Microsoft's Mango Nails It

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) hasn't had much luck in mobile phones. Try as it might, the company has never escaped also-ran status on this front. However, based on the early reviews of Windows Phone 7.5 -- formerly known as Mango -- I think that's about to change.

What the critics say
The software is unfinished, but so far, the reviewer response has ranged from cautiously optimistic -- I don't think CNET is capable of joy -- to downright giddy. It seems that Microsoft has set out to delight its customers. The Wall Street Journal described the new operating system as "a mix of elegance and whimsy that's a treat to use." And Gizmodo's reviewer said, "It's almost like the phone is happy to be alive. Which kind of makes you feel happy to use it."

I've only seen pictures and videos, but I understand what the reviewers mean. Applications swing in and out of view as if you're opening and closing doors. Click an email thread, and it pops open. It gives the impression that when you navigate around the device, you're moving through a real space -- like some kind of ever-shifting funhouse.

It looks as if Microsoft has actually crafted an innovative product here. Instead of apps, the Start Screen features an improved version of the live tiles -- customizable boxes that change depending on the app they represent -- that were introduced in WP7. In addition to the obvious tiles -- email, messages, and the like -- you can assign a tile to display the weather or keep you up to date on your friends' Facebook and Twitter activities. You can also pin things such as apps, playlists, and pictures to the home screen for quick access.

Business or pleasure
Taking a cue from the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iEmpire, Microsoft sought ways to integrate the phone into its already successful products.

Last week, Microsoft unveiled Office365 -- a cloud-based version of the company's business and productivity tools. During the presentation, the company made a point of showing off how well WP7.5 works with the service. If you edit a document using the mobile Office suite on your phone, it will automatically sync the changes to your computer. You can also collaborate on a document in real time from your phone. If it works as promised, services like this will only put a further dent in Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) business-user stronghold.

Microsoft has also included a few features to connect Mango to the Xbox 360. It extended the popular Xbox Live service to the phone. You can send messages to your gamer friends, edit your profile, and keep track of your gamer score. You can also buy music and video from the Zune Marketplace and play it on your phone, computer, or console, making it easier to get your Doctor Who fix.

Is it enough?
The smartphone market will only get more competitive between now and Mango's release this fall. Apple and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) are both expected to release updates around the same time. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) also plans to release the Pre 3 this summer.

Mango should get some attention once Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) releases its first Windows Phone, but Microsoft will need to invest in marketing the platform to consumers if it hopes to gain any kind of footing. If it can show people how it has made using a smartphone sublime, then I think the phone will turn out to be a win for the company.

If you want to keep an eye on Microsoft and Mango's developments, add it to your watchlist.

Fool contributor Patrick Martin owns no shares of any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Apple, and Google, creating a bull call spread position in Apple, and creating a diagonal call position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2011, at 12:12 PM, techy46 wrote:

    It's about time. Apples and Mangos are going to be interesting to watch over the next two years. The PC's mobile will replace the PC's dead by 2013 when they all run Windows 8. Unfortunately, you'll be able to do your enterprise job with a Mango Phone but that's a small price for innovaton.

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2011, at 1:52 PM, Davidovich wrote:

    I admit to being an Apple bigot, but this sounds a lot like the pre-release enthusiasm for Windows Vista -- great design, cool graphics, but in fact users hated it. We'll have to see if MSFT has gotten it right when the software finally ships -- but they will still be playing catch up, and after 5 years of time lost, they are pretty far behind. By next year Android and iOS will be far beyond where they are now and their millions of users aren't likely to swtich for something "elegant and whimsical." I like having a system that works consistently all the time, regardless of the device I use, will nearly infinite options for installing apps and customizing settings.

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2011, at 2:52 PM, marv08 wrote:

    They said the same thing about the Zune HD when it was released... where exactly did that go?

    To be as fair as possible: MS has accumulated quite a few negatives here:

    - They are very late.

    - Once Windows 8 ships, they will have two competing and fully incompatible touch platforms, neither having any sales yet. Not the way to attract developers.

