On top of the promised 500 new features in Mango, Microsoft brought reps from The Weather Channel and The History Channel to show off Mango-focused features they're working on in preparation for this fall's launch. The Weather Channel's revamped app lets users create location-specific tiles that literally "flip" between showing forecasts and radar, and tapping them takes you straight into the page of the app just for that location -- Mango's "app shortcut" capability. The History Channel, meanwhile, is using Microsoft's deeper developer exposure to camera features to show off some augmented reality -- whirl your viewfinder around, pick an interesting object (we were shown the Holland Tunnel), and let The History Channel tell you all about it with a quick link to its site. You can also pin objects of particular interest to your home screen.

We also got a quick demo of some of Mango's system-level features, like Bing Vision search and app integration into search results. It's pretty slick: you can just take a picture of a book and it'll automatically bring up the Bing results for it, as well as show you which apps on your phone will let you purchase it directly using an app shortcut. Getting in and out of the zoomed-out multitasking UI is a breeze -- just press and hold the Back button -- and it's more useful than both iOS and Android (with the exception of Honeycomb) because you can see snapshots of each app's current state. We were wondering why the background was bright red, and it turns out the UI here is tied to your theme (that would also explain why Microsoft's original multitasking demo back at MWC in February was bright green).

Make no mistake: overall, the look and feel of this release is very much the same as the first Windows Phone release last year -- but the so-called Metro UI that's pervasive throughout the platform was never considered Microsoft's weak spot. Where Windows Phone faltered was functionality, and the addition of easy-to-use multitasking along with a few differentiators like freshened, more developer-friendly Live Tiles are certainly a shot in the arm.

Of course, the flipside of that is hardware -- and other than a promise that seven hardware partners (including the three originals and Nokia) are bringing new phones to the table for the Mango launch, we didn't see anything here to that end. Needless to say, they're going to need to do better than the HTC Surround to make a dent -- but phones like the HD7S and Focus give us some hope that these guys can do what they need to do, and Lees mentioned during the presentation that they've already got Nokia-branded handsets in the labs... so that's a promising sign.

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