Microsoft today revealed the next version of its mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 8. The new platform, coming later this year, will support a bunch of hardware upgrades and useful new features, including over-the-air updates and a better Start screen. The downside? Existing phone owners won't be able to upgrade.
Although Windows Phone 7 hasn't been as popular as the iPhone and Android mobile platforms, Windows Phone users rate their phones very highly. The new updates make it potentially even more attractive, since Windows Phone 8 will share the same core as Windows 8. This "shared core" means that Windows Phone 8 users will have greater hardware choices and capabilities (manufacturers can use the hardware drivers from Windows 8 for Windows Phone 8 devices, for example.)
At the press event, Microsoft also said that iOS and Android app developers will find it easier to port their apps to Windows Phone 8, which will hopefully mean more apps for Windows Phone users. (Right now, Microsoft says 100,000 apps have been developed.) The platform will also add the ability to make in-app purchases.
One very welcome improvement is the ability to update Windows Phone 8 devices over the air, rather than having to plug into a PC and use the processor-intensive and unfriendly Zune software. Microsoft says the update cycle will run for at least 18 months from when a phone is released.
Here's a quick look at the main new features:
- Multi-core chipsets: When Windows Phone 8 is released sometime around the third calendar quarter, dual-core will be supported. Quad-core support will be added at a later date.
- WVGA, WXGA and 720p (16:9) screen resolutions
- Support for removable microSD, including installing apps directly to the SD card. We'll have to see how well this is supported (on Android, getting apps to work from storage can be tricky).
- Internet Explorer 10 built-in.
- A common underlying platform with Windows 8 (DirectX and graphics drivers, great for game developers)
- NFC support for mobile wallet applications (Microsoft is working with mobile carriers to add security features to SIM cards, though this will take a while to hit Australia, we suspect). You'll also be able to share pictures and Office Docs with other Windows Phone 8 users by tapping phones together.
- Nokia/NAVTEQ mapping, including turn-by-turn directions.
- Encryption support (using Microsoft's existing BitLocker) and the ability to work with Office files (which already exists to some degree in Windows Phone 7)
- The existing Live Tiles feature on the Start page from Windows Phone 7 is being retained, but you'll be able to customise tiles to one of three sizes. You can see this in the video below:
Windows Phone 7.5 apps will work on Windows Phone 8. Unfortunately, though, existing Windows Phone users won't be able to upgrade their current devices to Windows Phone 8. However, the updated Start screen options (including resizable tiles) will be added to a forthcoming Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade.
The lack of an upgrade path for existing owners a huge bummer, and is also likely to stall sales of Windows Phone 7 devices in the short term unless prices fall significantly. Initial Windows Phone 8 handsets will be coming from Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and HTC (no LG in there right now, apparently).
Overall, Windows Phone 8 looks pretty good. What do you think?
For more coverage, see our sister site Gizmodo.