It's Mango vs. Apple in a Battle of the Fruitphones

Apple and Microsoft are headed in opposite directions with their smartphone market share, but the next version of Windows Phone could change that.

Confession time: I use an iPhone, but don't want to. My reasons are almost entirely personal, and we have a right to take our business elsewhere if we don't like a company. However, I have found the Android lacking as alternative. It's clumsy, confusing and looks like it was designed by a Photoshop beginner. My sister has a Samsung Fascinate and has nothing but unprintable words for it, as much for the hardware as the UI. I tried using it and just hated it. Blackberry might be a viable alternative, if RIM ever gets its act together. You don't board the Titanic if you've already seen it has hit the iceberg. 

Then there's Windows Phone. Thanks to a complete overhaul of the system with Phone 7, Microsoft went back to the starting board. It's picking up momentum, that's for sure. In March, there were about 10,000 apps; today, there are more than 25,000. That's paltry when compared to the 425,000 on iOS or Android's 200,000+ but at least WP7's app selection is going in the right direction, and quickly.

Watching a demo of "Mango," a.k.a. Windows Phone 7.5, at the Worldwide Partner Conference left me thinking "Want!" enough times that I may finally have my answer. All that's missing is Angry Birds and Shazam. Those two are mandatory.

Many of these features are already known, but to see them in action really made an impact. One of the things it does is unify the many points of contact we have with people into a single location. Now, you no longer have a friend in IM and in your e-mail contacts list and your phone book and Twitter and Facebook. One person has a single point of contact in Mango and you can contact them any way you see fit.

Even better, you can have a conversation with one person through IM, SMS and Facebook chat without ever changing modalities. You see a conversation on screen, and don't have to worry about launching the Facebook app, then your SMS app, then IM.

Some of the new features are things I've only seen on desktop computers. Not surprisingly, Mango is going to require a phone with a 1GHz processor and GPU to handle some of these new features. That's about what Phone 7 requires, so existing phones should be ok.

For starters, Mango comes with voice recognition and control. Press and hold the home button and it takes voice commands, including performing searches. Call or IM a friend, search for something online or find a restaurant nearby. All of the browsing is done through hardware-accelerated graphics and video through HTML 5.

Bing is a huge part of Mango. Search is now one of the buttons on the phone. Hold it and you can do a search, either by typing or voice, from any app. A new feature called Scout shows all kinds of information in the user's local area, with links to reviews for things like restaurants or events and places of interest.

Mango comes with a new feature called Vision Search that will take a photo of an object – in the case of the demo I saw, a book – and immediately scanned the text searched for it on Bing. Bing then returned information on the book, its cost online and reviews. Thanks to a new feature called App Connect, which helps find dependent apps, Bing also offered to download an Amazon Kindle app for the phone so the user could purchase the e-book version in addition to the paper version.

But Mango wasn't done. Another option called ScanText allowed the user to translate the text on the cover of the book to any one of a few dozen languages. So imaging being in another country or heavily ethnic part of the U.S. with minimal English signage, where you take a picture with your phone and it translates it to English.

Because this was the WPC show, the 15-minute demo focused on business use. I expect there are more features not discussed that will be equally cool. Microsoft expects to release Mango this fall. Hopefully Verizon will be carrying it.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Now read: Getting grounded in IoT