At this year’s Windows Phone Summit, Microsoft lifted the veil off the next version of their mobile operating system. Codenamed Apollo, Window Phone 8 brings many new features and improvements to the platform. At the press/developer event, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore talked about eight new platform announcements; they are all laid out below in easy to digest bullet-point form.
- Latest and greatest hardware: Windows Phone 8 will support multi-core chipsets (up to a whopping 64 cores, to be exact), three screen resolutions including WVGA (800×480), WXGA (1280×768), and 720p (1280×720), and removable storage with MicroSD.
- Native code: WP8 introduces full C and C++ support which will help developers write apps for multiple platforms (including WP8 and Win8) faster. A native game development platform is provided based on DirectX, and this makes it possible for game devs to write the same game for the phone and the PC.
- Better sharing with NFC: A new Tap + Send feature allows users to easily share contact information between Windows devices; simply tap your phone to a Win8 tablet and instantly a contact card is shared. Also, peer-to-peer WiFi connections can be made between Windows devices and this allows for unique game experiences between phones and tablets. Initiate a game on a phone and tap it to a friend’s tablet and within seconds the two of your are participating in a multiplayer wireless game experience.
- The most complete wallet experience: Microsoft has built a wallet experience similar to Apple’s Passbook and Google’s Wallet. In this app users can store credit & debit cards, loyalty & membership cards, and access saved deals (read: digital coupons). With secure SIM technology, users can “tap to pay” at compatible checkout counters. Every Windows Phone running WP8 will ship with the Wallet hub, and it will be able to connect to third party apps. This means that even if your carrier blocks the tap to pay feature, you can still use the app for other functions such as storing and organizing your coupons. Wallet will launch in France with Orange first, and at some point next year it will make its way to the US.
- Nokia Map Technology: Every WP8 device will come with Nokia’s NAVTEQ Map data baked in. The maps experience includes offline map support, turn-by-turn directions, and map control for developers.
- Windows Phone 8 for Business: Microsoft is ready to make the Windows Phone platform fully enterprise-ready. The mobile OS includes BitLocker encryption and secure boot, line-of-business app deployment, remote management, and a customizable Company hub and apps.
- The Start Screen: The WP start screen has been reimagined to be more personal and customizable. “People are in total control of their Live Tiles,” says Belfiore. Users can resize tiles with three sizes to choose from and they can be moved around for a personal layout. A new palette of theme colors is part of the update, too. The new look makes for a more consistent experience between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. More on this in a bit…
Other additions include… In-app purchases (users can securely pay for in-app add-ons using their credit cards attached to Wallet and PIN number; Multitasking (this has been improved for VoIP and video chat: these will feel like any other call as they’re integrated with the built-in phone features, VoIP apps continue to run in the background, and this will work with Skype and it’s open to all developers); additionally location-based apps can run in the background, too; and speech enabled apps allow conversations to take place between users and devices (in the e-reader app Audible users can launch a book and give commands like “next chapter” and “pause”).
Throughout the Summit Microsoft reiterated the importance of the “Shared Windows Core” between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. It was made clear that the mobile OS is based on the same core technologies that power the forthcoming PC OS. Microsoft says that this is very beneficial to developers and consumers alike because we can all bet on the performance and reliability of the Windows kernel that has been around for so long and that exists all around the world in homes, schools, businesses, and the government. Specifically the two will share common networking, security, media and web browser technology, and a common file system. For developers, this makes it simpler to port apps from one platform to another and for the two platforms to communicate with one another. For consumers, the shared core (in addition to the new Metro start screen) will provide–as stated earlier–a consistent, familiar experience across Windows phones, tablets, laptops, and PCs.
And now let’s talk about rollout and availability. First, the bad news. Windows Phone 8 will not work on exciting Windows Phone devices currently in the marketplace. Why? Because the OS requires the “latest and greatest” hardware (i.e. dual-cores) to run properly. But Microsoft is not leaving Windows 7.5 users completely in the dark. They will be able to upgrade to version 7.8 that will bring the new start screen to their devices. And if you’ve got a Nokia Lumia device, you will be gifted new Nokia-developed apps and app updates.
The first WP8 devices will be manufactured by Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, and HTC and they will be built on next-gen silicon from Qualcomm. WP8 will be available in 50 languages and apps will sell in over 180 countries around the world. All software updates for the new platform will be delivered over the air, and Microsoft pledges that devices are supported with updates for at least 18 months. The WP8 SDK for developers is coming later this summer, and the final consumer version will ship on new devices in the fall.
That sums up the Windows Phone Summit and the introduction of Windows Phone 8. The new version brings Microsoft’s phone OS on par in terms of overall functionality with the likes of Apple and Google. And with a shared core with Windows 8, the OS provides an efficient ecosystem for Windows users. Come this fall, Microsoft will have a powerful desktop and mobile front showcasing modern operating systems that not only look and feel similar but also fully understand each other.