Microsoft unveils tools for next-gen Windows phone OS, 'Mango'

Due in the fall, new tools include better memory efficiency, installed database

Microsoft on Wednesday announced 1,500 new developer tools coming in May for the next version of the Windows Phone operating system, code-named Mango, that's due in the fall.

Officials highlighted a long list of improvements with Mango, including improved multi-tasking, 25 per cent improved memory efficiency and an installed database.

Mango will also support the full desktop version of Internet Explorer 9, including HTML 5 functions, made possible with new hardware acceleration, they said.

Coming in Mango will be applications from the Australian-based airline Qantas, as well as voice-over-Internet Protocol service Skype. The popular game Angry Birds will also be available in Microsoft Marketplace starting May 25. The game will also benefit from multitasking improvements coming in the fall.

Mango will also allow real-time interactions for users via a new technology called Live Agents that allows an application developer's code to run in the background with more battery efficiency. In one demonstration of Live Agents that was Webcast from Microsoft's MIX conference in Las Vegas, Joe Belfiore, the head of Windows Phone program management, showed how a Qantas airline reservation could be moved by a user from a Qantas application inside the phone to a live tile on the homescreen, with the tile changing from green to red as time ran out before the flight departed.

Using the phone's geo-location capabilities and its clock, the front page Windows Phone tile automatically could detect if the user was too far from the airport to make the flight. With a click on the tile, the user could jump to the full application to find a later flight.

In another demonstration, a Mango-enabled Windows Phone was used to show off a USAA banking check-imaging and wireless deposit application. Using the phone's camera, the check image was recorded and sent wirelessly to be deposited in the user's account.

Mango developers will have better data access than before, Belfiore said, with a built-in SQL database in the phone that can be used to query data within applications. That database will help support augmented reality development, along with developer access to the phone's motion sensor and camera.

In other demonstrations, Microsoft's Scott Guthrie, vice president of the .Net developer program, showed how Microsoft has improved the emulator tool used to build Windows Phone applications. In the new tool, developers will be able to see simulations in three dimensions to judge how the phone's accelerometer affects games that involve complex tilting gestures.

Guthrie also showed a side-by-side comparison of Windows Phone and Mango for swiping through the Facebook application. In the new version, Facebook loaded faster, while the swipes through pages appeared smoother and also required less memory. In a short demonstration of both versions, the older one used 35 MB of memory, compared with 28 MB in the new version, a 25 per cent improvement.

Belfiore noted that while using IE9 in Mango will still require developers to adapt to the smaller screen size than on a desktop computer, it will require much less development time, since it relies on the same code used for desktops.

"It's the same exact code," Belfiore noted, receiving applause from the audience. "It's not like building one site for both PC and phone, but it's a huge benefit."

Using a Mango phone, Belfiore showed how the new Boston.com site is using HTML 5 video tagging, which allowed him to click for a video clip on the site. "The quality looks great," he noted.

Belfiore also ran an HTML speed-reading demonstration on the Mango phone, next to a Nexus S Android phone and an iPhone 4. The frame rate was the fastest on the Mango device at 26 frames per second, compared with 11 frames per second on the Android device and 2 frames per second on the iPhone.

Another new feature will give users access to developers' independent applications while doing searches in Bing, Belfiore said. In one example, he said a user could use Bing to search for a new movie, then with one click jump to related content about actors in the movie in an application called Lmdb.

"We think this idea will help users get more value out of apps," Belfiore said.

Belfiore also said Microsoft is doubling to 35 the number of countries where developers can create apps and where users can buy them. Noting that market research firms Gartner and IDC have forecast that Windows Phone will grow to the second biggest smartphone OS by 2015, he said, "we were pretty excited to see our strategy validated, which is no doubt helped by developer support and helped by the Nokia [partnership] announcement."

Marco Argenti, Nokia's head of development, appearing on stage with Belfiore, said Nokia developers are already "working hard" on Windows Phone devices. Noting that mobile billing transactions are growing with phone, Argenti said Windows Phone offers a "great opportunity" for current Symbian developers.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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