This could be the year I swap my iPhone for a Windows Phone. Really. No, really. Seriously. Wait, hear me out. Fine. What? Just get out. Go.
Last week I got my hands on the latest version of WP7, codenamed Mango. And it’s good. It’s very good. Its predecessor was nice – it avoided the fanboyishness associated with Apple and the unregulated sprawl too-often evident on Android – but it lacked any real punch. This time around, it looks like Microsoft might have just managed to nail jelly to the wall.
It puts a new spin on almost everything the company has done in the last five years. Every seemingly senseless commercial decision or lamentable product release makes a little more sense. The Zune MP3 player seemed almost inconceivably bad, floundering in the face of the far superior iPod. But it allowed Microsoft to road test its digital music store, and even convince a few people to hand over some money for the privilege.
It seemed like lunacy when Microsoft launched a rival search engine to Google. Steve Ballmer (pictured) would have fared better had he constructed the world’s biggest soapbox and invited people to scream search terms in his face. But notwithstanding Bing’s surprisingly respectable market share in the US, Microsoft knew that WP7 needed a fully integrated search engine at its heart. Any gain in the desktop search market is a bonus.
In the context of WP7 Mango, these things make sense. It’s like taking a step back from a dirty protest smeared on a prison wall and realising it is a nuanced piece of portraiture.
So what is so great about Mango? At first glance it is similar to its younger brother. It keeps the customisable-but-clean appearance, allowing you to choose which “Live Tiles” to display on your homepage, which interact with you without permanently damaging your retina. But the small improvements make all the difference.
A key change is the way it allows you to manage your conversations into “Threads”. This function draws all of your chats and messages from Facebook, text messages, emails and IMs, and strings them into a makeshift conversation. Seeing all your interactions with someone in one place is a revelation, albeit one that offers you an uncomfortable glance into the fractious, demented workings of your mind.
Another useful new tool is “Groups”, a very intuitive way of creating circles of friends or colleagues who you can easily communicate with, en masse, via whatever method you like (except, you know, actually seeing them). The new multi-tasking engine is also very slick, shutting apps into sleep mode to conserve battery power.
While WP7 lacks the sheer volume of apps of Android or iOS, its store is growing exponentially. But the clincher will be handsets. Despite rumours Nokia might actually manufacture something good for the first time since 1999, I’m not holding my breath. Reports that a WP7 version of the Samsung Galaxy S 2 is in the pipeline, though, is altogether more interesting.
Of course the new iPhone will be released at least a month before we see any Mango phones and could scupper the whole deal. Early reports suggest the iPhone 4S – as it will probably be called – will be thinner, happier, more productive and feature an 8 mega pixel camera. But it doesn’t sound like a game changer.
Mango could be the phone equivalent of the Xbox 360 – the moment Microsoft becomes a serious force in mobile.
SLAUGHTER ZOMBIES IN YOUR FRONT ROOM
You know what my living room (nae, my life) is lacking? Something to facilitate the massacre of waves of the undead with an imaginary chainsaw. This is the premise of Rise of Nightmares on the Kinect, the game that takes the platform from a range of games based variously around dancing, jumping and throwing into more traditional, albeit motion controlled, territory. The game, slated for a pre-Christmas release, sees you traverse a dungeon filled with zombies, hacking away with whatever you can find to survive. The controls are a little laggy – ironically you move with the graceless lumber of your undead foes – but once you get used to it it’s fun in the way that only killing zombies can be.
Also on its way is Star Wars for the Kinect, which sees you engage in light sabre fights and use the motion sensor to throw clones across the room, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.