Last Wednesday. June 20, 2012. Windows Phone Summit. I ended up late to the party because I had to rush from work. Fortunately, all I needed to do was go around my favorite tech news sites for information about Microsoft’s mobile platform. What greeted me was a whole bunch of things that would instantly boil my adrenaline. Let’s start with the good news all of which grant my wishes listed on a former post.
Windows Core for Windows Phone 8
One of the biggest changes to the Windows Phone platform is what runs at its core. Windows Phone 7 was based upon Windows CE which was also what Windows Mobile used. Windows Phone 8 takes a step further by taking advantage of the Windows 8 kernel. This was particularly not news to me but what does it mean to us? Windows Phone 8 will share the same kernel, file system, media foundation, drivers and parts of the security model of Windows 8. This will allow Windows Phone 8 to take advantage of multi-core processors (up to 64 cores if technology permits!), more supported screen resolutions (WVGA, WXGA, 720p), removable storage (finally!), better and true background multitasking, and stuff that enterprises will love such as device encryption.
Having a shared core would also be a boon to developers. Managed code now runs similar to the way it runs in the desktop version of Windows which improves performance and allows more shared components between desktop and mobile platforms making it easier for developers to port their apps to Windows Phone 8. Developers may now also write in native C and C++ code and have access to SQLite support. Even more exciting is that Windows Phone 8 now supports DirectX which will allow game developers to write games for Windows and Windows Phone 8 at the same time!
Despite the new kernel, all current 100,000+ apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace will run in Windows Phone 8 without a glitch. The platform now supports higher screen resolutions but developers don’t need to do anything to take advantage of those. Graphics assets will be scaled to the new resolutions automatically although developers still have the option to optimize their apps to the new resolutions if they wanted to.
Prospective developers may write apps for both the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 platforms later this summer when tools based on Visual Studio 2012 becomes available. On the darker side of things, having a new kernel means that Windows Phone 8 will be incompatible as an upgrade to existing devices but I’ll speak more about that later.
The new Windows Phone 8 Start Screen
The Windows Phone 7 Start Screen was refreshing. The Metro UX was a completely new take on what a mobile operating system can look and act like and it was simple but beautiful. Windows Phone 8 takes that to a whole new different level by making the Start Screen more personalized and customizable. You can see how it compares at the video below.
What surprised me is how similar it was to my concept idea which I concocted months ago which kinda make it like I predicted the future. A sneak peek of my concept can be found on the right (I can’t find the original vector so I used this photo which I uploaded in Facebook before – I’ll update it when I find it. It’s probably in one of my portable hard disks left at home). Both official and concept UI/UX enabled users to resize the tiles to their liking. The only differences that my concept had to the official Windows Phone 8 Start Screen is that mine has tiles that are not necessarily square – they come in half-width, half-height, wide half-height and tall tiles. I wish the next version of Windows Phone enables such tile sizes but I’m pretty content with what Microsoft has to offer already.
Windows Phone 8 now has better Skype integration but it’s not just Skype that benefits. Every other VOIP service (like Viber perhaps) could take advantage of the system and make incoming calls feel like a normal call. Microsoft’s Windows Phone senior product manager Greg Sullivan even believes that the integration is so good that Apple should create a FaceTime app for Windows Phone 8 and that “it’ll actually be better integrated on Windows Phone than it is on the iPhone.”
Despite the integration, Skype won’t be bundled with Windows Phone 8. Users will still need to download it as a separate app, a move which I think makes sense. Not everyone uses Skype so it would be better not to force feed it to them. I, on the other hand, use it sparingly at the moment but I might use it more when I get my own Windows Phone 8 device.
Oh, did I mention that Anna Reid’s tongue looks really cute? Ehm. Never mind. Let’s continue! 😛
The new Wallet hub and NFC
“Google has the NFC payment part, Apple has the Passbook thing, we’ll have both” says Sullivan. Yes, the new Wallet hub is like the lovechild of Google Wallet and Apple’s Passbook but it actually has one ace in its sleeve – it’s sanctioned by carriers and that’s a big thing. Windows Phone’s Wallet hub will support NFC payments, secure SIM cards, store credit card information, member cards and frequent flier cards making it the most complete digital wallet experience to date.
Speaking of NFC, Windows Phone 8 will be able to retrieve information from NFC-embedded ads and business cards. There’s also a new feature called Tap + Send which enables users to send content from one device to another. Tap + Send will also be available to Windows 8 devices that have NFC built-in making sharing files between a Windows Phone and a Windows 8 tablet or laptop a breeze!
Better maps and navigation
Windows Phone 8 will now take advantage of Nokia’s map technologies and will enable third-party apps to take advantage of it too. With better global coverage and offline map support, who’s to complain? 🙂
Enterprise and business features
Windows Phone 7 haven’t been particularly great as a mobile operating system for the enterprise level which was quite the focus of its predecessor Windows Mobile. Microsoft is planning to gain the trust of enterprises again by providing them with on-device encryption, device management using tools that are being used by admins for Windows today, and an internal private marketplace for distribution of internal line-of-business software.
Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Huawei are the only OEMs currently known to be providing Windows Phone 8 devices in the near future. As for specific devices, HTC is rumored to be releasing three devices by the end of the year. At the low-end is the Rio which would feature a 4-inch WVGA display, a 5 megapixel camera with 720p video capture, 14.4Mbps HSPA, 512MB RAM and a dual-core Qualcomm SnapDragon S4 Plus processor. At the middle is the Accord which will have a larger 4.3-inch Super LCD2 display with 720p output, an 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video recording, 42Mbps HSPA+, 1GB of RAM and a more powerful SnapDragon S4 Plus CPU. Both devices are rumored to be released around October although things might change depending on factors beyond HTC’s control. Finally there’s the Zenith which is much like the Accord other than an even bigger display (4.7-inch) and a quad-core CPU from the SnapDragon S4 Plus line. The Zenith will come a little later than it’s less-powerful siblings.
And now for the bad (sad) news…
Those with existing Windows Phone 7.5 devices should give up to the notion of upgrading their phones to Windows Phone 8 because it’s not going to happen. Rather harsh but I actually expected it given the switch to Windows Core. It just doesn’t make sense to provide multi-core chip and microSD support onto older devices given that they don’t have the hardware to exploit them. Fortunately, we (or at least those with more recent devices) would be given an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8. There are currently not much information on what other features Windows Phone 7.8 will have other than getting the new Start Screen.
The current Nokia Lumia models will get the update for sure. I just hope my HTC 7 Mozart gets the same treatment. It’s not really that bad of a blow for me given that I have been planning to replace my phone soon anyway but I expect a lot of hard feelings from other users especially those who just got the latest Windows Phone devices.
Furthermore, although apps built for Windows Phone 7.x will work on Windows Phone 8, the reverse will not be possible. Backwards compatibility of Windows Phone 8 apps onto earlier platforms just don’t exist.
Microsoft hints that they are merely scratching the surface and there’s more to Windows Phone 8 that they didn’t speak of. Much of what was mentioned in the Windows Phone Summit were more about the changes in the platform that would benefit developers and OEMs and not us the consumers. We should expect to see more information revealed before Windows Phone 8 gets released by October or so. I’m now crossing my fingers for the success of the platform! Go get ’em Microsoft!