Entertainment, Software Programs

Guide to New Windows Phone 7 Features Arriving in 2011

If you’re a Windows Phone fan, you’ll be delighted to know that several software updates to Microsoft’s year-old mobile operating system are due in 2011.

A host of much-needed new capabilities are being developed – and not just copy and paste that will arrive via first major update due in the first two weeks of March. The said update will also bring performance improvements, Microsoft said, adding that support for CDMA networks utilized by Verizon Wireless and Sprint is expected in an update scheduled for the first half of this year. This is just the beginning as Microsoft gears up to address initial concerns with a host of improvements scheduled in a series of updates during the year.

The software maker’s energetic boss Steve Ballmer demoed some of the new stuff during his Monday keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. What kind of stuff, you ask. Well, how about Twitter in the People hub, better browsing with Internet Explorer Mobile, Office document storage in the cloud, and multitasking capabilities for third-party applications. I know what you’re thinking about multitasking…

Although other mobile platforms have already implemented multitasking a year or two ago – even Apple –  let’s first see how Microsoft implements this feature before we jump to conclusions. We’ve been told about the ability to switch quickly between apps or run tasks in the background, like listening to music. If Engadget is right, multitasking on a Windows Phone will look great and resemble zoomed-out task cards on webOS, spiced up with the iPhone-esque multitasking bar:

Simply hold the back button and you’ll get a card-like view of all running apps. Pick your app and you’re back where you left off in that one. You can multitask even in games, have Slacker playing in the background, and if you press a volume button while on the home screen you’ll get a quickie interface for changing track, pausing, and playing.

When it comes to third-party apps, Microsoft has been trying to get developers enthusiastic about the platform. Although Windows Marketplace, the official app store for Windows Phone programs, has been off to a slow start, the company thinks it’s "booming," pointing out that more than 28,000 registered developers are adding a hundred new titles every day.

Over eight thousand programs are available on the store, Microsoft confirmed. In addition to the aforementioned highlights, here’s a quick overview of other features you can expect over the course of several software updates slated to arrive during this year.

Twitter integration in the People hub

With Twitter integration in the People hub, you’ll be able to get your twitter updates there in real-time. Available in the second half of this year, Twitter will be integrated into the People Hub similar to the way Facebook is integrated today.

Faster, better Mobile Internet Explorer based on IE9

We’re being promised that an updated Internet Explorer Mobile version will utilize hardware-accelerated graphics for "a dramatically enhanced web browser experience" and broad HTML5 support. Based on Internet Explorer 9 for Windows PCs, the new mobile browser will be available in the second half of 2011. Microsoft estimated that folks downloaded Internet Explorer 9 beta 25 million times.

Support for Office documents in the cloud

The Office hub will support Microsoft’s free cloud storage dubbed SkyDrive, giving you the ability to access cloud-based Microsoft Office programs on your phone. The feature is slated for the second half of this year.

Xbox Live Extras

Although Microsoft would only said that Xbox Live Extras is one of the most downloaded Windows Phone applications, we suspect a tighter integration with the Xbox console could be in the works. And if Microsoft’s cool technology video is an indication, soon you might be able to play a game on your phone against an Xbox-toting opponent using a Kinect controller, in real time. Xbox Live Extras in its current version lets you customize your Xbox Live avatar from your phone, add accessories, change styles and more.

New games

Mobile space is an extremely crowded gaming environment and Microsoft wants a piece of the action, too. New games have been announced, including classic 80’s arcade Pac-Man (top left), the official Tetris game enabled for Xbox Live (top right) and Full House Poker that allows bettors to play Texas Hold ‘Em against thousands of players worldwide (bottom left). Important triple-As like addictive Fruit Ninja (bottom right) are also available on Windows Phone.