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Top five things Windows Phone needs to improve

Windows Phone has made a good deal of progress in a short amount of time, but there's still much work to do. CNET editors weigh in on five areas where Microsoft can improve the OS.

The previews for the next version of Windows Phone 7 are out, and overall, the response from the press has been largely favorable, including CNET's. The Mango update brings more than 500 new features to Microsoft's mobile operating system and continues to build on a solid platform, with smarter integration of apps, more-robust features, and a faster browser. It also addresses a number of issues we had with the software when it first launched in November, so Microsoft definitely deserves kudos.

However, as much as there is to love about Windows Phone 7.5, more needs to be done. As our colleagues Jay Greene and Maggie Reardon at CNET News point out, Windows Phone still has much to prove in a market where Android and the iPhone dominate. Below, we talk about five of the biggest hurdles for Windows Phone and how improving in these areas could help the OS succeed.

1. Visibility and education
This is one of the biggest challenge facing Microsoft right now. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at CES 2011 that people love Windows Phone once they see it, which I believe to be true, but it's the "getting the people to see" it part that's the problem. (The fact that some salespeople are steering customers away from Windows Phone certainly isn't helping the cause, either.)

I loved the message of the first Windows Phone "Really?" commercials. I think we often get too wrapped up in our tech, so I appreciate where Microsoft was trying to go with the ad. The problem is the company didn't show how Windows Phone would make things better. Aside from a tiny flash of the Start screen at the end, nowhere in the commercial do we see any features of the phone.

Subsequent ads have gotten a little better at showcasing some of the capabilities of the OS, but it's still fairly generic and to be honest, a little dizzying. I understand it's hard to condense an entire OS into a 30-second promo, so perhaps you focus on a certain angle--gaming, music, business features, social networking, and so forth. Also, Windows Phone is different and better than the competition in a number of ways, so why not highlight that? It worked for Verizon and the Motorola Droid.

The point is that if you want to persuade people to buy your phone, you need to show them what it can do and why it's better than anything else out there, and so far Microsoft hasn't done a very good job of that.

2. Hardware
Like Android, Microsoft has an advantage by working with multiple handset manufacturers, including HTC, Samsung, LG, and, more recently, Acer, Fujitsu, and Nokia. This means more phones, different designs, and, most of all, more choice for customers. However, as important as it is to offer variety, it's also important to deliver a compelling and relevant product.

Though the hardware on the first-generation Window Phone devices might have been good enough eight months ago, thanks to the release of such products as the HTC ThunderBolt, Motorola Atrix 4G, and Samsung Galaxy S II, we're quickly entering a stage where people are looking for and expecting the latest technology, such as high-res displays, dual-core processors, and 4G support. We know that 4G-capable devices are on tap and there are rumblings of a dual-core Nokia Windows Phone, but Microsoft can't wait too long to release them, which leads us to the next issue.

3. Timeliness
To give credit where credit is due, Microsoft has done a lot more with its software in eight months than some platforms have done in the past year, but Windows Phone is also arriving to the game late, so it doesn't have the luxury of time. As it is, Mango is scheduled for release in the fall and new devices, including those from Nokia, are expected by the holiday season. Yes, it takes time to put out a quality product, but Ice Cream Sandwich and iOS 5 are also expected around the same time, so Microsoft will need to continue to be aggressive if it doesn't want fall further behind.

4. Loosen up some restrictions
With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft placed some pretty rigid restrictions on hardware and software. On the one hand, it definitely provides a consistent user experience from one device to the other, but we also think there could be some benefit by opening it up a bit to allow for more customization, both on the OEM and user's part. This includes reconsidering some policies as needed, such as having to sync non-Exchange Outlook accounts through the cloud, which has been a sticking point with a number of users.

5. Few missing links

Local Scout is a great feature, but it needs a little work. Josh Miller/CNET

As I said earlier, Windows Phone 7 Mango fixes a number of issues we had with the first release of the software, but there are still some features we'd like to see in the near future. This includes universal search, tethering, and expanded landscape support (though Mango adds this in photos), among others. To be fair, we haven't seen everything Mango has to offer yet, so we can only hope that some of these are addressed in the final release. We also hope that Microsoft irons out some of Mango's features, such as the accuracy of voice-to-text and inconsistent results in Local Scout.

So there you have it, five areas where we think Windows Phone needs the most improvement. The good news is that these issues have more to do with Microsoft's marketing and strategy than the software itself, which we think is very good. What do you guys think? What improvements would you like to see in Windows Phone?

See also: Five things we love about Windows Phone Mango