Windows Phone Mango update coming within two weeks

Microsoft says the new WP7 software could become available to some users in as little as a week.

Microsoft says that Windows Phone 7.5, code-named Mango, will be rolling out to current Windows Phone 7 users within two weeks.

"For months, we and dozens of our partner companies have been laying the groundwork for the Windows Phone 7.5 update—and making solid progress. As a result, we now expect to start rolling it out in the next week or two," writes Eric Hautala, General Manager, Customer Experience Engineering, in a blog post on Wednesday.

To hear tell, Mango is Windows Phone 7 nirvana. It gave developers 1,500 new APIs so they could build more easily build WP7 apps that offer more flexibility, functionality, and simplicity. Mango also made it easier for developers to closely link their apps with one another, and with Microsoft cloud services like search (Bing).

The list of new features in Mango is extensive. It fixes some of the things that users find lacking in WP7 including stuff IT professionals want like allowing more complex alphanumeric PIN/password and allowing the phone to connect to an enterprise WiFi network with a hidden SSIDs without having to use a separate application to find the network.

It includes cool new things like integrating messages from a person in your contacts be those messages from Facebook/Twitter, IM, texts. It has greatly improved voice controls, better integrated search functions including an app called Scout. Scout shows location-aware data such as nearby restaurants. The new App Connect feature will help you find relevant Mango apps by including them in search results from Bing.

In August, the Windows Phone 7 marketplace hit the 30,000 mark. While this is still a piddling compared to the number of apps available for iPhone (about 450,000) and Android (about 250,000), I'll bet that most of what you need you'll be able to find in those 30,000 apps ... with more coming daily. In March, the app store had a mere 10,000 apps, so a three-fold increase in four months shows that developers are clearly interested and delivering for Windows Phone 7.

I had an HTC Windows Phone 7 demo unit for about a month (Sprint's Arrive) and I really liked it. I use an HTC Android phone as a personal phone, but I found the WP7 was a decent alternative to my Android Evo Shift. There were things WP7 lacked when I tested it (multitasking) that Mango fixes. And although I like Android's uber-customability, I didn't find many things about Windows Phone 7 that I felt I couldn't live with and would need to doctor. It's a good choice for people who like Microsoft's cloud services (Bing/Windows Live) over Google's offerings, too.

HTC has already launched two Mango phones, Titan and Radar, available first in Europe and Asia next month. Fujitsu Toshiba Mobile Communications has a Mango phone coming soon in Japan. And we all know that Nokia should have some Mango phones soon, too.

Even still for U.S. users, WP7's fate rests largely in the Mango update. Microsoft's got a lot riding on how smoothly this update goes. If it has problems and bricks a lot of phones, what little momentum Microsoft has with Windows Phone 7 will be hindered for a long time. Goodness knows Android updates are frequently nightmares and if Microsoft could outshine Android here it can gain a lot of users fed up with the Android process. Maybe even me. The first major update to my Android phone happened a couple of months ago, to Gingerbread, and, predictably, bricked my phone. It had to be restored in a factory reset by Sprint as the phone wouldn't even fully turn on. It wiped out the contacts/data I had stored on my phone. (Yes, I had backups and was able to restore most of my data). But the phone has never worked all that well since. Half the time when I tap the home screen button, the phone needs 20 seconds to load that screen ... and it's nothing but a standard home screen.

So Microsoft is sitting on a mountain of opportunity here and in about two weeks we'll know if the company should be taken seriously as a smartphone competitor ... or not.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.