    - People associate Windows with work (and waiting for the frustrated IT guy to fix it). The times when corporate IT was guiding people's private buying decisions are long gone (ask RIM). Sure, the Xbox is a relative success, but the total community is approx. only 1/8th of iOS devices sold, and MS does not offer any content besides games in most countries, and even in the US, they are barely an also-ran.

    - Nokia has no devices yet, and the OEMs facing Nokia in bed with MS, focus on Android...

    Windows Phone 7 is certainly interesting and astonishingly attractive for something from MS. But the same was true for WebOS and Palm... I do not see it going anywhere. Especially since buying Skype caused a large-scale silent boycott by the telcos... Several people are talked out of buying a Windows Phone 7 device by telco stuff now.

  • Report this Comment On July 02, 2011, at 11:55 PM, wck59 wrote:

    At D9 this year Microsoft indicated that Silverlight will work just fine with Windows 8 and that IE 10 does support Silverlight. This means that the touch interface being used in Mango and Windows 8 will be getting closer not being two incompatable systems as marv08 wrote. I'm writing WP7 programs and frankly I was surprise how similar the touch interface shown in the Windows 8 demos was to the WP7.

    The other comment about there being 8 times as many iOS devices as Xboxs is also probably incorrect. Microsoft has indicated over 30 million Xbox live accounts are active. It is unlikely that there are 320 million iOS devices being used. Anyway, iOS doesn't offer a product comparable to the XBox 360.

    Finally as a WP7 developer I would like to point out that I can write using the XNA framework which is also what is used to program for the XBox 360. With Mango, there is also new APIs that allow one to use Silverlight and XNA at the same time. Additional with IE9 that comes with Mango, HTML 5 and Javascript can be use.

    It seems that Microsoft is building a broder developer platform and moving away from islands that did exist in the past.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 3:47 AM, marv08 wrote:

    @wck59: 30 million accounts times 8 is 240 million in my book, not 320 million... so it's rather 1/7th than 1/8th... (the number of iOS devices is expected to be close to 210 million by now).

    Games are not really a good starting point to check for compatibility between platforms... as long as the "engine" (OpenCL, DirectX, whatever) is compatible, the rest is normally quite a no-brainer.

    And for "regular" (productivity et al) apps? MS has more "islands" than ever before. VS, Silverlight, HTML/JS... one does touch, the other does not, tiles in WP7 use the one, tiles in 8 use the other... I do not see it getting easier. With iOS, or Android, or WebOS I only have to write the program once, and it will run on computers, tablets and phones (and iPod touch devices in case of iOS), I only need to adjust the GUI and re-connect the method calls. In the Windows ecosystem, I have to change languages, tools, SDks and APIs between devices. Big difference.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 4:00 AM, iamtiger wrote:

    1. Skype - Over 100 million active users

    2. Xbox 360 - 55 million units sold

    3. Kinect - holds the Guinness World Record of being the "fastest selling consumer electronics device". It sold an average of 133,333 units per day with a total of 8 million units in its first 60 days

    4. Windows 7 - 300 million copies As of January 27th, 2011

    5. Xbox Live - 35 million active users

    6. Windows Live Messenger - 330 million active users

    7. Microsoft Office - 750 million worldwide users

    All being slowly but surely integrated.... Now, what was the number of iOS devices sold again???

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 12:35 PM, techy46 wrote:

    @ iamtiger - LOL, looks like 1.5 billion MS product users, many duplicates, versus 250 million iOS users. So, it 4 or 3 to 1 in favor of MS. It's going to be a realinteresting 2012-13 when W8 integrates W7 and WP7 into a single UE for both touch and key based users. I don;t think Apple and Google can cry anti-trust or monopoly this time around like they all didi 10 years ago.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 1:54 PM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @ Davidovich: "this sounds a lot like the pre-release enthusiasm for Windows Vista -- great design, cool graphics, but in fact users hated it."

    There are huge differences between Mango and Vista. Just for one, Mango isn't an all-new OS. It's the second-generation of WP7, which users don't hate. Just the opposite, critics and consumers who use WP7 love it.

    ********

    "...they will still be playing catch up, and after 5 years of time lost, they are pretty far behind."

