Microsoft previewed Windows Phone 8 to developers on Wednesday at its Windows Phone Summit event, showing off new features and a key strategy for the new platform. Windows Phone 8 will share a common core of code with Windows 8 on desktops and laptops, much as Apple has used OS X as the core of its iOS software. The new smartphone software makes it easier for developers to create one app for both platforms while also adding additional hardware features to let Microsoft better compete in the heavily contested smartphone market.
Windows Phone VP Terry Myerson introduced the overall strategy, saying, “We want Windows Phone to be personal, relevant to the user through sensors and data and the most connected experience, betting on the cloud.”
A greater range of hardware should be expected, as the shared core can scale up or down from phones to full computers. More importantly: Developers on one platform can move their apps to the other with ease, bringing a stronger ecosystem for consumers. Hardware drivers, for example, can be used on both platforms.
Here’s a rundown of the key features that will appear on Windows Phone 8 devices this fall:
- Multicore-chip support on Windows Phone, with a focus on dual-core optimizations initially to balance battery life and performance
- Three screen resolutions supported: 800 x 480, 1280 x 768, and 1280 x 720
- Removable microSD memory card support for photos, music, videos and application installations
- Internet Explorer 10 with the same rendering engine on phone or desktop, providing a similar experience and one set of code for web developers
- Native code game development between desktop and phone, based on DirectX
- Improved support for NFC with the “most complete wallet experience”: credit/debit cards, loyalty cards, saved deals and NFC payments. Secure SIM elements can be used instead of a dedicated secure element integrated in the phone.
- Nokia’s map technology will be used, adding offline map support, map control for developers and more.
- For business, Windows Phone 8 supports BitLocker encrypting and secure boot, in-house app deployment with signed apps, and improved device management.
The final platform change is Microsoft’s new start screen that’s far more customizable. Tiles can be one of three sizes, getting back to Myerson’s comments about Windows Phone 8 being personal.
Overall, these changes are precisely what Microsoft needs to help kickstart its Windows Phone sales. The early handsets have earned solid reviews, but they are taking a long time to gain both market share and mind share. Is some of Windows Phone 8 a “catching up” to iOS and Android? Absolutely, but these are still welcome improvements.
The biggest news, however, is something that consumers won’t quite see yet will still benefit from: the shared core code between Microsoft’s mobile and desktop platforms. This should result in not only better hardware choices but also a stronger application ecosystem and unified experience among phones, tablets and other Windows computers.
There is a downside, however. Existing Windows Phone devices will not get the new operating system. Instead, Paul Thurrott notes these phones will get the new start screen in a direct update from Microsoft called Windows Phone 7.8. That’s bad news for Nokia Lumia 900 owners and others who have purchased a Windows Phone of late.