It’s all about the cloud with the Office Hub and WP7 Mango. The Office Hub connects with Sharepoint and SkyDrive, and now it hooks into the Office 365 subscription service for collaboration. Lync is also coming to Mango for corporate-grade instant messaging. Information Rights Management support for both e-mail and documents will keep security-conscious IT managers happy, while formula assist and data stats in Excel will please spreadsheet jockeys. We continue to like OneNote for creating notes on the go that are easily accessible from the desktop.
How fast Windows Phone 7 Mango feels really depends on what you’re doing. Multitasking felt fairly swift, and most applications loaded quickly. However, any apps that require a web connection to load or update data, such as the Marketplace or People Hub, exhibited lag. We expect that 4G-capable WP7 phones will be faster.
We’re more concerned about Mango’s occasional lack of responsiveness. On several occasions we found ourselves having to press an onscreen option multiple times for it to register. Same thing goes for the back button. Given that this is a preview build of Mango, we’re assuming Microsoft will be able to smooth things out before launch. Handsets with dual-core processors won’t hurt either.
Even with all of the new features baked into WP7 Mango, there’s a lot that the platform still can’t do at this stage, including video calling (Skype to the rescue?) and the ability to use your phone as a hotspot. And unlike Android, you don’t get free spoken turn-by-turn directions, though that could change once Microsoft and Nokia put their heads together. We’d also like to see Microsoft do more with the top area of WP7; right now when you tap the screen in that location you’ll see the signal strength and Wi-Fi indicator, but we wish you could tap this area again to toggle the Wi-Fi connection or engage airplane mode.
As Microsoft warned us, LinkedIn and Twitter integration aren’t turned on yet, and we’ll have to wait and see how well multitasking works with third-party apps. So what about notifications? When we asked a Windows Phone marketing manager if Microsoft would be rolling out a feature that aggregates all of your notifications in one place, he didn’t see the need. Windows Phone’s Live Tiles already do this for you, but we suspect that users would still like a one-stop shop for viewing all this info.
At its core, Windows Phone 7 still represents a radically different smartphone strategy than Android or iOS. Microsoft’s platform doesn’t treat apps as destinations so much as one of many ways to get the information you’re looking for. Your favorite people, as evidenced by features like Groups, also take priority over apps. And from where we sit, that approach is perfectly valid. What Mango does is round out the experience, from multitasking and improved social networking integration to Quick Cards and Local Scout.
Now here comes the hard part: convincing the masses that Windows Phone 7 Mango will make their lives easier than Android or iOS and packaging it inside faster, sleeker devices that will turn heads. (No pressure, Nokia.) In addition, Microsoft needs to get developers excited about building multitasking-friendly apps and help them take full advantage of App Connect. We sincerely hope that the Windows Phone team takes our constructive criticism to heart and applies many of our suggested tweaks right away.
Last but not least, Microsoft will need to loosen the reigns so that its partners can offer meaningful differentiation instead of just a Live Tile here and there. For example, HTC’s Sense 3.0 software for Android lets you launch any of four apps from the lock screen, while Windows Phone 7 Mango still limits you to firing up the camera.
Based on our experience, Mango will matter, but Microsoft still has a lot of work to do.