    That's only true if you think the only path is to follow exactly what Apple has done.

    I'll give Apple all the credit in the world for creating the first successful consumer smartphone user interface. Google took a page (or whole chapters) out of Microsoft's history with Android. They mimicked the look of iOS and got the OS into the hands of dozens of manufacturers who could swarm and overrun Apple.

    But if you're creating a mobile OS today, do you have to get follow that path for a third time? I don't think so. Microsoft doesn't have to catch up with iOS or Android because it's attacking from a different direction.

    Apple and Android launched on the availability of thousands of apps, then tens of thousands, and now nearly a half-million for each. Microsoft (and Palm) decided that if you're designing a mobile OS today, the big issue isn't app availability. It's app and contact management.

    I think they're right. Put a couple dozen or more apps on an iPhone or Android and you're swimming through chicklets to get anything done. I have an iPhone and I like a lot of the things it does, but my wife's WP7 kills it for getting to apps or people quickly.

    Is that going to be enough to get Microsoft a foothold? I don't know. But if you want to make a comparison to a desktop OS, WP7 is to iOS and Android what OS-X was to Windows XP. It is a much cleaner, neater and faster way to get to what you need.

    *******

    "By next year Android and iOS will be far beyond where they are now and their millions of users aren't likely to swtich for something "elegant and whimsical." "

    I see two errors here. First, we do know where iOS is going to be next year. Apple laid it out at the WWDC last month. iOS 5 has some new features, but the user interface was left untouched. It will be like that at least until the next WWDC in June 2012.

    I think that was a big mistake. (So was signaling they won't have a 4G phone until next summer at the earliest.) Apple's reputation for innovation is colliding with a UI that's older than any of its competitors and it's showing some weaknesses. They need to step it up, but the identity of the brand is now so closely tied to the look of iOS I don't know if they can make any major changes.

    Android can evolve faster, but I don't think we're going to see any big changes in the next year. Android development is currently focused on tablets, and that's going to require some stability in the UI until everyone gets their first gen products off the ground.

    The second error is presuming people won't change from Android or iOS. Mobile devices are different than regular computers. You pay less out of pocket when you get a new phone, and a lot of the software on the phone is either free or so inexpensive that it has a minimal effect on buying decisions. iOS and Android will still have an advantage in retaining users because they know the interface, but that's not something you want to bet the company on.

    For business customers, it's going to come down to iOS or WP7. Android still doesn't have native compatibility with MS Active Sync and exposure to malware in the Android Market should be a deal killer for a lot of corporate IT buyers. BB is done. We have several clients who are 100% BB shops, and all of them are going to move to new devices when their current contract is up.

    If this shakes out like I believe it will, WP7 is going to have an advantage over iPhone just because of handset cost. On a contract renewal a top-line WP7 phone will cost half as much as an iPhone 4. A hundred bucks per user adds up fast.

    *********

    "I like having a system that works consistently all the time, regardless of the device I use, will nearly infinite options for installing apps and customizing settings."

    The iPhone works consistently all the time? That's news to me. After installing the most recent update my iPhone now replays songs and podcasts after they finish, even when the iPod is set to shuffle. In Stitcher, it starts replaying about half-way through the show I just listened to. And the phone is spazzing out, too. About a quarter of the time when I dial by touching a contact or returning a call the call will fail immediately, then work if I hit redial.

    Before that it was network lockups that required rebooting the phone when opening some apps or sending mail. There was also the T-Sheets app that drained the battery in a couple of hours. In the year and a half I've used an iPhone, I don't think I've had one month where everything worked perfectly. Every iOS update or patch breaks something in an app, which may get fixed just before the next round of Apple updates screws up something else. And if the past is any guide, iOS5 will make my 3GS unusable when it rolls out this fall. Apple OS upgrades are usually tolerable on hardware that is one generation old, but beyond that - OS updates are Steve's way of telling you it's time to scratch another check.

    I suppose that "nearly infinite options for installing apps and customizing settings" doesn't include being able to remove any of the apps Apple put on the phone. Say what you want about Apple, but they've always kept users on a tight leash for customizing the UI.

