Windows Phone 8 Arrives: What You Need to Know

The mobile companion to Windows 8 has officially made its debut – Windows Phone 8 has seen an official release.

Granted, that’s an awkward way if putting it. It would probably be better to say that Windows Phone 8 smartphones are ready to hit the market. As has been covered before, Windows Phone 8 will not be available as an upgrade to those who already have Windows smartphones.

For those in the market for a new smartphone, Microsoft is touting their operating system as one that will create the world’s most personal smartphones, and they take care to trot out the nonsensical “designed for people” line (as opposed to?). Having said all that, there is something more to what Microsoft is saying than just empty adspeak.

In a video showing off Windows Phone 8, Joe Belfiore, manager of the Windows Phone program, commented on the static nature of iOS and Android, with rows of apps of equal sizes. He calls it an experience “created for all,” as opposed to Windows Phone 8, “created for each.” Contrasting with the static app icons of iOS and Android (and conveniently ignoring Android’s widgets altogether), Belfiore touted the dynamic nature of the Windows Phone 8 home screen.

That experience is fueled by Live Tiles. In Windows Phone 8, Live Tiles can be resized, and painted in many different color themes. Those Live Tiles allow app developers to program their apps to display different information on those tiles on the home screen – you’ll be able to get a look at the latest email you’ve received, or the latest Facebook notification, without entering those apps. Live Tiles aren’t just for apps, either – contacts can be pinned to the home screen, too. The idea is that, with the color variety, the personalized information coming from the Live Tiles, and the ability to pin exactly what you think is most important to the home screen, each Windows Phone 8 smartphone will look different and personal. It helps that the Live Tiles are larger than iOS and Android app icons – they make the home screen look more active, and it allows for that specialized Live Tile information to be detailed and useful. It also allows for a rotation of pictures to appear if you pin the photo viewer, which is another nice touch.

Maybe the most significant change past the Live Tiles has to do with Skype. Skype belongs to Microsoft now, and they’ve made good use of it. They’ve made such good use of it that you’ll never really consciously use the service on Windows Phone 8. Skype is completely integrated with the OS – you’re always signed in, and your Skype contacts will appear in your phone’s contact list. Making Skype calls will essentially be the same as making regular calls. It wouldn’t be too inaccurate to say that Skype is to Windows Phone 8 as Facetime is to iOS.

NFC will be compatible with Windows Phone 8, and will be seen on most upcoming Windows Phone 8 smartphone releases. In the same vein, Windows Phone 8 will feature a digital wallet, similar to Apple’s Passbook and Google Wallet.

Windows Phone 8 might be best for what it does behind the scenes. Live Tiles all use the same API, so all of that extra information is running off of one program. That makes those Live Tiles more resource efficient than Android widgets, and makes for an OS that won’t become too bogged down if you install a lot of apps that make use of Live Tiles. Data Sense can compress images on the Internet and defer data-intensive tasks to free Wi-Fi (when available), which Microsoft is saying will cut down on monthly data usage and wireless bill costs. Users will also be able to use Data Sense to see how much data each app uses, and to keep tabs on how much total data has been used per month. Data Sense will only be available with the cooperation of the individual carriers, though. So far, only Verizon has been confirmed as a participant, and that will kick off sometime early next year.

Kid’s Corner is a fully customizable second home screen – you can fill it with kid-friendly apps and games, then hand it off to your kids without worrying about them getting into something they shouldn’t be getting into. Rooms are private groups that can share pictures, data, and videos with each other. Rooms are being touted as great for families, but they do require everyone to have a Windows Phone 8 smartphone, and that seems maybe a little overly optimistic right now on the part of Microsoft.

Windows Phone 8 will also come integrated with SmartGlass for the Xbox 360, as well as Xbox Music, a unified way to access your music collection across all Microsoft devices. Pandora is coming to Windows Phone 8 next year, although I’m not sure how exciting that is anymore, up against services like Spotify and Rdio. Finally, Microsoft’s own cloud service, SkyDrive, will be integrated into Windows Phone 8, as well. Nokia Maps are also there, which Belfiore took special care to point out and emphasize at the end of the video, for reasons I can’t fathom. The man could barely contain his glee.

Nokia will be bringing out some hot new Windows 8 phones, particularly the Lumia 920. The Lumia 822, 820, and 810 will be lower-cost options. All will include Nokia’s excellent camera optics, which include Carl Zeiss lenses and optical image stabilization. They’ll come in many different colors, and the 920 and 820 will feature wireless charging. The 920 and 820 will be offered through AT&T, and will be released in November with pricing to be determined. The 822 will be exclusive to Verizon, and will be available in November for $100 with a two-year contract. The 810 will land at T-Mobile on November 14, also for $100 with a two-year contract.

Samsung and HTC will also be releasing Windows Phone 8 smartphones. The HTC Windows Phone 8X will be Windows Phone 8’s Signature device, and will hit AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile in November. Pricing is yet to be determined for the Verizon phone, but the 8X will sell for $200 with contract at AT&T and $150 with contract at T-Mobile. The Samsung ATIV Odyssey will wind up with Verizon sometime in December. Sprint will still be sans Windows phones, for now.

Most importantly, Windows Phone 8 aims to create a unified design philosophy and user experience across all Windows devices. In that, Microsoft has doubtless succeeded. And they have succeeded in creating the most customizable and personalized smartphone OS. The question now is whether or not that’s what the better part of the market is interested in. Microsoft has been able to toe the line between customization options and simplicity better than Android has managed to do, so they have that going for them. iOS will always be simpler, because that’s what Apple thrives on, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to use a Windows Phone. It’s engaging, without being overwhelming. The market for smartphones is already pretty entrenched, so Microsoft is going to be fighting an uphill battle with Windows Phone 8. That said, this is a good start.

Press Release

Press Release

Windows Phone Blog

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