Windows Phone 8 OS announcement
Microsoft has just announced a brand new smartphone Operating System - Windows Phone 8. This is a major software overhaul that brings many improvements to the platform, but it isn't backwards compatible for current Windows Phone 7.5 users. A surprising move perhaps? Find out more.
Windows Phone 8 - what's new?
Microsoft has finally lifted the lid on a raft of Windows Phone 8 (Formerly known as "Apollo") features, many of which we've been waiting for in the hopes that the OS will catch up with its competitors.
Windows Phone 8 hardware
Remember when Windows Phone 7.5 first launched, and Microsoft provided manufacturers with a bunch of rules around the design, look and feel of the devices? Gone are the fixed screen resolution days. Windows Phone 8 will support more variations of screen quality and size, up to 1280 x 768 pixels, as opposed to the disappointing fixed 800 x 480 pixel cap of Windows Phone 7.5. Not only should this allow manufacturers to provide a little much needed design differentiation, it will also allow flagship Windows Phone 8 devices to compete with rival premium smartphones for resolution and dpi.
Fixed memory is also a thing of the past, you will be able to add additional storage space to your Windows Phone 8 device, by purchasing a removable memory card. This makes it a lot easier to store your media on your device.
Another notable omission from previous Windows Phone devices was support for multi-core processors, such as the dual core of the iPhone 4S, or quad core of the HTC One X. Not to be undone, WP8 will support up to sixty four cores! Of course we won't be seeing that for a long time, but it's very nice to see Microsoft future-proofing their devices in this manner.
Near Field Communication (NFC) will be supported via augmented SIM cards, putting the control of this feature up to the networks. NFC allows you to make wireless payments using your phone, or to access content via a short-range wireless signal.
When will Windows Phone 8 hardware be launched?
The first wave of hardware is expected to hit up to 180 countries in 50 languages, and will be supplied by Nokia, HTC, Huawei and Samsung (Samsung Galaxy S 3WP8 is a bit of a mouthful, but I would most definitely buy it!) We are looking at a potential autumn 2012 launch date for Windows Phone 8, and I can't wait to see what the new devices will look like.
Windows Phone 8 Software
The popular 'Metro' interface of Windows Phone 7 is being enhanced and improved for use with both Windows Phone 8 devices and tablets or desktops that run the new Windows 8 OS that is launching alongside the new mobile OS this autumn. More information on Metro improvements should surface soon, I am relieved to see that you will be able to resize Live Tiles, choosing from small (1/4 of the size of a normal tile), normal, or large sizes, and cram more info onto your Start Screen, or enlarge your favourite tiles to see more information.
Take a look at Microsoft's new Live Tiles intro video:
Skype, which Microsoft recently acquired, is heavily built into the phone, much like Facebook was into WP7. You will be able to send instant messages to Skype contacts without loading a separate app, and you can also make calls to any of the stored numbers on your phone or Skype account, which comes in very handy when trying to avoid the high cost of calling other countries via your mobile network.
Internet Explorer has been upgraded to IE 10 and will handle web browsing. The new browser is designed to provide a desktop-like internet experience in the palm of your hand. It's faster and performs better than previous versions, according to reports from early speed tests.
Business users will benefit from email security improvements and the ability to load corporate applications onto Windows Phone 8 devices with ease. This means that companies could purchase smartphones for their teams and allow them to access intranet services remotely for training or informational purposes. Microsoft Office integration is still expected to be a major plus point, however no information has been announced on this front as of yet.
Nokia Maps is being adopted as the primary mobile map software for all Windows Phone 8 devices, replacing Bing maps and providing all Windows Phone 8 devices with the benefit of offline maps that don't use up your data, plus turn-by-turn navigation as standard. Added to this is Microsoft Deals, which uses your location and phone to find discounted shops and services in your local area.
Background multitasking is coming, and in a big way! You should find it much easier to multitask on a Windows Phone 8 device - for example, if you're using Nokia Maps to find your way to a gig or restaurant and your date calls you over Skype, you can tell your phone to accept the call via Microsoft's voice control software, and stay connected to your friend while Nokia Maps continues to direct you. All of this, without any switching between applications.
From my perspective Siri can move over, as Microsoft's original voice control software is now being updated thanks to Audible. The new voice control software should be available now, on all Windows Phone 7.5 devices and above.
Software updates will be available over the air (OTA), which eliminates the need to plug your phone into your PC and run the Zune application every time you want to perform an update. I'm pleased that Microsoft have promised to support every Windows Phone 8 device with feature updates for at least 18 months. Enthusiasts can also register to try the updates early, before they're pushed to the general public, and I'll be upgrading to every improvement as soon as possible.
Applications are coming to the platform in their droves, you can now choose between over 100,000 apps and Microsoft have announced support for the popular Words with Friends and Draw Something social games. Finally, you can waste time on a Windows Phone, too. Under the hood, Microsoft has also allowed app developers greater access to phone features, which should mean we'll see even nicer looking and sounding games - still forefront is battery life and security however, so you won't be able to brick your phone with a badly programmed app.
Windows Phone 8 backwards compatibility issues
There's a slight caveat for existing Windows Phone users - your current Windows Phone 7.5 device is not compatible, or upgradable to Windows Phone 8. A meet in the middle upgrade will be offered, codenamed Windows Phone 7.8. This will feature some of the new Operating System features, such as the new tiles for the home screen, but won't include hardware-dependent upgrades like the new screen resolutions, multi-core processing power and VOIP integration for internet calls.
Phew. So there we have it, a huge amount of amazing features, coming soon. Oh, and just to mention, Microsoft are calling yesterday's announcement a "sneak peek" at Windows 8, so hopefully there are still plenty more improvements to come. Microsoft will need to keep impressing consumers if they expect to combat the Apple and Android Smartphone monopoly. If the additional features yet to be announced are in the same league as what's just been revealed, I think that Microsoft has a good chance of doing just that.