Microsoft gave everyone a first look at their new smartphone operating system, Windows Phone 8, yesterday in San Francisco. The first thing you need to know is that the core operating system, and the hardware requirements for that core, have been overhauled. That means if you’re a current owner of a Windows Phone, you aren’t going to be seeing Windows Phone 8 on your phone – ever.
You will be seeing one part of Windows 8, though. Current Windows Phone owners will soon receive a Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade, which will feature Windows Phone 8′s biggest user interface change. Like the full Windows 8 that we’ll see on notebooks and some tablets, Live Tiles can now be resized by the user. There will also be multiple color schemes to choose from. The new home screen looks very similar to that of the full version of Windows 8, which makes sense – both are based on the same core technology.
Also of significance are the changes in hardware compatibility. Windows Phone 8 will support multi-core processors, as well as 1280 x 768 and 1280 x 720 resolution screens, paving the way for HD 720p displays in future Windows phones. MicroSD cards will also be supported. On the whole, those are nice upgrades, but ultimately are upgrades that will only make Windows Phone 8 competitive on a basic level with Android and iOS. They aren’t bringing anything new to the game, but they’re making moves that needed to be made.
Things get more interesting when we turn our attention to NFC compatibility, which will be used in Windows Phone 8 Wallet. Like Apple’s Passbook or Google Wallet, Windows Phone 8 Wallet can store coupons, event tickets, boarding passes, and the like. On top of that, Windows Phone 8 Wallet will finally open the door to making direct payments by tapping your phone at NFC-enabled locations when the phone is used with a secure SIM card from your wireless carrier.
Developers will be able to offer in-app purchases within their apps, and those creating VoIP apps will be able to integrate their features with Windows Phone 8′s calling feature. That could mean making Skype calls right from the native calling app, without even opening the Skype app.
Security upgrades are also included, like encryption options and support for the United Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) secure boot protocol. App sandboxing is also possible, to protect against accidentally ending up with malware on your device.
Support for over 50 languages has also been confirmed for Windows Phone 8. Nokia Maps will be integrated, providing more detailed maps and offering the ability to store maps for offline use. And, there will be Internet Explorer 10! OK, we know, no one is actually excited about that.
Because Windows Phone 8 will not (and will never) be available as an upgrade, Windows Phone 8 will see release whenever the first smartphone packing Windows Phone 8 comes out, which will likely be sometime late this year or early next year, after the full version of Windows 8 has seen its release.
Windows Phone 8 makes it clear that Microsoft is aiming for a unified “Microsoft” experience with Windows 8, much like Apple has done with its ecosystem. The fact that all Windows devices, be they smartphones, tablets, or notebooks, will be running on the same core technology opens doors for all kinds of integration features in the future. The operating system itself seems like its playing catch-up more than anything, although Microsoft getting ahead of the game with its level of NFC support could prove to be a boon, if the technology is increasingly adopted by other sources. Windows Phone 8 looks like a solid offering that should be the final piece of the puzzle in getting Microsoft on sound footing for the near future. It’s great for Microsoft – it’s just a shame that it’s coming at the expense of its current customers.