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Why 'Mango' Matters

There are three reasons why Windows Phone "Mango" will finally move the needle for Microsoft in the smartphone market.

  • Read an extended Web-only version of this column here.

In mid-May, Microsoft seemed to be going nowhere in the smartphone and tablet market. Key developers were leaving, Windows Phone 7 share continued to fall and the silence on Microsoft's tablet plans remained deafening.

What a difference a month makes. Since that time, Microsoft Mobile Business President Andy Lees previewed the next release of Windows Phone 7, code-named "Mango," and several executives simultaneously showed off the tablet-focused interface of "Windows 8."

Windows 8 is hugely important, and we've devoted an entire feature article to partners' reactions to the UI, which is widely described as the biggest change to the UI since Windows 95 (see "Energized by 'Windows 8'"). In this space, though, I'd like to lay out three reasons why I think Mango will finally move the needle for Microsoft in the smartphone market this fall.

1. Tile-and-App UI: Windows Phone 7 delivered something new to mobile UIs with its tile-and-app design. Microsoft is doubling down on the design with "Mango," and opening up the OS to allow app developers to provide more information in the tiles and access services and other apps across the phone.

The design of Mango here is less important than the fact that Windows 8 will mimic the phone UI closely. Until early June, the Windows Phone 7 interface was a weird little outlier in a world of icon-based phones. With Microsoft's plans for Windows 8, however, Mango becomes the release sporting the mega-mainstream interface.

2. Nokia Handsets: Another structural element going for Mango is the deal with Nokia, by which the Finnish company is ditching its Symbian smartphone platform for Windows Phone 7 software.

Nokia announced a huge shift in February -- abandoning plans for developing its own smartphone software platforms to put its handset development efforts behind the Microsoft platform. Somewhat surprisingly, Lees announced that Nokia would already have Mango-ready handsets ready for the fall launch.

It's an open question whether the massive Symbian user base will follow Nokia to the Windows Phone 7 platform (and it's not clear that Nokia CEO Stephen Elop can keep his job long enough to execute the strategy amid shareholder and employee discontent). Nonetheless, Mango is now the stage upon which this partnership will either succeed or fail

3. App Momentum: Microsoft is showing fairly strong momentum with apps, which is what matters when it comes to smartphones. Lees put the number of Windows Phone 7 apps at 18,000 in late May, and it's probably north of 20,000 by now.

When developers look to focus their limited resources, though, they look at the two platforms where all the users are -- Apple and Google -- and that's where they develop.

This is another reason that the Windows 8 UI is so important for Mango. If Mango is seen as a stalking horse for the entire Windows user base, Microsoft's relative lack of traction among mobile developers could change very fast.

Do you think Mango has a chance? E-mail me at [email protected] or leave a comment below.


About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.