Windows Phone leaves us with a sort of love/hate feeling. On one hand we love how Microsoft brought a completely new, original idea to the table in terms of how a mobile OS looks, how it operates and how you the user navigate it. At the same time, we hate how almost two years later it still feels like an infant OS lacking features here and there. And then there’s apps. While some of the big names like Skype, Twitter and Facebook are there, the are many times not as full-featured as similar apps on Android and iOS.
Today Microsoft is pulling back the covers a bit and giving us a small glimpse at some of the new features coming in Windows Phone 8 that will (hopefully) make it a much more competitive OS against the likes of Android and iOS, and dare we say a better OS…
Transition to NT Kernel
Talk of a new kernel sounds awfully nerdy, and certainly not something the average consumer would/should care about. To some degree, such a statement is correct. That said, the new NT kernel that Windows Phone 8 will run with is a big deal nonetheless. For developers, it will now mean writing an app for Windows as a platform instead of Windows Phone and Windows Desktop. Also, the new “Windows Core”, as CEO Steve Ballmer calls it, will bring support for multi-core processors, device encryption, removable storage with microSD cards and many other enterprise focused features. Developers can use the standard C+ and C++ libraries (as well as SQLite and Direct X) meaning game ports in particular will now be easier and faster. Finally, Microsoft developed Windows Phone 8 with backwards compatibility from the get-go. Translation: all 100,000+ pre-Windows Phone 8 apps will work in Windows Phone 8. If you’re a developer, this is a huge deal as you don’t have to do anything special for your app to “just work”. That said, we’d love to see developers jump on board Windows Phone 8 and tap into the OS’ new features, APIs, etc.
NFC + Wallet And New Homescreen
The NFC + Wallet is particularly powerful is it will not only allow simple payments via your handset, but also tie into your digital payment world much like Apple’s “Passbook” feature in the upcoming iOS 6. Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan proudly boasts that “Google has the NFC payment part, Apple has the Passbook thing, we’ll have both”, signaling Microsoft’s intentions to go above and beyond their nearest competitors by offering a true end-to-end experience in terms of mobile shopping and transactions.
As for the homescreen, the simple uniform Live Tiles are gone. Now, tiles will be allowed to have 3 sizes: small, medium and large (see main image at top). The new tiles, according to Sullivan, will allow Microsoft to cram more relevant information onto the homescreen by removing empty space from applications whose Live Tiles don’t really need all the space that a large tile offers.
*After looking at the images of the redesigned homescreen with multiple tile sizes, we’ll admit we’re both happy and “not sure” of the change. On one hand, it makes customizing your homescreen with information a lot better. At the same time, it just looks like a big mess of icons and text. That said, we’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve actually had a chance to mess around with it.
With Microsoft and Nokia’s partnership growing ever closer, one merger that many tech pundits expected to happen eventually was Nokia Maps becoming Microsoft’s go-to map data source (instead of their branded “Bing Maps”). In Windows Phone 8, it finally happens. The change will bring Microsoft some much needed mapping features such as offline maps and better global coverage.
Backwards Compatibility And Windows Phone 7.8
All great things must come to an end. But if you ask us, the fantastic Lumia 800/900 devices still have a decent amount of life left in them. Unfortunately, their days are numbered as Microsoft has confirmed no first-gen hardware will receive Windows Phone 8 upgrades. But it’s not all bad. The company did mention that a Windows Phone 7.8 update would drop later this year and bring many of the new features and UI tweaks from Windows Phone 8 to first-gen hardware. Unfortunately, for now we’re left guessing what will and won’t make the cut as Microsoft is keeping their lips tightly shut on what Windows Phone 7.8 will feature.
A New Beginning…
If you hate Windows Phone now, the upcoming “Apollo” update as it’s called likely won’t win you over. For Windows Phone diehards and those on the fence, however, will likely love Microsoft’s new additions. And remember, the above features are just the tip of the iceberg.
More: Windows Phone 8 unveiled – The Verge