Microsoft officially unveils Mango; Hundreds of improvements on the way

This is a special day for us. We’ve mentioned the next major release of Windows Phone—codenamed Mango—at various conferences during the past few months and provided some brief peeks. Today we’re throwing the official welcome party.

Andy Lees, president of Microsoft’s mobile communication business, is kicking off things in New York City this morning with a keynote and series of Mango demos you won’t want to miss. He’ll be covering new phone features and languages, new countries for Windows Phone Marketplace, a new web-based Marketplace, and new handset partners.

You can watch the replay here. Then, at 5:30 p.m. Eastern (21:30 GMT), make sure to head over to Facebook, where we’re hosting a 30-minute live chat about Mango and giving you a chance to ask our experts questions about the next release of Windows Phone.

Hundreds of new features

Mango, which will be available this fall, includes hundreds of new features and improvements organized around three key themes: easier communications, smarter apps, and the Internet. Andy will cover these in greater detail, but here are the highlights:

Easier communications

The next version of Windows Phone keeps pace with the many different ways people connect and share—whether its calls, texts, emails, IMs, tweets, check-ins, or posting tagged photos or status updates. Some of the new features include:

  • Threads. Switch between text, Facebook chat, and Windows Live Messenger within the same conversation. (For more on the Messenger side of the story, check out Jeff Kunins’ post today on Inside Windows Live.)
  • Groups. Group contacts into personalized Live Tiles to see the latest status updates and quickly send a text, email or IM to the whole group, right from the Start screen.

The Groups feature in the next release of Windows PhoneThe next release of Windows Phone includes linked in boxes and other great new features

  • Deeper social network integration. Twitter and Linked In feeds are now integrated into contact cards. There’s also built-in Facebook check-ins, and new face detection software that makes it easy to quickly tag photos and post to the web.
  • Linked Inbox. See multiple email accounts in one linked inbox. Conversations are organized to make it easy to stay on top of the latest mail.
  • Hands-free messaging. Built-in speech-to-text and text-to-speech support enables hands-free texting or chatting.

Smarter approach to apps

Windows Phone will challenge the way people think about apps. Mango brings improved app notifications and updates on the Start screen. Apps are also more integrated in search results and hubs. Highlights include:

  • App Connect. See apps in search results and hubs such as Music + Videos and Pictures. App Connect works with Marketplace, so results include both apps already on your phone and new apps to download.
  • Improved Live Tiles. Live Tiles are more dynamic and can hold more information—making it easier to get real-time info from apps without having to open them.
  • Multitasking. Apps can now run in the background while preserving battery life and performance. You can also quickly switch between open apps.

Go beyond the browser

Mango packs a mobile version of Internet Explorer 9 and leverages built-in phone capabilities like location awareness and the camera to supply more relevant search results, local info, and suggestions. Highlights:

  • Internet Explorer 9. The power of a PC-browser plus support for HTML5 and hardware-accelerated graphics.
  • Bing. Bing on Windows Phone offers more ways to search the web with voice and music search and Bing Vision, which uses your phone’s camera to look up product info.

The mobile version of Internet Explorer 9 is HTML5 compatible and has more room to display web pages.The Local Scout feature in the next release of Windows Phone makes it easy to find place to go and things to do.

  • Local Scout. Provides hyper-local search results and recommends nearby restaurants, shopping and activities in an easy to use guide powered by Bing.
  • Cards. Handy summaries of relevant info from Bing (including related apps) for products, movies, events or place you search for.

New languages, phones, and app stores

This fall Windows Phone and its apps will also be available to more people around the world.

Mango will support languages including Chinese (simplified and traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Swedish.

And Marketplace, which now has more than 17,000 apps, will be available in 35 countries starting this fall, nearly double its current footprint. You’ll also be able to buy apps online. (Matt Bencke has more to say on Marketplace expansion plans and the beta release of the free Windows Phone Developer Tools on the Developer Blog today.)

Finally, there will also be more phones to choose from. Many of you probably already know about our exciting alliance with Nokia. Today we’re also announcing new partnerships with Acer, Fujitsu Limited, and ZTE Corporation to deliver new Windows Phones handsets.

More on Mango

Haven’t seen enough yet? I’ll leave you with the always-interesting Joe Belfiore, vice president for Windows Phone program management, who recently shot a video demoing some of the new features coming in Mango. Also, make sure to check the blog frequently in the weeks and months ahead for more in-depth features on Mango and the people who created it.

Joe talks about some of his favorite features.