Friday, 22 June 2012

Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8 release date and latest details

   The season of announcements continues and yes it has been a couple of days since Windows Phone 8 (previously known as Apollo) was officially revealed, but now we've had time to digest, consider and now we have a whole host of opinions on the new OS.

   Lets get the bad news out of the way first; Windows Phone 8 will not be compatible with current devices. They simply run a completely different sort of software, it would mean a complete recoding of the software to run on the current generation of processors. Sorry!

   But, if you have just bought a Lumia 900, then you will be getting an update to Windows Phone 7.8 which brings you the new home screen and a few other new features which are outlined below! Although, we will say that it is a bit of a kick in the teeth if you signed a brand new two-year contract. But, it teaches us all that we should buy what's on the plate now and not what we expect to come in future!

   But, lets start with what the revamped software will actually bring;

A unified Windows kernel.

   One huge change here is that the new kernel is taken from Windows as opposed to the current generations, which is from Windows CE. 

   It is worth noting that the new Windows Phone 8 is not the same as Windows 8 or even the ARM based Windows RT. Apps from the other two varieties of Windows 8 will not work on the new mobile OS. 

   One thing to bear in mind is that the new software won't be any more hacker-friendly so you'll have to stick to Android for that. Microsoft has said battery life and user experience are still the priorities and security is also paramount, which is highlighted by the fact that native applications run in a sandbox.

Windows Phone apps.

         All Windows Phone 7 apps will be able to run on Windows Phone 8 handsets; but developers will not have to decide whether to make an app that only works with Windows Phone 7 or one that works on both, there's also a choice to make one just for Windows Phone 8.

   This means new features like Wallet, VOIP, native code or being able to run navigation in the background, which gives us full multitasking!

   There are other advantages too, but with the interfaces to shares a lot more graphics, audio and sensor setting with Windows 8, something which makes it a lot easier to write Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps that share features.

The interface.

      This is one feature of Windows Phone that will come to the current generation of phones (in the aptly named Windows Phone 7.8 update) and it'll be a brand new Start screen. This will use all of the screen, because the sideways swipe arrow will be removed.

   The extra space will allow you to fit in more tiles, which now come in three different sizes. The new small size will act as a shortcut for any app, something which is particularly useful for apps that don't utilise the notifications.

   And as well as the current standard tile size, any app can use an extra-large tile size to cram even more details onto a single live tile. There will be a few new colour themes and both of these add up to a much more immersive and customisable experience.

   You should bear in mind that overall look of the platform won't be a huge departure from Windows Phone 7, you still get your list of apps with a side swipe, and you can still slide down to find more tiles that don't necessarily need to take centre stage.

The Browser and Security.

   Windows Phone 8 is set to inherit a few features from full Windows and they include Internet Explorer 10. This is set to come complete with the phishing filter and SmartScreen application which checks site reputations. Something which makes it harder for malicious websites to pinch your personal information and especially your credit card details.

   There hasn't yet been any issues with malware or any viruses on Windows Phone, but should the platform gain some traction they could potentially be faced with issues. So it's good to see security being prioritized from the off.

   Windows Phone also inherits other Windows security features such as disk encryption and secure boot something businesses and IT departments will cherish.

Media and Gaming.

      Everything shares the software with full blown Windows, in terms of audio, gaming and videos.   However, this means that the current crop of games will need to be recreated to take full advantage of the new platform. It will be possible for big companies to leave their games as Windows Phone 7 variants, but they'll probably want to re-release a more powerful version of the game too.

   The increase in GPU support and power will mean a boost in the amount of 3D-rich gaming that will be available to future Windows Phone 8 handsets, something which will be a huge advance over the current Windows Phone 7 games.

Skype Video Calling.

   Windows Phone at the moment is shaping to be a very powerful platform and the planned integration of Skype is a clear selling point, since Microsoft purchased the company last year. VOIP calls, on Windows Phone 8, will look just like regular phone calls with all the same features and notifications. Obviously this will be native for Skype but other VOIP apps will be offered the possibilities for similar notifications.

   We're still unsure as to how deep Skype integration will get into Windows Phone 8, but it should be deeply integrated given who owns the program.

   One thing to bear in mind is that Windows Phone manufacturers will have to prioritise front facing cameras unlike they do at the moment.

New CPU compatibility.

   To power the upgrades in Windows Phone 8 Microsoft has announced an increase in the amount and quality of the processors which will be supported. They are all still ARM processors and they will all be from the Snapdragon family at Qualcomm, but multicore processors, a new generation of GPUs and NFC support have been added this time.

