Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

What iOS 5 and Mango Tell Us About the Next iPhone and Windows Phones

Whatever the next iPhone looks like, we can tell a lot about how it will run based on the preview that Apple has given of iOS 5.

Its camera may well pick up a few megapixels, but the big improvements in photography are likely to come from the software features Apple has already demonstrated. And however many millimeters thinner it might be, the iPhone will get much of its utility from iOS 5 features, such as improvements in notifications, Twitter integration and other niceties that Apple demonstrated earlier this month. And, of course, there’s the iCloud synchronization service that is also slated to debut alongside iOS 5.

The same holds true for the next version of Windows Phone. Although the hardware is yet to come from folks like Samsung, HTC and Nokia, Microsoft has said much about the next version of its software, code-named Mango. In addition, I’ve been playing around with a test build of Mango, running on a current generation Windows Phone, the Samsung Focus.

Microsoft is moving in some of the same directions as Apple, and some different ones. Mango, like iOS 5, also focuses on Twitter integration and improved notifications. And while it lacks the full iCloud experience, it will add the ability to share documents to the cloud. Both are also getting new types of messaging, with Apple introducing iMessage and Microsoft bringing together Facebook Chat, text messages and Windows Live Messenger.

Of course, Microsoft is starting further behind when it comes to features.

While iOS 5 is about keeping Apple ahead, Microsoft is still playing catch-up with Mango, adding things like visual voicemail and multitasking that have long been a part of rival operating systems. And one of Mango’s other key features is a vastly improved browser that is nearly identical to the desktop version of Internet Explorer 9, albeit without support for plug-ins like Flash. The operating system will also support direct access to hardware features such as the camera, a level of support needed to enable certain types of games and virtual reality applications.

That’s not to say that Apple isn’t picking up a few tricks from its competitors, including Windows Phone. The ability to take a photo straight from the lock screen is one grabbed from Microsoft’s playbook, while Apple’s new notification mechanism borrows deeply from the approach Google has taken with Android.

To those things, Apple is adding plenty of its own new tricks. Beyond the improvements to the camera and additions of basic photo-editing tools, Apple is adding a Newsstand showcase for newspaper and magazine apps, as well as a new reminder tool that can prompt the user to take action based on either a specific time or location.

Perhaps most notable is Apple’s move to enable the iPhone to work without ever connecting to a computer. Historically, one has needed a PC or Mac to both set up and to update their iPhone. With iOS 5, both steps will be possible without even owning a computer. For those that do have a computer, the cord will still be rendered less important, thanks to the addition of Wi-Fi synchronization.

There are also features that Apple didn’t get time to show on stage, things ranging from the ability to set a custom vibration pattern for different contacts to being able to tweak the dictionary to add shortcuts and those words the iPhone is constantly miscorrecting.

Microsoft, for its part, is trying to refine the notion that a truly smart phone need not have an app for each step a user wants to take. One of the notions introduced with Windows Phone 7 — and being expanded on in Mango — is the concept of hubs. The people hub, for example, brings together lots of different connections to a particular person, from their contact information to one’s recent contact history to the photos they have posted on Facebook. With Mango, Microsoft is adding Twitter integration, as well as the ability to create groups and interact with multiple contacts at once via text or email.

“Our friends aren’t apps — they are people,” Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan said in an interview last month.

Other Mango features include Facebook check-ins and the ability to tag photos from the device, as well as improvements to search that give users information on what is nearby, the ability to search using the camera, and a Shazam-like service for identifying a song that is playing nearby. Microsoft is also working with a group of enthusiasts to enable small “home brew” developers to allow them to add apps they have developed to their own device, in an effort to encourage even the smallest of developers to pursue an interest in the Microsoft operating system.

So, while I can’t tell you what the next Windows Phones or iPhones will look like on the outside, I think we do have a pretty good sense of what they will look like on the inside, thanks to the sneak peeks that Apple and Microsoft have both provided of their next operating systems.

Apple has said iOS 5 will show up this fall and be a free update for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, as well as running on all iPads and the last two versions of the iPod Touch. Microsoft has said that Mango is also due later this year as a free update for existing Windows Phone 7 devices as well as on a new generation of hardware, including from its new best buddy Nokia.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald