What do you get when the world’s largest software company makes a phone operating system a top priority?
You get so many features and capabilities it’s almost overwhelming.
After spending a week playing with an early version of the upcoming “Mango” release of Windows Phone 7, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the changes. It does feel like a new operating system, in the sense that there are new little things you discover every time you try a new task.
The platform still has a clean, simple appearance dominated by the big homescreen tiles that Xbox and Windows 8 are replicating. But below the tiles are all sorts of tweaks and feature additions.
Most obvious are new social features, including new broadcasting and sorting abilities. Twitter will be integrated this fall, but you can use an online console to connect the phone to all sorts of other services.
There’s also a new “Me” tile on the homescreen that puts broadcasting tools at your fingertips, so you can post messages, check in your location or do whatever social broadcasting you choose from the tile.
To sort and manage the flow of friend information, you can create a Group tile for the home page. Then you can send group emails or messages to those friends, and keep track of just them at a glance, instead of everyone in your virtual social sphere.
Without having to start social networking apps or services, you can tag photos and share content directly through new menu options. Facebook especially is woven even deeper into the system, blending Facebook events (and RSVP tools) directly into its calendar.
Here are Microsoft images of the group feature, showing things you could do with a “family” group:
Outlook users also get new goodies, such as the ability to create a tile on the homescreen with a particular Outlook folders, making the folder one of the things you can check on at glance.
The phone has new location services added to its Maps service. An icon on the top level menu calls up suggested nearby restaurants (“eat+drink”), attractions and stores. It’s a fun addition but the results were sometimes odd, such as the suggestion that a Pierce County library is an activity near my office in South Lake Union.
There’s also an “auto fix” feature for photos on the phone, which is handy but didn’t do a lot to improve my photos. It’s easy to undo the changes.
Better yet are new sharing options added to the menus for photos and videos on the device. You can tap to share pictures via email, Facebook or messaging, or you can upload to Microsoft’s SkyDrive online storage system.
I’ll write more about the system as I spend more time with it. Before it appears on phones closer to the holiday season, you’ll also hear more about Mango from Microsoft, and application developers will be receiving preview phones from the company.
Here’s a picture taken with the phone before (above) and after the autofix: