Today’s Windows Phone Summit divulged an amazing array of information about Windows Phone 8, Microsoft’ next generation smart phone platform. And though SuperSite readers already knew about many of the coming new features, there’s more to tell. Here’s a quick rundown of what I learned at show.
First, be sure to read Windows Phone 8 Unveiled, an exhaustive look at all of the information I discovered about Windows Phone 8 from before the Summit, and Windows Phone 7.8 Preview, a quick peek at all the new features that current Windows Phone handset users can look forward to. The former, in particular, is the most detailed look at Windows Phone 8 yet, though some of the features it discussed were not highlighted at the Summit. And of course, there are additional features that Microsoft asked me to hold off on.
Evolved Start screen
Both Windows Phone 8 and 7.8 will feature a new Start experience that evolves the current design to address key customer feedback. These changes include:
Full-screen. The Windows Phone 7.x Start screen features an odd visually offset design where there is an empty channel of space running down the right side of the screen. In Windows Phone 8 (and 7.8), this dead space is gone and the live tiles now fill the entire screen.
New tile size. The live tiles in Windows Phone 7.x came in two sizes only, a “small” size that was square and a “large” (or “double-wide) size that was rectangular. In Windows Phone 8, there is a third size, “smaller” which is a square one-fourth the size of the “small” tile size.
Fully customizable. In Windows Phone 7.x, third party apps could only use the “small,” square tile type, while “large” was reserved for Microsoft, Nokia, wireless carrier, and hardware partner apps only. In the new OS, all apps support all tile sizes. And the user can configure any live tile to use any one of the sizes.
New Windows 8 Start Screen
Microsoft is also adding additional color themes—which include accent (or “foreground”) colors over a black or white background—but it is not allowing individual apps to be different colors, as is the case with Windows 8.
You can see more of the new Start screen in my Windows Phone 8 Start Screen Shots gallery.
Micro-SD support for app installs
While we’ve known for some time that Windows 8 would formally and fully support removable micro-SD storage cards, some of the information Microsoft revealed about this support at the Summit was new to me. Key among this was news that users will be able to install apps to the memory card instead of to internal storage (at their choice).
Multi-core or dual-core?
Some of the pre-release information I’ve received about Windows Phone 8 specified “multi-core” support while others specifically said “dual core.” Here’s the story: The first generation of Windows Phone 8 devices that ship in late 2012 will feature dual core designs. But because Windows Phone 8 is based on Windows 8, it can fully support multiple cores—up to 64, currently—and quad core designs should be expected in 2013.
I had written earlier that Windows Phone 8 would support four screen resolutions, but at the Summit the company said it was three. What gives? Turns out that one of the originally supported resolutions—a lowly VGA 640 x 480 resolution—has been dropped at the request of developers and partners because it’s too confusing to support such a weird, non-widescreen resolution when the other three are all so similar.
So Windows Phone 8 will indeed support three resolutions. These include the same WVGA 800 x 480 resolution found on current devices as well as WXGA (1280 x 768) and 720p (1280x720). All of these offer 15:9 or 16:9 widescreen aspect ratios.
I’m a bit surprised that the ideal Windows 8 resolution, 1366 x 768, is not one of the resolutions. Just saying.
Microsoft announced at the Summit that Nokia Maps “technology” would be coming to Windows Phone 8 (to cheers, it’s worth pointing out), though it’s not sure if that means via the current Maps app or through a new Nokia Maps app. The coming maps app, whatever it is, will feature global NAVTEQ map data, offline support, turn by turn navigation, and a maps control for developers. It will also work in the background, and in concert with Windows Phone’s voice control technologies, so you can keep navigating while doing other things.
Tap + Send
I wrote previously that Windows Phone 8 would support NFC tap + send (for content sharing) as well as for the new Wallet hub and infrastructure. But during the Summit, Microsoft demoed how tap + share will work and, sure enough, it’s just another entry in the Share sheet you get whenever you want to share something. This requires another device (phone, tablet) with NFC support, of course.
SQL Lite engine
Microsoft has ported the open source SQL Lite database engine to both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
Native code is huge
The availability of native C and C++ code development using DirectX/Direct3D is a huge development for Windows Phone 8, one that will ease the creation of cross platform (Windows 8/iOS/Android) apps and games and is bringing many useful game engines (like Havoc) to Windows Phone.
Speaking of developers, the addition of in-app payment support is another huge addition to Windows Phone 8. (And overdue, really.)
While Windows Phone already includes great multitasking functionality, Windows Phone 8 adds two critical pieces that should put it over the top. First, it enables deeply integrated Voice Over IP (VoIP) calling, not just for Skype but for any VoIP app makers, letting these apps look and work just like the Phone app on the device. Second, a new background location functionality will let Maps and other location-based apps run in the background so you can do other things while navigating.
Windows Phone 8, finally, will support over the air software updates for all updates, regardless of carrier. So there will be no more tethering for updates—unless of course you want to for some reason—and Microsoft will supply updates to all devices for at least the first 18 months of any device’s life cycle. And best of all, enthusiasts who register with Microsoft will be able to install software updates before they’re made available to the general public. No more waiting, and no more worrying that your carrier is going to step it up.
Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC will all deliver new Windows Phone 8 handsets in late 2012, and each will be based on a new Qualcomm chipset. Windows Phone 8 devices will be available in over 180 countries at launch, with support for 50 languages.
AT&T, T-Mobile, and, yes, Verizon Wireless will be selling new Windows Phone 8 handsets in the US in late 2012.
Microsoft announced at the Summit that there are now over 100,000 Windows Phone apps published to the Marketplace.
More to come
There’s still a lot of information to process and of course more to come in the future. Microsoft will be releasing the Windows 8 developer tools beta—based on Visual Studio 2012 and using the Windows 8 Hyper-V virtualization technologies for device emulation—and holding developer talks later in the summer. And the company still has a lot to discuss from a consumer/end user standpoint, though it’s not clear yet how or when that happens. But I think you’ll agree that even in this current Platform Preview guise, Microsoft appears to be taking Windows Phone 8 in the right direction. I can’t wait to use it.