Hot on the heels of the Surface launch, Microsoft is showing off its future in smartphones with an early look at Windows 8-powered Apollo phones.
On With the Show
Microsoft's unveiling of Surface tablets has got the tech world buzzing, but without a credible smartphone offering why would consumers plump for Microsoft as their choice of tablet provider? Nokia sales of Windows Phones have been fair, at best. Others are leaving the market or holding off from new models as Windows Phone 7 gets ready for a quick bath, with Windows Phone 8 ready to take up the running.
So, Microsoft is showing off Apollo, or Windows Phone 8 as it is now officially known to developers today. The phone continues with the connected experience offered in the earlier Windows Phones, but extends that with features like Skype built into the OS, and better connectivity with other Windows devices.
Windows 8 At Heart
During the event, Microsoft showed off the new Windows 8 shared core, moving on from Windows Phone 7's Windows CE origins, which means that new Windows Phones can more easily run Windows apps. A lot of key areas of the main OS, including kernel, networking, multimedia and driver support are all duplicated to the phone OS.
You can watch the event live, or catch up if you missed it on MSDN. This allows developers to use the same code on apps for both phones and PCs, or tablets. Windows Phone 8 will also support:
- Multi-core chipsets, with dual-core at launch, but greater range to follow.
- MicroSD cards will be supported to expand the base memory.
- Screen resolutions up to 720p HD
- Internet Explorer 10 built-in
- DirectX common platform, native code development
- SIM-based NFC and a mobile wallet (going head-to-head with iOS 6 and Google's wallet)
- SharePoint server compatibility
- BitLocker and device management for enterprises
Windows Phone is now more flexible from the start
Cool for Cats
Among the smart features shown off were the new scaling tiles on the start page that can expand to show more information, a logical and helpful expansion on the first versions. There are now more color and personalisation options for the screens too.
Windows Phone 7.5 apps will work on the new devices and with Windows Phone 8, no one has yet mentioned if you can upgrade an older Windows Phone up to the new OS. It comes with "tap and send" to share contacts and data between devices. This can also be used to play games between two devices.
Like rival wallets, Windows Phone 8's wallet app aims to replace your physical wallet with all your payment and contract services in the one place. Local Scout can now bring coupons and deals to light as well.
The overall impression is that Windows Phone 8 now competes on most levels with Apple's and Google's mobile offerings. However, it is starting from way back and will rely heavily on the success of Windows 8 to gain traction in the marketplace.
For all the good work on show, Windows Phone 8 needs a great deal of goodwill from developers to bring the apps and consumers to buy the product, to overlook past issues and the question has to be asked, "how many more chances does Microsoft get?"
Back in the Sevens
Stepping down a notch, Microsoft finally confirmed that you won't be able to upgrade older Windows Phones to WP8. However, a Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade will come with some of 8's features and some new stuff, like voice recognition, supported by Audible, in fact this will launch in a WP7.5 Update coming today.
Even so, for existing users, the only way to get WP8 is a new phone, and most of those buyers won't have had one long enough to reach end of contract. Ouch! Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and HTC will be providing the first Windows Phone 8 models for launch.