Engadget is reporting that this afternoon, Microsoft held yet another press conference. This time, they gave some insight on Windows Phone 8, the highly anticipated upgrade to the Windows Phone platform. Fans of the platform hoping for big news weren’t disappointed either. Let’s dive in.
The biggest news by far is the fact that Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 now share a lot of low-level code. Dubbed “Shared Windows Core,” the new architecture promises to allow for faster entry to market for handset makers, more powerful phones, and more powerful applications. Even better, Windows Phone 7 applications will continue to run just fine on Windows Phone 8 devices. Windows Phone now supports native code: C and C++, and apps can be written in HTML5 or XAML with C# and VB as well.
The hardware platform also gains a much-needed spec bump. While the modest minimum requirements for Microsoft’s 3 “Chassis Specs” resulted in buttery smooth Windows Phone 7 operation, many felt that they still needed to compete with Android and iOS devices which were becoming more and more powerful every year. Microsoft’s taken this criticism to heart and Windows Phone 8 devices will now support the following:
2012 is shaping up to be the year of the “virtual keychain” app, with Microsoft joining Apple in offering a comprehensive solution that attempts to free users from the hassles of managing all those loyalty cards, discount deals, tickets, etc. in their lives. Dubbed Wallet, Microsoft also mashes up this functionality with support for NFC “Tap to pay” and ISIS support. NFC also comes into play throughout the OS, with support for tags and “tap to share” between devices (think Android Beam) as well.
To get to those places you might need a map. Well clearly, Microsoft felt like Bing maps weren’t cutting it. As expected, they replaced Bing maps with the far superior Nokia Maps/Drive application. With turn by turn navigation, offline map support, and data by NAVTEQ, maps on Windows Phone is finally on par with the competition in 2012. Oh and to make sure you can work on other things while you get to your destination, location services (GPS) is now one of the several “multitasking services” supported by Windows Phone.
Microsoft has historically been strong in the enterprise phone market, but that took a dip with the rise of the “Bring Your Own Device” concept and Apple’s success with the iPhone. Windows Phone 7 alienated business even further with a lack of support of their legacy Windows Mobile apps and a lack of device management options. Well Microsoft’s fighting back with Windows Phone 8. They revealed increased device management options such as the ability to push apps to phones directly, BitLocker phone encryption capabilities and secure boot. Furthermore, Office will be more refined as well. Interestingly, each company will be able to take advantage of their own custom “Hub” that can be installed on their Windows Phone 8 devices. Here, they can likely have items like company news, a map of the building, key line of business apps, etc.
Many were wondering about Skype and Windows Phone. Wonder no more, they’re integrating Skype directly into Windows Phone. The standard phone UI is used for dialing and receiving a call, and most important of all, VoIP is now one of the “Multitasking Services” on Windows Phone 8. Finally, you won’t have to leave Skype (or other VoIP apps) open in the foreground just to receive calls.
Car integration and Voice seems to be another trend for smartphones in 2012, and Microsoft was apparently aware. Car integration has been greatly improved in Windows Phone 8, and apps can now directly take advantage of this through greater voice command capabilities. Audible was shown as a headline example of this, with the ability to control app functions and book selection via voice.
Also, the plan for updates has been changed from Windows Phone 7 as well. Now all updates will be done OTA with no need for the Zune desktop client. This makes sense since Zune is going bye-bye with Windows 8. Furthermore, all Windows Phone 8 handsets will be supported for 18 months. Finally, Microsoft’s doing something similar to Motorola in that enthusiasts will be able to sign up to test builds of Windows Phone 8 updates before their general release.
As far as availability goes, Windows Phone 8 will be available in 180 countries and in 50 languages. Phone makers on board at this time include Samsung and Nokia…but one you might not have expected: Hwawei. Qualcomm remains Microsoft’s SoC partner of choice for Windows Phone 8 as well. If you’re holding a Windows Phone 7 device and hoping for an official upgrade, prepare to be disappointed: Windows Phone 8 is such a large change that you will instead receive Windows Phone 7.8. It’ll contain many of the same features of Windows Phone 8, but optimized for the legacy hardware’s capabilities.
Of course, a Windows Phone keynote wouldn’t be complete without Microsoft’s partner Nokia. And they were indeed there to highlight new Nokia exclusive apps that would be on not only their Windows Phone 8 devices, but also on their existing Lumia line. This is important, as one of the biggest differentiators (Nokia’s Maps) is no longer exclusive to the Lumia line. New Nokia Apps include:
The SDK for devs to get started on Windows Phone 8 apps will be available this summer.