The next release of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system doesn't offer major new features, but does point to a future with more diverse screen sizes. There's also a new option for developers to gain early access to Windows Phone builds. Here's what you need to know.
Microsoft announced the new features for what is technically version 8.0.10512 via a blog post this morning, saying the update will roll out "over the next several months". That process is carrier-dependent, so just how long Australian consumers will have to wait is an open question.
These are the key changes on the platform:
- More Live Tiles on Start screens. Windows Phone 8 will allow up to six Live Tiles on the Start screen, up from the previous limit of four. This is designed to support models with larger six-inch screen.
- Support for the the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor. It seems safe to assume a 6-inch phone with that processor is on the way.
- A simplified tethering feature Rather than requiring you to connect to your phone Wi-Fi style with a password, you can now pair over Bluetooth then select your network name. I'm not sure this makes a massive difference — once your password is saved, tethered connections can be automatic anyway — but Bluetooth could potentially use a little less power.
- Custom ringtones for different forms of communication You can set custom ringtones for text messages for individual contacts, as well as general ringtones for emails, IMs and reminders.
- Driving Mode When your phone is connected to a Bluetooth headset, you can opt to minimise notifications on the screen to avoid distractions.
- A rotation lock Surprised this one took so long.
- Ability to connect to Wi-Fi during setup. Ditto. The competing platforms have had this for years.
- New accessibility features for the visually impaired including a screen reader.
While Windows Phone remains in third place for mobile operating systems (behind Android and iOS), it has overtaken BlackBerry in overall sales. This round of changes isn't earth-shattering, and arguably concentrating on manageability in corporate environments — BlackBerry's strength and a relative weakness for iOS and Android — would make sense for Microsoft.
In parallel with the launch, Microsoft also announced a new developer preview scheme that allows registered developers to download the new version ahead of its "official" release via their carrier. If you're a keen Windows Phone user, that could even make it tempting to register as a developer to ensure faster access. (Note that there's no rollback option; once you've updated, that's it.)
While the main aim of such a preview is to ensure developers can test their apps with the new release, Microsoft says that changes in this version shouldn't affect most existing apps: "There shouldn’t be any explicit action required by the vast majority of app developers; there is nothing that you have to do to your apps to make them run on Windows Phone 8 Update 3."
Announcing our third Windows Phone 8 update [Windows Phone Blog]