As I read This is My Next’s liveblog of the Microsoft Windows Phone event today, one quote from Microsoft’s mobile president Andy Lees resonated: “The problem is that today smartphones only include basic communications — everything else is an app,” he said.
That remark sets the tone for nearly every feature that Microsoft will bring to the next Windows Phone upgrade, codenamed “Mango.” The gist? Apps aren’t everything.
Consider, for instance, how Microsoft is fleshing out the search button on Windows Phones. After the “Mango” upgrade, which arrives this fall, users will be able to tap a button to get recommendations on nearby restaurants, attractions and shopping. It’s a Yelp-like function that’s built straight into the phone. Same goes for “Bing Vision,” which uses the phone’s camera to call up information on real-world objects. It’s as if Google Goggles was fused into the operating system.
On the communications front, Microsoft is also trying to pull people away from app dependency. A new “groups” feature will let users keep tabs on customized groups of people, pulling in e-mail, text messages and Facebook photos into a single view. Another feature called “threads” lets the user switch between messaging services, such as Facebook or MSN Messenger, without ever jumping into an app.
Even within apps, Microsoft is trying to impose its operating system. Users will be able to pin specific elements of an app, such as a product page or flight information, as live tiles on the home screen. The phone’s search function will pull in relevant information from third-party apps, such as IMDB listings when searching for movies.
It’s a fascinating and risky move by Microsoft. On the iPhone and Android, the apps you use define your experience. On Windows Phones, it’s the other way around — the apps get pulled into the experience you’re already having. I don’t know whether consumers want a platform where apps don’t dominate, but I’m glad someone’s willing to create it.