Windows Phone 8: An Overview

Posted by · June 20, 2012 2:26 pm

After unveiling its Surface tablet in Los Angeles on Monday, the Microsoft team headed north Wednesday morning to host its much-anticipated Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco. As expected, the central topic of the developer conference was the upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system. Taking to the stage, Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore introduced the company’s latest version of its mobile OS by highlighting—you guessed it—eight new features. Needless to say, some were more exciting than others.

Meanwhile, other factors surrounding the Windows Phone 8 release have already sparked a modicum of discontentment, at least among current Windows Phone users, but more on that later.

One Windows To Rule Them All the New

Before getting into the individual features Microsoft underscored during the conference, however, one announcement made during the event was of particular interest. Serving to support the suggestion that, unlike Apple, which is attempting to make a “clean break from the PC era,” Microsoft is bound and determined to marry the PC era with the modern shift into a more mobile age.

According to Belfiore, the latest Windows Phone will be closely tied to its impending desktop counterpart. In fact, the mobile OS “will ship with a shared core inside the common code between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.” The Microsoft VP continued, “It changes what the platform is about…that core technology has its heritage in the Windows kernel.”

In other words, everything—from drivers to graphics to media components—will be the same on all Windows devices, which, at least on its face, sounds pretty great. However, one small detail already may leave current Windows Phone users concerned—or eager to get a new device.

According to a report from The Verge, Microsoft will not make Windows Phone 8 available to existing Windows smartphones. Instead, the new operating system will only be available on new handsets. In its place, the company will be rolling out an update called Windows Phone 7.8, which includes a new Start Screen interface. According to Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan, the update will include everything from the Windows Phone 8 update that current Windows handsets can support.

“When you pull that Lumia out of your pocket after you’ve received that 7.8 update, it will look and feel the same as a Windows Phone 8 device,” he assures. “Because you don’t have a multicore chip and don’t have some of these other elements [found in new devices], it didn’t make sense for us to make those investments for devices that couldn’t really exploit them.”

With this limitation on old Windows Phone devices in mind, it will be interesting to see how many users opt to upgrade their phones and how many will be satisfied with the aesthetic upgrade that 7.8 delivers.

8 New Features for Windows Phone 8

While some commentators are certain less impressed by Windows Phone 8 than others might be, there is no denying that Microsoft has been hard at work to get its mobile platform up to snuff. Still quite a ways behind mobile powerhouses like Apple and Google’s wide-reaching Android apparatus, the company appears to be pulling out all of the stops as it moves toward what stands to be a very telling fall season. When it comes to Windows Phone 8, Microsoft’s strategy includes eight key features that it clearly hopes will win a more serious share of the mobile market.

Live Tiles Enhancement

Seen as one of the more notable upgrades, Windows Phone 8 will be making a change to its start screen: Live Tiles will now be resizable. In order to allow users to prioritize and create custom arrangements of the tiles on their screens, this seemingly small enhancement to the Windows Phone experience is sure to make a number of users happy. As an iPhone user, this particular feature brings to mind the iOS upgrade that initially allowed users to arrange apps by category and customize the homescreen experience.

Mobile Wallet Feature

Another exciting feature of the new mobile OS is its support of Near-Field Communication (NFC), which includes a new mobile wallet feature. As a clear response to mobile payment features available through Google and Apple, the new wallet feature on Windows Phone 8 will allow users to upload their credit/debit card, membership card, and tap-to-pay information to their phones for “the most complete wallet experience,” says Microsoft.

Content Sharing Made Easy

Another benefit to having NFC will be the ability to share information with other Windows Phone users. By simply tapping phones together, users will be able to transfer content between phones. Again, not an original feature, but a useful one nonetheless.

Nokia Maps

Now that Apple and Google have their own maps applications, it only makes sense for Microsoft to also set itself apart as it seeks to make assert itself in the mobile market. In lieu of Bing Maps, Windows Phone 8 will feature Nokia Maps, which is supposedly more user friendly and dynamic. Like its Apple and Google counterparts, Nokia maps features turn-by-turn directions, as well as a nifty feature that allows users to save maps for offline use. The feature will be included on all new Windows Phones—the first of which will be manufactured by Nokia, HTC, Huawei, and Samsung.

Internet Explorer 10

The mobile browser on WP8 will also get an upgrade to Internet Explorer 10. To the delight of many users, I’m sure, the browser will finally integrate Adobe Flash, and also have better support for JavaScript and HTML5. A default Do Not Track feature to keep pesky online advertisers in check by keeping user information out of reach (provided they opt to respect it) is also a readily welcomed upgrade. The Flip Ahead feature is also said to make the navigation experience in IE10 a lot easier, especially on the less mobile-friendly sites out there. And as a cherry on top of all that, IE10 is faster—much faster.

Multi-Core Processors

Moving away from its single-core past, Windows Phone 8 will support multi-core processors, which again means Microsoft will finally be catching up to competitors who already support dual-core and quad-core devices. By enabling power users to multitask more and take advantage of faster app processing, this upgrade will literally bring Microsoft up to speed in the mobile market.

Screen Resolution

Windows Phone 8 will provide users with three new resolution options. These include 800×480 pixels (WVGA), 1280×768 (WXGA) and 1280×720 (720p).

MicroSD Support

A long-overdue feature, Windows Phone 8 will also finally support microSD cards. Although not all Windows Phones are certain to have microSD slots, such support will be readily welcomed by users who feel that onboard storage capacity is insufficient. By supporting removable memory, new Windows Phone users will be able to add infinite memory to their devices—at least in theory.

Set to debut in the fall alongside Windows 8 and the new Surface tablet, Windows Phone 8 marks an important step in Microsoft’s evolution into the mobile era. Now that Windows Phones will be equipped with many of the key features that are now expected by most smartphone users, Microsoft will find out once and for all if its still-tight grip on the PC era is moving the company forward or holding it back.

What do you think about Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft’s future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more Windows Phone 8 news…