Windows Phone 7.5 will turn apps on their head

We’ve just gotten a first look at the first major update to Microsoft’s mobile operating system.

Code-named Mango, Windows Phone 7.5 became official at an event in New York City this morning. Microsoft had teased Mango by saying there are more than 500 new features in the update, and after seeing a bunch of demos, we can actually believe that.

The tagline for Windows Phone 7.5 is a “smarter and easier” approach to the mobile experience by integrating communication, apps, and the Internet. The new version is available today for developers, and will be pushed to consumers in the fall.

One of the things Windows Phone users have to worry about is there aren’t as many apps as the iTunes App Store or Android Market. But what Mango does is get rid of the idea of downloading as many apps as possible, and focuses instead on integrating all the experiences you could want with an app, into the phone itself.

Basically, there are dozens of apps pre-installed on the phone, but Microsoft doesn’t call them apps. Open up and search for a movie, you’ll instantly be directed to an app-like page that shows local showtimes for that movie based on your phone’s location.

Or, as soon as you land at LAX, simply break out your Windows Phone device and you can instantly see all the hotspots in LA. There’s no need to search for apps that do this kind of functionality. It’s built into the phone itself.

But, for those app-worthy occasions that Microsoft didn’t build itself, there are still plenty of apps for independent developers to create. But unlike Android or the iPhone, these third-party apps won’t be treated like a third-party experience. Instead, they can be deeply integrated into the phone itself, so that when you do a search on for Jessica Alba, you can open up the IMDB app and go directly to Alba’s page.

In addition to changing the way it interacts with apps, Windows Phone 7 brings a whole bunch of new functional upgrades to the device, including:

– New integration with Twitter and LinkedIn.

– “Groups” feature, allowing group messaging.

– “Pictures history” feature, which lets you see all the Facebook, Myspace, etc photos of someone from his/her contact page.

– “Threads” feature, allowing users to see every piece of communication (Facebook, IM, text) with a contact.

– Enhanced Xbox Live integration, making it more similar to the Xbox 360 console experience.

– The ability to use advanced 3D video technology in non-gaming apps.

– Internet Explorer 9 built-in, the exact same version as the PC browser.

– New hardware partners: Acer, Fujitsu, and ZTE.

– Increased hardware acceleration for faster Internet browsing.

– Live Tiles (i.e., tiny widgets) on the home screen.

The new OS update is an important step for Microsoft as it tries to take Windows Phone 7 from a ground breaker to an actual competitor against Android and the iPhone.

The company has faced numerous stumbling blocks, including a poor week of launch sales and a highly bungled and delayed release of a minor functional update to the platform earlier this year. When Microsoft announced the Mango update would be available in the fall, there were notable chuckles from the audience.

It has recently begun to bounce back, though, with its still-fresh deal to bring Windows Phone to all Nokia smartphones in the future expected to give the platform a phenomenal surge. Microsoft confirmed today that these phones will be built on Windows Phone Mango.

Windows Phone 7.5 may not ignite a whole lot of new sales, but it will give it new competitive edges against the highly formidable competitors in the mobile space. We’ll see what happens.