   Battery life is still a huge priority for Microsoft so the company will probably cap any CPUs that get too comfortable with the batteries, but they have to realise that the simple mention of 'dual-core' and 'quad-core' sells phones! As such this move has come at a perfect time for Microsoft and this in itself should boost sales.

Microsoft Wallet.

   The new Microsoft Wallet app is essentially a culmination of the best of Google Wallet and  iOS 6's payment details storer. You can tap to pay and keep all your passwords and details in one place, so in theory this is a great solution.

   One good thing here is that you're not tied to using Microsoft's payment service. But, a standout feature is that applications will be able to tap into the Wallet system to set up new payment services and Paypal has already been lined up for this service.
   Finally, the app while act as a centre for receiving and using digital coupons and debit or credit cards, interestingly you can add in loyalty cards so you always get your bonuses too!

NFC support.

   NFC is not just there for Microsoft's Wallet, it also has uses in the secure SIM feature. Which essentially means users' can swap from handset to handset and take their payment method with them physically, so the chip is embedded in the SIM not the battery like the Samsung Galaxy S3 has opted for!

   There are other applications that Nokia is keen to utilise as well, such as being able to pair with its Bluetooth accessories with a simple tap of the phone – it's a trick we've seen on the old Symbian phones and one we expect to feature heavilytoo.

Speech recognition.

   Microsoft has teamed up with Audible for their answer to Siri and S-Voice! It'll work in a very similar way allowing you to issue a variety of commands to get your handset to do your dirty work.

   During the keynote presentation, Microsoft showed us the ability to play movies, browse audiobooks and perform searches from the speech platform.

   This tech is currently available for Mango devices at the moment. To test it out all you need to do is search Audible in the Marketplace.

Windows Phone 8 upgrades.

   Essentially none of the Windows Phone 7 devices will be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. The current generation of phone have neither the hardware to support the new features or deliver the multitasking performance that the Windows kernel and the improved VOIP support require! We know this sucks... BIG TIME!

   There will be a slight degree of flexibility in the software in that there will be a couple of new screen resolutions, both widescreen: 1280 by 768 and 1280 by 720. But you can of course choose the current 800 by 480, for those slightly lower end devices.

   And Windows Phone finally has SD card support!!!!!! (for both applications and storage!)

So when is Windows Phone 8 available?

   We're still waiting to get an official Windows Phone 8 launch date; all we know at the moment is it's due to land in the 'fall' or the autumn if you want that translated into English (:-P), which is such a broad time frame and could be any date from October to Christmas. That being said Microsoft will probably try to push it out in time for the late Autumn along with full Windows 8 and it will definitely be here before the vital christmas season!

      This all sounds pretty good so far and to top it off updates have been promised for 18 months and Microsoft is currently agreeing details with the operators and handset makers, but there's going to be a way to get updates directly from Microsoft and available Over-the-air (perhaps labelled as beta releases).

The handset manufacturers:

   So far we have heard from a few companies that they will be supporting the new OS and they are; Nokia, HTC, Samsung, and Huawei.

   Interestingly HTC's roadmap has either intentionally or unintentionally been leaked and the full details of each device run like this:

   The HTC Rio is the low-end of the family and will feature a 4-inch WVGA screen and come with a 5-megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p video. The Qualcomm MSM8227, part of the Snapdragon S4 family, is to power the device andwith 512MB of RAM.

   The HTC Accord is the mid-range device and comes with a 4.3-inch 720p Super LCD2 display and an 8-megapixel rear snapper capturing 1080p video. The exact silicon is currently unknown, but it will be a more capable dual-core processor from the Snapdragon S4 pen with 1GB of RAM.

   Finally and most excitingly HTC is creating the 'Zenith'. The Zenith is said to feature a massive 4.7-inch 720p Super LCD 2 display, also with an 8-megapixel camera and 42Mbps HSPA+. Here, though, the processor gets bumped up to a quad-core Snapdragon, but again - no specifics.

An overall opinion.

   Microsoft is finally adding the features that Windows Phone needs to succeed and providing the new hardware the platform vitally needs. It'd be a lot better if Microsoft could break from the 'big releases' to a more Apple-esque update system where there are frequent updates which add fixes and features as ad when they're ready.

    The problem of upgrades should, in theory, be fixed by the direct updates, something which will appeal to a lot of frustrated Android users!

   Windows Phone seems to be catching up with other smartphone systems on features but Microsoft and Nokia need to get phones into the hands of consumers by making well priced and attractive devices!


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