Opinion Brief

Does Mango make Microsoft a smartphone contender?

The tech reviews are in. Microsoft's drastically improved smartphone operating system might just bring it up to speed with Android and iPhone

Last fall, Microsoft attempted to catch up in the smartphone race — and prove a worthy challenger to the iPhone and Android — with the launch of Windows Phone 7. But reviewers complained that Microsoft's unique operating system felt incomplete and lacked some key competitive functions, like multitasking and cut-and-paste. Despite a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, sales were lackluster and Microsoft's already tiny share of U.S. smartphone platforms slipped. In May, Microsoft previewed a new version of the operating system, Mango, claiming hundreds of dramatic improvements. Now, tech reviewers have tested Mango for themselves, and some say it could finally make Microsoft a contender. Really? (See the Mango up close.)

Yes, it will be the new hot phone: "Pending some killer Nokia hardware or totally radical Android redesign, I think the choice this fall for all but the nerdiest of nerds" will be between the iPhone and the Windows phone, says Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo. With Mango, the Windows Phone is infinitely pleasant and unlike any other phone out there. From the "lushly animated" actions to the way "search" has been re-conceived, you can feel all the thought that went into the tiniest of details. "It's almost like the phone is happy to be alive.""The next Windows Phone: It's pretty great" 

It's certainly a contender: Watch out, Apple and Android, says Katherine Boehret in The Wall Street Journal. Mango "is a mix of elegance and whimsy that's a treat to use," even if takes some getting used to. The focus is on people, not apps, so instead of opening up Facebook to check a friend's status, you click on her name in the "People Hub" to see a summary of her activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Windows Live. It's unusual, but it makes sense. Still, the relatively limited number of apps available for the Windows Phone — 18,000 compared to 200,000 plus for Android and 425,000 plus for iPhone — remains a significant disadvantage. "Mango Phone: a peach of a late bloomer"

But Microsoft has a lot of ground to make up: "Late to the smartphone party," Microsoft is badly trailing two innovative market leaders, say Jay Greene and Marguerite Reardon at CNET. Despite major gains, the company still has to prove why the Windows Phone's drastically different way of doing things — weaving together various apps to find a restaurant or check a friend's status — is superior to the "one-app-at-a-time approach" we're all used to, and persuade customers that the relatively understocked Windows Marketplace has most of the apps they would want. To compete with Apple and Android, Microsoft can't just be as good. "It needs to be... a lot better to convince consumers to try its technology.""Microsoft's Mango praised but has much to prove"

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