Microsoft gives details on next Windows Phone OS

The software giant shows the ability for people to multitask; demonstrates Spotify and Qantas apps; and announces Angry Birds launch date.

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft offered today its most detailed look yet into the next version of Windows Phone, code-named Mango, at the company's annual show for Web and phone developers.

Oh, and Microsoft said the popular game Angry Birds will be available on the phone May 25.

At the Mix developer event here, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Phone program management, discussed tools that will let developers create applications that can run in the background while users move onto other programs. And he demonstrated an upcoming release from the digital music service Spotify (which isn't yet available in the United States), playing music from the app while he moved onto other programs on the phone. The Spotify app will let users quickly pause music and adjust volume without having to close and move away from another application.

Qantas Windows Phone app Microsoft

In another demonstration, Belfiore showed how Qantas has created a traveler app that uses data from local maps and calendars. He pinned specific flight data from Qantas on the home screen of his phone. That tile offered details about the flight as the departure time approached, such as the ability to check in online and get gate information. As the departure time gets close, the app triggers an alarm that notifies travelers that they ought to get to the airport. They can also open a map, which gives the quickest route to the airport. And the app even offers the option to change to a later flight.

Belfiore said Mango will build on Microsoft's efforts to provide "glance and go" information. "It's a lot quicker and easier [for people] to find the things they are looking for," Belfiore said.

He also took a few minutes at the beginning of his talk to address Windows Phone's rocky few months since its launch last year. A February update rendered some Samsung phones running the software temporarily unusable. Microsoft stopped the update to fix the bugs. But even the follow-up update caused some glitches. Now Microsoft is slowly rolling out the so-called NoDo update, but its pace has angered some users.

Belfiore was skewered by users for saying a few weeks ago that the latest update had made it to all Windows Phone devices, when it hadn't. "It was out of a lack of preparation," Belfiore said.

The company has learned the hard way that phone makers add software to their phones, which triggered some of the problems. One version of the update caused one phone to switch into its factory diagnostic mode.

That's why Microsoft has been cautiously rolling out the latest update. "We felt it would be better to be a little bit prudent," Belfiore said.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore at Mix11 Jay Greene/CNET

And he's optimistic that the problems are behind the company. "We expect that we're going to get these problems licked and get good at this," Belfiore said.

The features Belfiore highlighted are enabled by behind-the-scenes technology built into Mango that allows application multitasking. That technology gives developers the ability to better use the tiles that display their application on the phone. Mango will also offer access to the Windows Phone camera and motion sensor library, giving developers the ability to create programs that incorporate the phone hardware.

Belfiore also said that a version of Internet Explorer 9, the new, zippier browser that Microsoft launched for PCs a month ago , will come to Windows Phone this fall. To demonstrate that speed, Belfiore ran a test, comparing a phone running Mango with current versions of Google's Nexus S, running Google's Android operating system, and Apple's iPhone 4, running iOS.

"I'm going to give the iPhone a head start because I only have two fingers," Belfiore jibed, as he began the demo. Not surprisingly, given that it's a Microsoft demonstration, the Mango phone retrieved information more quickly than its rivals.

Belfiore also showed a few other Mango features, such as customizable ringtones and a new bar code scanning application from Amazon that takes users right to its store if it has the product. And he was joined briefly onstage by Marco Argenti, Nokia's head of developer experiences, who highlighted the companies' new partnership but offered no new timeline for phones that the partnership will generate.

After Belfiore finished, Microsoft shifted gears to developer tools, announcing the immediate availability of its Silverlight 5 technology, which gives developers tools to create advanced graphics in their applications. The company showed off the new software with a preview of a Web site for the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration squad. The site runs high-definition video from inside the cockpit as well as animated graphics that let Web surfers inspect its fleet of jets.

And finally, Microsoft offered details of the upcoming software development kit for Kinect for Windows that will arrive later this spring. Kinect is the hot-selling motion-sensing controller for Microsoft's Xbox 360 gaming console. The company wants to unleash its vast developer network on Kinect, which is already a favorite among hackers .

Kinect drivable lounge chair at Mix11 Jay Greene/CNET

To demonstrate, Microsoft had a bit of fun, showing off a "Kinect drivable lounge chair." The chair wheeled around the stage, with the "driver" using hand gestures to move it about. The company said it will release the source code, as well as details for obtaining all the parts, after the software development kit is released. It also demonstrated using hand gestures to navigate through the universe using the Worldwide Telescope, a Microsoft Research project, giving users the ability to zoom in to the moons of Saturn by spreading their hands apart.

 

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