Windows Phone 8 Unveiled, Set for Fall Release

Microsoft presented the first preview of Windows Phone 8 (previously code-named "Apollo") at the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Windows Phone Corporate Vice President Terry Myerson kicked off the presentation by giving some background on Windows Phone, which three years ago replaced Windows Mobile as Microsoft's flagship smartphone OS. Windows Phone's tile-based "Metro" UI was designed to give users a more personal, relevant and connected smartphone experience, he said. Myerson also pointed out that smartphone reviewers on rated the devices very highly, with the seven of the top nine phones running on Windows Phones.

Following Myerson onstage was Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone Program Management, who gave a "platform preview" of Windows Phone 8.

"The big announcement that we have today is that the future of Windows Phone is about a shared Windows core," Belfiore said. "Windows Phone this holiday will ship with a shared core inside that's common code between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8."

Belfiore added that the shared core is derived from the Windows kernel, which he said is currently being used by over 1.3 billion people.

"So this is a well-tested piece of software. It has high familiarty to people in the value chain and now that familiarty and that performance and reliability is all going to come to Windows Phone," he said.

The benefits to consumers of a shared core include greater choices in hardware and apps and a common user experience across devices, he said. For Microsoft developers, a shared core enables them to adapt their existing apps to different form factors. Additionally, Microsoft's har dware partners will be able to write drivers just once for use on a wider variety of devices.

Belfiore then outlined eight features coming in Windows Phone 8 specific to the platform, with the caveat that he will not be discussing end user features just yet:

  1. Windows Phone 8 will support "the latest and greatest in hardware" this fall, Belfiore said. The platform's core has been optimized for multi-core chips. Additionally, Windows Phone 8 will come with two new high-definition screen resolutions -- 1280x768 and 1280x720 -- that support existing Windows Phone 7.5 apps. The phone will also support removable microSD, which will allow users to expand their device storage and transfser data between devices.

  2. Like Windows 8 PCs, Windows Phone 8 devices will come pre-equipped with Internet Explorer 10. The browser will feature the SmartSreen anti-phishing tool, faster JavaScript performance and greater HTML 5 support.

  3. Suppport for native code will particularly benefit game developers. "What this means is a game developer who authors an unbelieveble, detail-rich, immersive, compelling game experience for the PC has a super-easy port of their native game to the phone," Belfiore said.

  4. Windows Phone 8 will include support for near-field communication (NFC). In a demo, Belfiore demonstrated the possibilities of NFC sharing by placing a Windows Phone 8 prototype and a business card embededded with an NFC chip next to each other. With a quick tap, the phone was able to access and save the contact information printed on the business card. Additionally, the phone was able to interact with an NFC-enabled Windows 8 tablet.

  5. Windows Phone 8 will have the "most complete Wallet experience of any smartphone this fall," Belfiore promised. The Wallet hub on Windows Phone is an interface that lets users access all of their third-party apps that involve financial transactions at once. The Wallet hub will also support secure NFC payments.

  6. Nokia map technology will come pre-built in Windows Phone 8. Nokia maps work even offline and feature turn-by-turn navigation.

  7. "Windows Phone 8 is ready for business," Belfiore promised. Among the enterprise-centric features coming to Windows Phone 8 will be support for encryption and secure boot, the ability to let IT set up line-of-business app deployment, and the ability for companies to set up their own Windows Phone hubs.

  8. A new Start screen will be more customizable and come in more colors. Users can choose which Metro tiles to pin on their Start screen and change the size of individual tiles.

Belfiore provided more details about Windows Phone 8 platform features in this Windows Phone blog post on Wednesday.

Notably, Windows Phone 7.5 users will not be able to update their devices to Windows Phone 8. "Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware," Belfiore said in the blog. However, a forthcoming update named Windows Phone "7.8" will bring the new Start screen to users who are shut out of Windows Phone 8.

A Microsoft spokesperson elaborated on the decision to not support Windows Phone 8 on older devices:

"Many of the new capabilities in Windows Phone 8 are hardware related; things like multicore support, near-field communication (NFC), even the graphics elements rely on hardware that is simply not present in existing Windows Phone devices. So doing the work to get the full Windows Phone 8 release as an upgrade to existing devices just didn't make sense. Multicore and NFC support don't add any value to a phone without the hardware to use them. We decided instead to focus on making Windows Phone 8 the best release for the upcoming generation of hardware AND bring some of the marquee features (like the new Start Screen) to existing devices."

A video of the Windows Phone Summit presentation is available on Channel9 here.

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.