    (And yes, you can remove default apps from WP7.)

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 2:22 PM, etgh wrote:

    Microsoft has a litany of failed devices and still-born consumer projects. Until XBox, MS was 100% unsuccessful in the consumer device market.

    This new phone OS will have the same handicap all Windows OS's have. The requirement to support the full spectrum of legacy and current products bloats the OS to the point of inefficiency. When the current Win Mobile version came out, many thought is was adequate but not exactly earth-shattering. It remains to be seen how "Mango" will fair in the market, but with the fierce competition in the smart-phone market, there are few second chances.

    While I hope NOK's faith in MS holds up over time, history is definitely against them.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 2:29 PM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @marv08: "They said the same thing about the Zune HD when it was released... where exactly did that go?"

    I don't think that's a logical analogy. The Zune media players (and Kin phone, if you want to bring that up) was hardware manufactured for Microsoft and sold as Microsoft products. That's a tough way to make a buck for anyone, especially when you're going up against a competitor with a dominant share of the market.

    WP7 is software. Microsoft doesn't have to get into an area where it doesn't have a lot of expertise (hardware design) and it doesn't have to bet the success of the entire project on one or two phones that might be available with two carriers.

    ******

    "Especially since buying Skype caused a large-scale silent boycott by the telcos... "

    Huh? Verizon launched a WP7 phone last month, so it's now available on all four major US carriers. Also, AT&T added another WP7 handset to their lineup last month.

    Skype is only an issue for telcos if they have unlimited data, and then it's only a real problem if the phones allow easy video conferencing, a'la Apple's Facetime. Voice over IP doesn't use a lot of bandwidth, and voice minutes are an afterthought on data plans.

    WP7's market share is on par with the iPhone and Android at this stage in their development. App availability is ahead of both.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 2:34 PM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @etgh: "Microsoft has a litany of failed devices and still-born consumer projects. Until XBox, MS was 100% unsuccessful in the consumer device market. "

    Ever hear of the Microsoft Natural keyboard? Or use a Microsoft mouse?

    The rest of your post is 100% wrong, too. There is no legacy support for Windows Phone 6.5 programs on WP7. It's a fresh sheet OS.

  • Report this Comment On July 03, 2011, at 4:32 PM, lucasmonger wrote:

    Is it me, or do a few of these comments sound like finely crafted statements by Microsoft corporate relations folks?

    I guess only time will tell whether Mango can compete with apple and Android. HP's WebOS is also coming soon. I have no idea how man OSes the market can support. Poor RIM... rest peacefully... It was barely adequate when it lasted.

  • Report this Comment On July 04, 2011, at 2:07 AM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @lucasmonger: "Is it me, or do a few of these comments sound like finely crafted statements by Microsoft corporate relations folks?"

    I don't work for Microsoft, and you're free to run anything I write through Google. My words are my own. When I use numbers I usually provide the source. If I didn't, ask and I'll be glad to share.

    You are now returned to the ITSpecialist and InfoThatHelp hour, brought to you by lithium. Enjoy.

  • Report this Comment On July 04, 2011, at 11:13 AM, caltex1nomad wrote:

    Microsoft should buy RIMM . That would help them gain a % of Smartphone market share and they could integrate Mango with Blackberry and call it Sorbet.

  • Report this Comment On July 06, 2011, at 5:24 PM, VRUppugunduri wrote:

    @marv08

    >>In the Windows ecosystem, I have to change languages, tools, SDks and APIs between devices. Big difference.

    Wrong! totally wrong. There is a system called .NET and it is preffered way to write apps for Windows. Whether it is Silverlight, HTML5, C++, C#, VB or anything, they have to get crunched through .NET on Windows systems, whether it is Windows, or Windows Phone. This single sentence simply tells you are just FUDing.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2011, at 11:26 AM, YM7820 wrote:

