Thursday, September 29, 2011

Windows Phone: Mango

Phone updates are like Christmas – you wait months, and it feels like it will never come, but then you wake up one morning and have a bunch of presents waiting for you. Well, today I got my Mango Christmas, and it was quite a haul!
Really, the one feature Mango is missing is a tour of all the cool new stuff it can do. I’ve been finding out bits and pieces through news articles. There are literally hundreds of changes. Below are a few functional additions I’ve enjoyed so far.

New Bing search options: music (ie. Shazam), barcodes and tags (ie. Tag Reader, ShopSavvy), and automatic text recognition (OCR) plus translation. The “Scout” feature shows nearby restaurants, attractions, and shopping (ie. replace the rather bad WP7 Yelp app). Overall, this equals a much needed boost to the usefulness of the capacitive “Search” button.

Map improvements. Most notably turn-by-turn directions with text-to-speech. Also, favorite places. On the down side, no transit directions

Bluetooth audio improvements. Now with track data and elapsed time, more control of play modes.

Custom ringtones. On one hand, the lack of any tools to create, edit or manage ringtones is annoying, and the excuse of “Apps will do it” is a shameful cop-out. But still, one has to appreciate the elegance of the solution from a technical standpoint. Just edit any song < 1 minute to genre “Ringtone”, and it’s a ringtone. Trimming an existing song down to an appropriate length takes some third-part tools, but the genre can be edited right in Zune. Unlike Apple, there’s no attempt to monetize or otherwise prevent you from legitimately building your own ringtones.

Voice commands – speech to text, and text to speech. The experience seems heavily optimized to text messages, with some incredibly accurate dictation of outgoing messages and reading of incoming messages. There’s a few places where you can activate specific speech-to-text, but you can hold down the capacitive “Windows” button to trigger voice commands. Sadly, the selection of voice commands seems limited. Plenty of commands to control phone calls or text messages, to do Bing searches, and “open” to launch apps, but I’ve yet to find other voice commands. One noteworthy absence is the ability to control the media player, which is a pretty big downside compared to iPhone.

Other interesting notes.
  • No visual voicemail yet, but apparently that’s a carrier issue instead of a software issue, and “Coming Soon” once AT&T turns it on for us.
  • Task switching available by holding “Back” capacitive button. None of my third-party apps support running in the background yet. It appears that the “Windows” button leaves a capable app running, while tapping “Back” from a main screen will actually exit an app outright. Still waiting for the Glympse app to support background execution.
  • Cut and paste is there. I still don’t care.
  • Apparently businesses can now make “private” apps that you can access through links but don’t show up in app store searches. Useful for Microsoft internal apps at least.
  • Set Facebook status updates and check-ins direct from contacts screen.
  • Still no separate volume per audio output. Grrr.