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

Due in May, new developer 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.

Company officials highlighted a long list of enhancements expected in Mango, including upgraded support for multitasking, a 25% improvement in memory efficiency and an installed database.

Mango will also support the full desktop version of Internet Explorer 9, including HTML 5 functions, thanks to new hardware acceleration capabilities, they said.

Mango will feature applications from the Australian airline Qantas and voice-over-IP service Skype. The popular game Angry Birds will be available in Microsoft Marketplace starting May 25, and it should work better with Mango, thanks to the forthcoming operating system's upgraded support for multitasking.

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 for better 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 home screen.

As time ran out before the flight departed, the color of the tile changed from green to red. Using the phone's geolocation capabilities and its clock, the front page Windows Phone tile automatically could detect if the user was too far from the airport to make his 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 check-imaging and wireless deposit application from financial services company USAA. 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 35MB of memory, compared with 28MB in the new version, a 25% improvement.

Belfiore noted that developing apps for IE9 in Mango won't take as long as it once did, since it will involve the same code used for the desktop version of the browser -- but developers will still have to adapt to the fact that a phone's screen is smaller than a desktop computer's.

"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 jump with one click 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 be the second biggest smartphone operating system 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, 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.

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