    infothathelp+baldheadeddork,

    you guys make some interesting points that I agree with, but I think people are too enthusiastic in burying RIM. It still has a great amount of people buying its products overseas as well as in the second-tier market, and its security system is perfect for secretive governments and the companies that do business with them. Do you think there isn't enough of that kind of customer for the company to make money? I'm not saying that RIM will be a $300 billion dollar company like Apple, just that I believe that it will maintain it's niche and be a profitable company for a long time. And just from a personal standpoint, I prefer it for straight email compared to a droid device (I switched from a Curve to a Droid X2.) Of course Droid/Apple are light years ahead in terms of everything else, but the BB's are still in my opinion much simpler and more intuitive as far as email goes (except for Storm and Torch- those things are crap, Playbook is a nice piece of equipment in my opinion.) And that's really what companies want from a company phone. I'm actually annoyed as I rolled out about 600 Bold's where I work, and employees come back and ask me about Facebook and Twitter. I dont think many businesses (and the IT departments working in them) are going to want to deal with employees coming back to ask about Angry Birds and Facebook. I do admit that for upper scale consumers that are tech savvy, RIM doesnt have much to offer and they might be dead there if they dont put something mind-blowing out before the end of the year. I've messed around with the MS phones and I think they are also fine pieces of equipment, I just wonder how they will put a dent into such a crowded market.

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2011, at 11:40 AM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @YM7820: Let's break down what you're saying. RIM has three possible markets - overseas, second-tier, and governments/business with high security needs.

    I think the future of international and second-tier markets are really the same thing. RIM has grown its international share because outside the US carriers don't subsidize handset costs and BB devices can cost hundreds of dollars less. Inside the US, we've all seen free BB's with a new contract - or even with rebates that pay you to take the phone and sign up for service.

    Racing to the bottom on cost is rarely a winning move for a manufacturer. It cheapens the brand and it cuts the revenue you'll have for future product development. In RIM's case it still might not be enough. Korean phone makers are at work on a $100 Android smartphone for the Chinese market. That's bad enough, but LG and Samsung will have a competitive advantage over RIM in this market because they're not carrying the cost of OS development, too.

    About secure communications, RIM has an advantage there but I don't think it's a moat. RIM doesn't write the security standards. If the market is there, any phone manufacturer and OS developer can look into modifying their stuff to meet the government's standards. In any case, I don't think that market is enough to sustain RIM's current valuation, and I'm not sure the company can survive on that.

    RIM does have a good email client, but as I'm sure you know the back end between BES and Exchange can be problematic. Mobile users expect their phones to mirror what they have in Outlook and that can be a problem running through BES. RIM needs to bail out of BES and just make their OS fully compatible with Active Sync. It saves money and makes admin for email a lot easier. (Same goes for Android.)

    About adding other apps like FB and Twitter, the business marketplace has changed. Social media is now a business tool for a lot of companies, the ability to share or take pictures/video can be really important, and the companies I work with have matured in their thinking about how employees use IT. There are still bright lines of conduct that will get you fired rightnow if you cross them, but an occasional check in on Facebook or game of Angry Birds isn't a big deal.

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2011, at 10:27 AM, fabs1nh wrote:

    How long until apple copies the most innovative features and then claims it invented them, then later accuses everyone else of copying. Likely by the time the next iphone update comes. If this seamlessly integrates with office 365 as promised,and MSFT markets effectively (big if - My kids lterally have better ideas for getting word out about xbox features etc) and MSFT plays on the iphone's inability to , you know, make and hold phone calls, this could hit both RImm and AAPL and suck up the buisness user market. I dont know anyone who has an iphone in the biz world that doesnot have complaints, usually about the "phone" and the laetst crop of berry's just seems flat. the agauin , never udneraestitae MSFTs inability to market well. Lets start with actually calling this Mango or something catchy instead of win 7.5 or whatever yawn inducing name is likley to be used..

  • Report this Comment On October 07, 2011, at 10:29 AM, fabs1nh wrote:

    sorry - hit send too soon - got distracted - so pretend this is end of post:

    business user market. I dont know anyone who has an iphone in the biz world that does not have complaints, usually about the "phone" and the latest crop of berry's just seems flat. Then again , never underestimate MSFTs inability to market well. Let's start with actually calling this Mango or something catchy instead of win 7.5 or whatever yawn inducing name is likeley to be used..

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