Windows Phone 8 revealed
Microsoft has unveiled Windows Phone 8 - the future of the Windows Phone platform and a key piece of the new unified ecosystem the software giant aims to create.
The new mobile OS was shown off yesterday by Microsoft, in San Francisco, and will be available before the end of the year. Windows Phone 8 is based on the same core technologies powering Windows 8.
Manager of the Windows Phone programme at Microsoft, Joe Belfiore, says the similarity between the two is “more than skin-deep”.
“We've based the next release of Windows Phone on the rock-solid technology core of Windows 8. It means Windows Phone and its bigger sibling will share common networking, security, media and Web browser technology, and a common file system. That translates into better performance, more features, and new opportunities for app developers and hardware makers to innovate faster.”
Some of the key features include multi-core processor support and support for new screen resolutions (1 280x768 and 1 280x720), which Microsoft says opens the door for HD 720p displays. The new OS will also support removable microSD cards and NFC sharing and payments. A new “Wallet” feature will function to store debit and credit cards, coupons and boarding passes.
Another significant update is to the actual user experience of the Windows Phone platform. This includes a redesigned home screen that provides a great deal more customisation and flexibility than previous iterations.
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says Windows Phone 8 is a positive step forward for Microsoft. “The current look and feel of the Windows Phone platform is a bit bland and monochromatic. Windows Phone 8 seems to maintain the neat and logical layout, but allows for customisation beyond just the positioning of icons, which will have mass appeal.”
Windows Phone 7.8
Current Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 users will not be given the full upgrade to Windows Phone 8, but will get the benefit of the redesigned home screen and improved customisability with a Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade.
[EMBEDDED]Belfiore explains: “Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware. But we care deeply about our existing customers and want to keep their phones fresh, so we're providing the new Start screen in this new update.”
To the current Windows Phone users, who may be disgruntled, Goldstuck says if they really wanted a Windows 8 phone, they should have waited.
“With the Windows 7.8 update, for the average user, the experience will be indistinguishable from a device running the full Windows Phone 8 OS,” says Goldstuck, adding that it is a clever move on Microsoft's part.
Goldstuck does, however, note the fact that devices such as the flagship Nokia Windows Phone, the Lumia 900, pose somewhat of a dilemma for Nokia. “Consumers will be experiencing the device as a Windows 7.5 phone not 7.8. It's not going to be enough for them to tell consumers they can upgrade in a few months. So they will need to get Windows Phone 7.8 out quickly in order to sell phones.”
The Windows Phone 8 announcement follows hot on the heels of the unveiling of Microsoft's own Surface tablet, and the company's current drive to become relevant in the growing mobile and mobile computing markets.
The first of the Windows Phones to run the new OS will be made by Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Huawei. The official launch of Windows 8 is expected in October, and Goldstuck says that only then will the real impact of the new software be seen.
The Windows Phone platform has been struggling to gain traction in the market, despite the positive reviews for the top-end Lumia devices. Gartner estimates that Windows Phone currently has just 2% of the global smartphone market.
A key stumbling block for the platform has been the perceived lack of applications in the Windows Marketplace, which only has about 100 000 apps (while Apple and Android's app stores are both over the 500 000 mark). Microsoft hopes that by tightening its eco-system, it will be able to drive app development, and strengthen the appeal of its platform.