Microsoft’s massive Windows Phone 7.5 mobile operating system update, also known as Mango, started rolling out to users worldwide today.
It’s the biggest update yet for the mobile platform, and it includes a slew of new features that users have been anticipating for months now. Mango also contains two surprises that Microsoft announced for the first time today: Tethering, to let your share your phone’s mobile Internet access, and a Web Marketplace, which will let you browse apps from a computer and remotely install them on your phone.
The Mango update will reach 98 percent of all Windows Phone users within four weeks, Microsoft’s Eric Hautala said in a blog post today. “This is a simultaneous, coordinated, global update that cuts across carriers, phone models, and countries,” he said. “This time, almost everybody is going first.”
The company has created a handy “Where’s my phone update?” section on its website that will let users easily check on the status of their update. It is currently being delivered to all U.S. carriers, though it appears there are a few delays with some specific devices: AT&T’s HTC HD7S, the Samsung Focus (version 1.4) and the Dell Venue Pro. Once the update is available on your phone, you’ll need to connect it to your computer and update it with the Zune application (on Windows) or the Windows Phone 7 Connector (on Macs).
As for the new features, tethering doesn’t appear to be too different from the same feature on the iPhone or Android. Supported Windows Phone 7 devices (it will only work on newer phones with broadcasting-capable wireless radios) will be able to share its wireless connection with up to five devices. But, as is usually the case with tethering, the feature is only supported on certain carriers and will cost an extra monthly fee.
More intriguing is the Web Marketplace, which will let Windows Phone 7 owners search, share, and install apps on their phones from their desktop web browser. The Web Marketplace puts Windows Phone 7 on par with Android, which also lets you remotely install apps from the Android Market website. This is one area where Apple sorely needs to catch up — finding apps manually on the iPhone, or synchronizing via iTunes, is getting old. (As a commenter mentions below, you can enable Automatic Downloads via iTunes to automatically send apps to your phone. Still, that’s not as convenient as a web interface for the App Store.)