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MANGO: Will it be the King for Microsoft?

The unprecedented popularity of smartphones caught everyone by surprise; from the handset makers to the giants of the technology world.

While mobile communication possessed the potential of being the next ‘big thing’ for a long time, it was only the last decade which brought a sharp spike in consumer interest for devices and services across the world.

The basic premise of mobile communication remained its ability to make and receive calls on the go; but the earlier target market of business users required other features to enable a seamless working environment for themselves. This brought about the concept of powerful phones that could do more than simple two-way voice communication; and thus was born smartphones with the ability to handle word processing software and spreadsheets.

As the world’s largest software maker, Microsoft viewed smartphones in the same category of personal computers, and it made all the more sense to venture into the arena with a mobile version of its earth-capturing Windows OS. With a dearth in initial competition, Windows Mobile was able to capture a good chunk of the smartphone market.

Entered Apple with its iPhone, and the smartphone arena evolved into the new battleground for all technology corporations. It is no doubt that the maker of the stylish Macs, which for long played second-fiddle in the computer market, changed the mobile device industry completely with its innovative approach to touch and functionality. The benchmark set by Apple remains intact several years on, but competition has heated to unimaginable levels.

For Apple, the working is on both fronts of the handset arena; hardware and software. This places it in the same basket as other device manufacturers like Nokia, BlackBerry and Samsung.

On the other hand, the evolution of smartphones has allowed other technology corporations to focus on one component of the two above. Google and Microsoft have adopted this path, focusing on bringing the OS to manufacturers for adoption in their devices. It is a coordinated effort that allows the manufacturer to concentrate more on the look and feel of the device, while a cross-industry standard is followed with the OS.

However, Microsoft has lagged in keeping up with the need of the hour. Placing a Windows Mobile phone against an iPhone seems like comparing a Suzuki car with a BMW. Both would get you from A to B, but one would simply do it with seamless class and comfort. And it is this comfort that the masses, or at least a predominant part of the developed and developing world, are wanting.

The 2010 launch of Windows Phone 7 (WP7) showcased a new style of thinking from Microsoft’s perspective. For the first time in a long period the software giant undertook a grounding approach to development, beginning from scratch instead of simply transferring its existing portfolio to the mobile device. And this seemed to have done it a whole lot of good. The underlying foundation that WP7 contains appears to possess great potential; for one, it does not copy the appearance or approach by Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. Furthermore, the interlinking of social mediums with contacts is more relevant to the present-day smartphone user, who wishes to know the FaceBook status or Twitter comment of friends at the earliest.

In spite the hype and strengths, Microsoft could not make the ideal impact with the new OS in 2010. Set aside the fact that manufacturers like HTC and Samsung used WP7 on high-end devices, it seemed that the software giant may have jumped the gun with the release. Among others, a feature like copy-and-paste which is basic to smartphones in the current day was still missing. So, once more, the company resorted to its usual process of rectification by promising a patch or update in the near future.

However, it seems that 2011 may bear real fruit for WP7 from the once-considered cumbersome software. The announcement of a version update called ‘Mango’ brings with it a bevy of features that might assist close the gap in the smartphone race. Changes to the group profiling and contacts, as well as communication and syncing, provides the OS some variance to the iPhones and Droid devices. Faster searches and easier browsing capabilities mean that WP7 might be able to collate enough power to be considered a contender once more.

The question however still remains whether Microsoft will rule smartphones like it does the PC world. According to a recent Nielsen research and projection study, Android smartphones are expected to remain top of the board with a 49% share of the market, followed by the iOS of Apple. The flavor of Mango is likely to push WP7 into third-spot, equaling or eclipsing one-time leader BlackBerry. A key factor in this push is the merger with Nokia for mobile devices, meaning that a devices at all cost levels could be pushed into the market with this Microsoft offering.

Irrespective of how it ends up playing, the Windows giant has managed to come to the battleground with something fresh and strong. Like its competitors, the number of applications and ability to innovate incrementally will determine the sway of the market.

And with a handset manufacturer as an assured partner, there is also the opportunity to incorporate some radical thinking to the hardware facet.

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