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Microsoft Unveils Windows Phone 8 With 'Shared Windows Core'

Microsoft executives on Wednesday previewed Windows Phone 8, the company's next-generation smartphone operating system (previously code-named "Apollo").

At the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco, company officials said that Windows Phone 8 will be available sometime in the fall. Terry Myerson, Windows Phone corporate vice president, kicked off the presentation by giving some background on the OS, which three years ago replaced Windows Mobile as Microsoft's flagship smartphone OS. Windows Phone's tile-based "Metro" UI was designed to give users a more personal, relevant and connected smartphone experience, he said. Myerson also pointed out that smartphone reviewers on Amazon.com rated the devices very highly, with seven of the top nine phones reviewed running the Windows Phone operating system.

Following Myerson onstage was Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone Program Management, who gave a "platform preview" of Windows Phone 8. Microsoft's latest phone OS now shares the same kernel with the Windows 8 desktop OS.

"The big announcement that we have today is that the future of Windows Phone is about a shared Windows core," Belfiore said. "Windows Phone this holiday will ship with a shared core inside that's common code between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8."

Belfiore claimed that the Windows kernel is well tested by Microsoft, being used currently by over 1.3 billion people.

"So this is a well-tested piece of software. It has high familiarity to people in the value chain and now that familiarity and that performance and reliability is all going to come to Windows Phone," he said.

The benefits to consumers of a shared core include greater choices in hardware and apps and a common user experience across devices, he said. For developers tapping Microsoft's .NET platform, a shared Windows core enables them to adapt their existing apps to different form factors. Additionally, Microsoft's hardware partners will be able to write drivers just once for use on a wider variety of devices.

Belfiore then outlined eight features coming in Windows Phone 8 specific to the platform, with the caveat that he will not be discussing end user features just yet:

  1. Windows Phone 8 will support "the latest and greatest in hardware" this fall, Belfiore said. The platform's core has been optimized for multicore chips. Additionally, Windows Phone 8 will come with two new high-definition screen resolutions -- 1280x768 and 1280x720 -- that support existing Windows Phone 7.5 apps. The phone also will support removable microSD, which will allow users to expand their device storage and transfer data between devices.
  2. Like Windows 8 PCs, Windows Phone 8 devices will come pre-equipped with Internet Explorer 10. The browser will feature the SmartScreen antiphishing tool, faster JavaScript performance and greater HTML 5 support.
  3. Support for native code will particularly benefit game developers. "What this means is a game developer who authors an unbelievable, detail-rich, immersive, compelling game experience for the PC has a super-easy port of their native game to the phone," Belfiore said.
  4. Windows Phone 8 will include support for near-field communication (NFC) wireless technology. In a demo, Belfiore demonstrated the possibilities of NFC sharing by placing a Windows Phone 8 prototype and a business card embedded with an NFC chip next to each other. With a quick tap, the phone was able to access and save the contact information printed on the business card. Additionally, the phone was able to interact with an NFC-enabled Windows 8 tablet.
  5. Windows Phone 8 will have the "most complete Wallet experience of any smartphone this fall," Belfiore promised. The Wallet hub on Windows Phone is an interface that lets users access all of their third-party apps that involve financial transactions at once. The Wallet hub will also support secure NFC payments.
  6. Nokia map technology will come prebuilt in Windows Phone 8. Nokia maps work even offline and feature turn-by-turn navigation.
  7. "Windows Phone 8 is ready for business," Belfiore promised. Among the enterprise-centric features coming to Windows Phone 8 will be support for encryption and secure boot, the ability to let IT set up line-of-business app deployments, and the ability for companies to set up their own Windows Phone hubs.
  8. A new Start screen will be more customizable by users and will be available in more colors. Users can choose which Metro tiles to pin on their Start screen and change the size of individual tiles.

Belfiore provided more details about Windows Phone 8 platform features in this Windows Phone blog post on Wednesday.

Notably, Windows Phone 7.5 users will not be able to update their devices to Windows Phone 8. "Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware," Belfiore said in the blog. However, a forthcoming update named Windows Phone "7.8" will bring the new Start screen to users who are shut out of Windows Phone 8.

A Microsoft spokesperson elaborated on the decision to not support Windows Phone 8 on older devices:

"Many of the new capabilities in Windows Phone 8 are hardware related; things like multicore support, near-field communication (NFC), even the graphics elements rely on hardware that is simply not present in existing Windows Phone devices. So doing the work to get the full Windows Phone 8 release as an upgrade to existing devices just didn't make sense. Multicore and NFC support don't add any value to a phone without the hardware to use them. We decided instead to focus on making Windows Phone 8 the best release for the upcoming generation of hardware AND bring some of the marquee features (like the new Start Screen) to existing devices."

A video of the Windows Phone Summit presentation is available on Channel 9 here.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the site editor of RCPmag.com.

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