Navigation Improvements Coming With Mango Update For Windows Phone

Rachel Jiang, Program Manager of Windows Phone Engineering, has posted an article over at the Windows Phone Blog detailing navigation improvements coming to Windows Phone later this fall. The improvements will come to all Windows Phone devices with the Mango update come this fall. From the basics to multitasking, Jiang goes deep into details of all the improvements coming. Starting with the basics, the hardware Start and Back buttons are already there, but of course they can always be improved through the Windows Phone software. The Start button takes you to the Start screen where you can personalize and pin the applications you want. The Back button is self explanatory, taking you back to where you were previously.

Moving on to the Mango goodness coming Fall 2011, getting to your apps faster and multitasking will be the biggest improvements. You most likely already know something about the new app list or multitasking, but even Microsoft assures you that once these improvements are available they will continue to listen to the community. By listening to the community Microsoft almost guarantees that they will give the end user what they want, even post-Mango update. We will spare you the lengthy article, read on to find the best snippets from the article.

Finding apps faster

Tapping a header in the People Hub today opens the quick jump menu (left), which can whisk you to a specific section of your contacts list. In Mango (right), we’re adding the same feature and a search option to the App list.

We also wanted the App list to feel consistent with other lists on the phone, like contacts. In the People Hub we use search and a quick jump menu to help you find contacts quickly. Ultimately, we decided that approach was the best solution for the App list, too.

Although there is one slight difference. When implementing the quick jump option, we wanted to balance function with aesthetics. If you don’t own many apps, the feature doesn’t make much sense, since the alphabet headers artificially lengthen the App list, creating gaps that make it feel sparse and unappealing. Hence, you’ll only see the headers when you have installed at least 45 apps.

While quick jump is helpful, I have to admit that sometimes it’s easier to just type an app’s name. So we also added a search option. If you’ve used it in People, it works like you probably expect, filtering the list of apps as you type. If you don’t find the app you were searching for, we provide a convenient link to get it from Marketplace by tapping Search Marketplace.

Easier multitasking

Have you ever wanted to quickly continue or finish something that you left off earlier? I run into this quite often. I’m in the middle of an intense Fruit Ninja game when a text message notification pops up at the top of my screen. It’s an I Can Has Cheezburger link. I must tap it! When I do, it takes me to the website, where I find a pic that’s so awesome that I must share it with my Facebook friends.

After all that, I really want to get back to whacking fruit. My instinct is to press the Back button. But if I don’t see what I want after a couple of tries, I usually press Start and navigate from there. What I really need is a way to hyper jump back to a specific point in time.

Sound cool? Say hello to the task switcher.

We believe the best way for someone to navigate between tasks is literally by showing them where they left off. Whether it’s a half-composed email, a game in progress, or the last photo you saw, you can return to it easily in Mango by pressing and holding the Back button.

In Mango, pressing and holding the Back button on your phone calls up the task switcher, which makes it easy to quickly pick up where you left off.

When you do, you’ll see a set of “cards” that represent the last 5 things you did or apps you used, arranged in the order you used them. (My team’s nickname for this feature is “visual back”.) These cards remind you what you were doing so you can pick right back up again. This is efficient multitasking.

Flick left or right and tap on a card to resume right from where you left off. The task switcher is designed to be fast and predictable (although it does require app developers to do some work on their end). Don’t get me wrong. I still use the Back button for its original purpose: to navigate within an app and or get back to the previous thing I was doing. But “visual back” helps you resume tasks that are a little farther away.

One design problem we pondered at length was how many cards to show. We wanted the experience to be intuitive and require minimal effort. Five seemed like a good balance. Having only a small number of cards ensures that the task switcher is predictable. Unlike other smartphones, this design also helps save you from having to babysit your apps, tracking which ones are running and manually closing them to conserve battery power. The phone does that work instead.

Of course, I know some people will probably wish there were more cards. As always, we’ll continue to monitor your reaction and reevaluate our design for future releases if needed.

We think getting around on a Windows Phone with Mango has never been easier and more fun. Working on these features has been tremendously rewarding for me. I hope that you’re as excited about what’s coming as I am.

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