With the upcoming release of Windows 8 and Office 2013, and this week’s announcement of the (seemingly) drool-worthy Surface tablets, the last few months of 2012 were already shaping up to be a busy time for Microsoft. But today the company took the wraps off yet another 2012 addition to its release lineup: Windows Phone 8. And, surprisingly, all of these products seem to have a coherent theme; for the first time I can remember Microsoft appears to be getting its act together, leveraging “Windows” and everything that entails to push other products that extend a user experience that hundreds of millions of people know and use.
Windows Phone 8, which is really version 2.0 of the Windows Phone OS, builds on WP7 and catches up, in many respects, to iOS and Android with new hardware support, new software, lots of new features, and an expanded ecosystem.
First, WP8 has added support for multi-core processors, a long promised and expected feature. New Windows Phone 8 devices can rival current iPhone offerings and Android devices that, at least on paper, have kept Windows Phone in comparison shoppers’ peripheral vision. And “multi-core” doesn’t mean just dual core offerings. Microsoft will support many cores, up to 64 on paper, which means that WP8 can grow as cores do over the coming year or so.
Other hardware improvements include support for WVGA, WXGA and 720p displays with resolutions up to 1280 x 768, NFC (mobile payments, file transfers), and finally – FINALLY – full, true, removable SD card support (microSD, of course).
The Metro-style Tiles are the most unique feature of Windows Phone, and with WP8 these tiles are more customizable. There are small, medium and large tiles, and you can choose which tiles are which size (some apps may not support certain sizes). This is very Windows 8, and part of what I believe to be a very smart move in bringing Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone much more in line with each over from a visual and UI standpoint. Smart. There will also be additional tile colors.
Speaking of, WP8 shares much of its software foundation with Windows 8; in fact, they share the same kernel. Networking, media, security, web… all shared between the phone, the tablet and the PC. This allows many of the changes this version of Windows Phone brings.
Multitasking on Windows Phone 7 is, well, sucky outside of certain Microsoft apps. WP8 changes that with more multitasking support, which appears to be similar to iOS in that only certain services are supported. VoIP, for example, can run in the background, with incoming calls appearing just as a normal call would. Location and navigation can also run in the background, so that you can get alerts or directions if you’re on another screen.
WP8 supports a wide range of speech commands from the user, including dialing, search, opening apps, and even navigating within apps (if supported).
Nokia’s much-praised mapping technology will be included in Windows Phone 8. You’ll also get offline maps and turn-by turn navigation.
NFC & Wallet
Wallet will use NFC and other software to allow Windows Phone to act as a payment system. You can save credit and debit card information, loyalty cards, deals and coupons, and of course there’s “tap to pay” for compatible NFC payment systems. PayPal also appears to be supported. All data will be PIN protected.
NFC will also allow you to transfer information and files between Windows Phones and other Windows devices.
WP8 will use the same Bitlocker technology found in Business editions of Windows to encrypt data stored on your phone, and presumably on the SD card as well.
A lot of improvements have been made for better gaming performance, graphics, 3D physics, Direct3D, etc., etc. Shared code between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, they say, will make porting games easier (and cheaper) for developers.
Availability, Upgrades & App Compatibility
Sadly, those using Windows Phone 7 devices will not be getting upgrades to WP8. Microsoft will release Windows Phone 7.8 instead, which will bring some WP8 features to existing handsets, but that’s all folks.
Current WP7 apps can run on WP8, but new apps written for WP8 won’t work on WP7 devices.
Windows Phone 8 devices will launch in Q4 2012, with partners including Nokia (of course, Samsung and HTC. We will, of course, keep you updated as new information becomes available over the next few months leading up to the first WP8 devices.
M. Nichols, Products Editor