The next OS for Windows Phone, code-named "Apollo," will integrate the Windows 8 kernel, potentially bringing all that Microsoft offers into a unified family of devices, across PC, tablet and phone. With new hardware features offering multi-core, likely HD resolutions and SD card support, expect a rash of new phones later in 2012.

Getting Off the (Cell) Net

The first point of interest for Apollo is that Microsoft is making deliberate strides to integrate Skype, its US$ 8 billion VoIP solution, and other WiFi-using features right into the core of the OS, so that, whenever possible, it will keep off the cellphone network to preserve your voice minutes, message and data allowances.

While all the OS players are trying to reduce the load on the cell networks, Microsoft's Skype has a vast user base and may be a powerful marketing tool when it comes to selling the OS. Sure, Apple has FaceTime and iMessage, but they remain niche or subtle features at best. Skype is something Microsoft will really shout about.

Windows 8 Ahead

The Windows 8-based core (with solid multimedia, networking and kernel implementations) should make it easier for developers to move their apps from the desktop to the phone with a minimum of fuss. With developers now used to the Metro-style app interface, Windows Phone 8 will start with a huge number of apps available (existing ones will be backwards-compatible), far more than Windows Phone 7 started life out with.

A vibrant ecosystem should help sell more phones, and developers should appreciate an easier life in porting over their apps. Users with information in the cloud will also find it easier to switch on their new phone and have access to all their data, music and photos without the annoyance of synching stuff off the old phone, to the PC and onto the new device.

Users will also appreciate wider data sharing between apps, so hopefully, there will be less logging in and out of services, and a greater ability to actually work in a variety of apps on the same bit of data, something that restrains most smartphones from being productivity devices.

Nearer to NFC and Games

NFC will be de rigeur on most class-leading phones this year and expect Windows 8 to offer the same feature. Microsoft also has the marketing power to help drive the feature in shops and public infrastructure. Android hasn't really done much with its limited NFC features, if Microsoft can take the baton and run, it again stands to gain a major benefit.

Also on the hardware front, Windows Phone 8 will support higher resolutions (presumably HD), and multi-core processors for additional grunt. With the success of the Xbox Live app across all phones, expect Microsoft to make a bigger play in the gaming space to woo Xbox users -- what chance will there be some form of Kinect Phone or use of the phone as an additional controller for Xbox games?

The addition of SD card support might help push other phone makers into adding upgradable storage. Many leading smartphones are heavily priced due to the extra RAM in them; offloading that will make for a cheaper upgrade route for many.

There's a little more detail on this early leak of information from WinSuperSite, but expect Microsoft to go public with more information at the Mobile Congress in Barcelona later this month. With new devices likely to ship toward the end of the year, Nokia may suffer in the short term as sales of the current Lumia phones will slow down in anticipation of the new generation. 

Apparently, existing Windows Phones will be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8, but you have to wonder if Microsoft will adopt the Apple strategy of making certain features only run on the latest models.