more connected device", which is very appealling to a vast majority of users out there who want to keep in touch with their friends and co-workers in a fun way.
Lastly, Mango has really improved the user experience in a lot of ways just by pretty-fying everything. The designs feel much more polished than the last iteration of WP7, and the eye-candy of navigating through applications and scenes is warmly welcomed. The OS feels faster, too (insanely good boot times compared to webOS devices) and I have yet to see any stuttering or stalling while getting down and dirty with my apps, which almost makes up for the sad attempt to bring multitasking to the phone or become more developer friendly. It's hard to talk down on the device for very long, though, and not just because there are plenty of good features in Mango - very simply, you can't say much bad about Microsoft's work when your own platform of choice is undeniably on the lower rung.
WP7 Mango is a big step for Windows Phone lovers and developers out there, and I'm glad to see it finally arrive after all this time waiting. I have often said that the natural transition for webOS users when they need to find a new device (since HP isn't making anymore) would be to go to WP7, and with WP 7.5 Mango it's even easier to stand by that word. Mango still needs some help with certain features (and that app catalog needs to be filled up a lot more), but it's well on the way to becoming a great mobile operating system that many people will enjoy using; something that webOS might have experienced if the right people had been in charge of its future.