Posey's Tips & Tricks

First Impressions of Windows Phone 8 SDK

As a fan of Windows Phone 7, is there enough in Microsoft's newest mobile platform to justify the switch for Brien?

If you have been following my blog for any length of time then you no doubt know that I absolutely love my Windows Phone 7 device, and that I wrote a book about Windows Phone 7 shortly after the Mango update was released. Needless to say, I am more than a little bit excited about the Windows Phone 8 release. Even though I don't have a Windows Phone 8 device to play with yet, Microsoft has released the Windows Phone 8 SDK, which features a device emulator. That being the case, I decided to take a look at the emulator and share with you some of my initial thoughts.

Prior to downloading a copy of the emulator, I had seen the new start screen, but had not seen the device demoed. Microsoft had a big Windows Phone 8 release event on Oct. 29, but an Internet outage caused me to miss out on watching the event. As such, when I booted up the emulator, I was really seeing Windows Phone 8 for the first time.

As I began to play with the emulator the thing that really, really surprised me was how similar Windows Phone 8 is to Windows Phone 7 (at least as it exists in the emulator). Sure, there are some new features, but if you strip away the new interface then at least ninety percent of what I have seen in the emulator is identical to the Windows Phone 7 operating system.

Of course looks can sometimes be deceiving. Microsoft maintains that Windows Phone 8 is a brand new Windows Phone operating system and that it is built on the Windows 8 kernel. The phones themselves will also use higher end hardware than their Windows Phone 7 predecessors, so I have to assume that the similarities between the two operating systems are cosmetic.

One thing that really cracked me up about the Windows Phone 8 emulator was the Music Hub (or whatever Microsoft is calling it). Windows Phone 7 devices made music and videos available through the Zune interface. Microsoft has discontinued Zune, but the Music interface looks identical to the way that it looked in Windows Phone 7, aside from the missing Zune label.

One aspect of the emulator that made me very happy was that there was a Local Scout tile on the Start screen. Local Scout was introduced in Windows Phone 7 as a way of helping the user to locate restaurants, shopping, and attractions in close proximity. As someone who travels constantly I use the Local Scout feature religiously. I was thrilled that the feature still exists and that Microsoft has made it easier to get to by placing it on the Start screen.

The Windows Phone 8 offers a number of new features. One of the features that has received the most attention is called Kids Corner. The basic idea is that if you have a kid that likes to play with your phone then you can give the kid their own custom start screen and operating environment that isolates them from the phone's internal settings and your sensitive data. You can pick and choose which apps you want your kid to be able to access. The idea is to be able to let your kid have a good time with your phone without worrying about the damage that they might do to your apps, data, etc.

Another area in which Windows Phone 8 is touting major improvements is with regard to its phone functionality. Windows Phone 8 is first and foremost a phone after all. For the first time, Windows Phone 8 will offer Skype integration, thereby allowing for VoIP calls and even video calls. Skype integration has enormous potential and I am really curious to see how well it works when the phone is finally released.

Another feature that has been getting a lot of attention is something called Microsoft Wallet. Microsoft Wallet will allow you to make payments by tapping your phone on a credit card reader. The phone will securely store credit and debit card information. Even though Google offers similar functionality through Google Wallet, I am somewhat apprehensive about the idea of using this feature. It just seems as if it would be way too easy for someone to commit fraud by "accidentally" bumping into you with a device for reading credit card information. Admittedly however, I have not yet had a chance to try out this feature, so I don't know how secure or insecure it might be.

As you have probably guessed by now, I am anxious for Windows Phone 8 to be released so that I can try out the new operating system. Unfortunately, there is rampant speculation that Sprint and Verizon may not offer Windows Phone 8 devices. I am hoping that those rumors are wrong, as I would hate to have to change cell providers just to get a Windows Phone.


About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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