Windows Phone Mango - only the name sucks

Posted by Rob Enderle

There is a lot of irony in the Windows Phone platform; in fact you can almost use it as a metaphor for what is wrong with Microsoft. 

It is surprisingly good, hell I’m a user, and find it vastly better than the iPhone or Android handsets. Personally, I find the iPhone environment to be limited in terms of hardware, while the Android platform is too much like a DIY product.  

Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) Only the Name SucksI feel like that little girl in the fable, one offers too little choice and the other is way the hell too much, with the Mango product being just right. 

As noted above, I just don’t enjoy the iPhone form factor, and while there are a number of Android products I like in terms of hardware, getting the phones and tablets to actually do what I want has been somewhat problematic. Essentially, I just don’t want to work on a phone that difficult (likely more of an issue for a reviewer). 

For some reason, when talking about Mango, the song "Dance 10 looks 3" comes to mind. I think this is because the name is the product’s critical weakness, which highlights a common problem with Redmond.

More on that later, but first, let’s talk about what is cool about the Mango Windows Phone.

Nothing Missing

The first drop of the Windows Phone platform was generally focused on things that were missing like "cut and paste" which made it feel like the product was incomplete. This actually has been an historic problem with the post-Gates Microsoft. Products meet their target release dates, but are incomplete at launch, an issue which was highlighted by the Zune, Origami, and the big cluster f*** known as Windows Vista.  

Windows Phone 7 was no exception - but this new build (Mango) feels complete, and there are no obvious failings. It is done, actually well done.  

Ease of Use

Mango makes the iPhone feel hard to use. The key functions are virtually all easy to get to from the front screen (and I typically move setup there on a new phone). You don’t have to go hunting for an application icon and the new panels are mostly active so that key information - such as who sent a message or sent a Tweet or Facebook message - can be seen at a glance. Their old commercial is to the point; you can spend less time looking at your phone and actually miss walking into things more often. In short, for non-nerds, this actually is the only real alternative to the iPhone.

Internet Sharing

This is like tethering done right. Basically, assuming your carrier lets you turn this feature on (a problem with all cell phones) you can turn the phone into a mobile hotspot and use it to provide Internet access for your laptop or tablet. Yet, this is different than standard tethering, as that typically requires a hard wired connection and often disables the device as a phone while tethered. Oh, and tethering only allows one connection while Internet Sharing could supports up to five devices.

People Hub

This feature groups conversations involving the same people across different services into common buckets. You can view the entire history of a contact, something which is particularly handy if you are being overwhelmed by different media types and large numbers of people. A number of folks think this is actually better than iMessaging and, well, I think it now sets the bar as to how this should be done. Kind of like rethinking the entire written communications interface in the context of social networking sources. 

Instant Pictures

This has always been a stand out advantage for the Windows Phone platform. Basically, one dedicated button turns the phone into an instant camera. It jumps you right through the security layer and allows you to send what you’ve taken immediately over the network without having to log in to the phone, find the camera app, launch it, and be too late to catch the moment you wanted to catch. This actually makes a Mango phone faster on the draw than most dedicated cameras, simply because it is already powered up and you typically would have to power up a digital camera first.  

Hands Free Interaction

This is really kind of cool once you figure it out. You can use voice commands on the phone and haveit read messages back to you. Think of this as the way to do text messaging while driving without ending up pancaking pedestrians or ending up in someone’s trunk. It works with the navigation features in the phone, and surprisingly well too. Frankly, this actually shouldn’t be a surprise because Microsoft has supported voice command since Windows 95 - it’s just that few folks actually ever knew it existed.

Great Phone - But The Name Sucks

And back to that "Dance 10 Looks 3" comment. You know, it is really quite funny how companies change. Back in Microsoft’s heyday, Redmond made a massive change from DOS to Windows, and understood that it needed to alter the name to reflect the new reality. This is similar to what Ford did when it moved from the Model-T naming structure and build cars more similar to the ones we have today.   

In technology, IBM went from its 360 names for Mainframes to System Z - which implied a move to an updated server based architecture and they rarely, if ever, call the System Z a mainframe. Yet, it is their most profitable product two decades after the mainframe was declared dead. Likewise, Apple didn’t call the iPhone the Mac Phone or the iPad the Mac Tablet because they wanted to separate them from legacy products, while signaling something new, different, and fun.  

When Microsoft brought out the Xbox, Redmond didn’t call it the Windows Gaming Platform 1, in fact they don’t even really number it. Version two was referred to as the 360, suggesting someone in the company has a clue. Unfortunately, they clearly aren’t in charge of naming their phone platform. All this makes me recall another product, the Widows Portable Media Center, which was actually the iPod Touch years before it existed. The product actually worked pretty well, but couldn’t sell to save its life.  

Now Windows 8 - with Metro - is going to try to transition the brand into something that is trendier.  Old Spice tried something similar recently, and they did see a sales increase, but the company is far from dominant. In the end, the only really bad thing about this phone is the name.

Wrapping Up:  The Microsoft Metaphor

The funny thing about Microsoft vs. Apple is that Apple looks better than it is, while Microsoft is actually better than it looks. Apple was tied at the hip to Steve Jobs and it will be a while before people see what his loss will do to that company. It still looks shiny from the outside, but Jobs was Apple’s quality assurance, he truly was the heart of that company. Fortunately, Apple doesn't seem to have lost any of its luster - yet. 

On the other hand, Microsoft is fielding the strongest product set it has ever brought to market, from Windows all the way through products like Azure and Mango. Yet, folks still think of Microsoft as a corporation that is passed its prime and ready to go off into that great corporate graveyard in the sky. In the end, Mango, like Microsoft, is plagued by a bad reputation that no longer reflects who, or what, it really is.