Microsoft Announces Windows Phone 8

Microsoft unveiled their next generation mobile operating system – Windows Phone 8 codenamed “Apollo” at the Windows Phone Developer Summit in San Francisco.

The update addresses a number of shortcomings that were present in Windows Phone 7, like the lack of support for multi-core processors and high resolution displays. It also introduces a number of new features like a redesigned start screen, NFC support, external storage support and built in Nokia maps.

Microsoft’s taking its strategy of unification of all platforms pretty seriously, not just from consumer standpoint but even at the engineering level. Windows Phone 8 shares the same “core’ as the desktop OS, which would let developers run a lot of their code written for Windows, as it is on the phone. This might just push the large developer community of Windows to release apps for Windows Phones as well, an area where Microsoft lags far behind. Despite the architecture being unified, Windows Phone 8 would still be compatible with existing applications.

Windows Phone 8 also finally brings support for higher resolution screens, bringing it at par with the current generation of smartphones available in the market. Another feature where WP8 lagged behind, at least on paper, was multi core processor support. Thanks to new shared Windows code base, WP8 supports multi core processors, that could theoretically go all the way up to 64-cores.

It also adds NFC hardware support, letting two compatible phones share data with a simple tap. Microsoft has also developed a mashup of Google’s NFC payment system and Apple’s recently introduced Passbook.

The iconic start screen has been tweaked to allow smaller tile sizes, making much more information available at a glance. Microsoft is also putting its Skype acquisition to use by deeply integrating it into the OS, along with other VoIP apps as well. An excerpt worth quoting from The Verge’s coverage:

[Microsoft’s Greg] Sullivan believes the integration is so good that he jokes Apple should create its own FaceTime app on Windows Phone 8, “it’ll actually be better integrated on Windows Phone than it is on the iPhone.” The functionality is clearly a platform by itself, allowing app developers to plug into it in a seamless way. “Skype is fully gonna take advantage of that,” says Sullivan, “but it’ll still be an app you download.”

Microsoft also demoed Internet Explorer 10, and pitched it against Safari in iOS 6 on stage. Leaving aside the fact that the company broke the iOS developer program NDA, IE 10 did beat Safari in JavaScript performance. Just like Apple and Google, Microsoft is also revamping its mapping system, partnering with Nokia to power its Maps app.

Microsoft is also opening up the speech platform to all developers. The company detailed how users will be able to have conversations with apps once integrated properly.

Apart from all this, Microsoft has also added a bunch of enterprise grade features to Windows Phone 8. The secure code base that WP8 inherits from Windows, coupled with these enterprise features could threaten RIM’s (now insecure) position in the corporate market.

The OS is scheduled to arrive this fall, but the update won’t be available to present generation Windows Phones. Instead, present owners would be getting a toned down 7.8 update which will bring some feature additions to their devices.. That’s a big setback for WP7 users, considering that the Lumia 900, the flagship WP7 device, launched just three months ago in the U.S.

The fall will see the launch of Windows 8, the Surface tablets announced earlier this week and Windows Phone 8 devices. Microsoft’s going all-in on Windows with the Metro design language, it’ll be interesting to see how the company’s unified strategy fares in the market and how it stacks up against iOS 6 that was unveiled last week, which includes over 200 new features.

[via The Verge]