Microsoft has revealed some Windows Phone 8 features today at an event in San Francisco. They didn’t reveal the full end user experince, but fcussed on platform upgrades. However, we know enough to know that Windows Phone 8 is hugely significant change from Windows Phone 7.5. You can see the Microsoft Event on Channel 9, and it’s well worth it. I did some posting here as the announcement was made and have now tidied that up in to a summary of the key points.
Much of what follows may be interesting particularly to developers. If this gets you interested, but you still haven’t tried writing a simple windows phone app yet, there are some sessions here.
The announcements were initially presented as 8 platform benefits and I have tried to keep that format here, though there were some other bits of info fleshed out as well. However, the key thing here is the shared core with Windows 8. so without further ado:
Shared Core with Windows 8
Windows 7.5 had Windows CE at it’s core but to progress it was necessary to move away from this. The core in Windows 8 is the same as in Windows Phone 8. Microsoft wanted to do this before but were not able to get this in. A shared core with Windows means more scalable hardware, and better compatibility with your computer for software. Many of the benefits that follow are possible because of this change.
However, people will probably focus on the 8 new platform announcements that followed this one.
1. Improved Hardware support
Windows Phone 8 will support the latest and greatest hardware this year. This in particular covers 3 areas:
- Multiprocessor / multicore devices. This fall focus will be on dual core, but the Windows core mentioned above, now used in Windows Phone 8 has been used on 64 core machines.
- Increased range of screen resolutions – 720p and WXGA resolutions now supported. All existing WP7.5 apps will run on these resolutions. WVGA (800*480) will still be supported.
- Yes!!! Removable Micro SD support
3. Native code development
This should be able to impact gaming hugely, and also related is Direct X support for games. This means that porting rich games written for PC to work on Windows Phone should be relatively easy. Also making it easier to port apps written for iOS + android (and QT?) to WP8.
4. Native NFC
Better connectivity. Reads NFC tags, share files/contacts with other device using tap to share. Interestingly, in the gamming demo when they used NFC to connect, Joe Belfiore mentioned that the connection was using peer-to-peer Wi-Fi. I don’t remember mention of Bluetooth, but I will do some asking around to find out if the file sharing was via Bluetooth or if it was p2p Wi-Fi as well.
5. Wallet via Wallet Hub
The Wallet hub will include payment cards as well as coupons and airmiles etc. Like other hubs, when 3rd party apps are installed that can integrate with the wallet that will happen, but that integration is much deeper here than (e.g) the Music hub in WP7.5. It will support NFC payments using secure NFC on SIM. This decision has it’s positives - e.g it goes with you between phones. However, a negative may be operators have some control of your wallet. Not sure how much I trust mobile operators not to add extra charges or fees or charge extra for the SIM to support it. Having said that, it seems that some operators don’t like built in secure NFC so this might be the compromise. Initially this will be provided by Orange in France, but will also come to others, including ISIS operators (AT&T/T-Mobile/Verizon) some time next year. One nice feature is that Wallet will have a separate PIN from the phone. Windows phone 8 will integrate the Wallet in other areas too, as demoed with in-app purchases, giving you an option as to which payment method from the wallet you want to use to pay for the in-app purchase.
6. Nokia maps built in
Nokia maps data will now be the built in maps application. This is great as it will bring offline maps to the system as a whole, and a much wider global coverage area too. However, the really big news is that maps will be available as a control for developers to include in their apps too, and therefor developers can also take advantage of the built in mapping in the device. It will be interesting to see how easy this is to use when the Windows Phone 8 SDK is made available.
Business users didn’t get what they really needed out of Windows 7.5 despite the great office and SharePoint support. Corporate It departments didn’t have a way to manage employees devices. So in Windows Phone 8 they have added encryption support using BitLocker and also secure boot, and the ability to manage devices from tools already familiar to IT departments (Active Directory?). In addition, internal business apps can now be deployed to devices without having to be part of the Windows Marketplace. IN addition, businesses will be able to choose from a variety of methods of deployment. Lastly, the Company Hub allows companies to personalize the experience for their employees. Microsoft will provide templates and guidance to get IT departments started in building their Company Hub. This should really help Windows Phone succeed with business in an area where, as mentioned, with the support for exchange and office it has, they should be in a great position.
(Not really a platform feature but with platform implications says Joe Belfiore) Tiles now come in 3 sizes and can be resized by the user at will. The black bar at the side and arrow is gone (we didn’t see any demoing of what happens if you swipe right or left here). Tiles can give more or less info and all 3 tile sizes can be customized by developers. All this allows more tiles, and more info to be shown and for the home screen to be more unique to you. They also added more colors.
So here is some mode developer specific info.
Using the Windows 8 Core means that the following elements are shared across all Wndows devices:
- Device Drivers
- Graphics & Media using Direct3D
- Developer platform including the same .Net engine used in the desktop.
Sounds like apps can’t impact each other (at least without some sort of permissions model) This was the reason Nokia maps couldn’t use Nokia drive’s offline maps previously. While Nokia maps will now be part of the OS, I hope other developers won’t find this hampering the app experiences where apps should work together.
- Windows Phone 8 Supports Native C and C++ code.
This means that apps written for other platforms using these technologies can get their apps (often games) to Windows 8 easily. Havok is bringing it’s full technology suite to Windows Phone 8, as are Autodesk, fmod and audiokinetic – these companies are gaming middleware platform creators. It is also making it easier to use Open Source libraries.
- Multitasking improvements
It’s hard to tell how far this goes – it sounds like applications which use certain services will be able to run in the background – previously this was for Music apps. Here, two more examples were given:
- VOIP – a integrated platform for VOIP making VOIP services work exactly like any other call, and will be able to run in the background.
- Background Location – you can now use apps which track your location and they will continue to do so in the background.
- Speech – More advanced speech capabilities with a improved speech framework. Developers can hook up in-app commands. For example, in an audio app have voice command for “pause” or to search for a track. T\his was demoed with an Audible app which is supposed to be available for windows phone today (though not showing up for me at the time of writing).
- Improved Developer tools
Visual Studio 2012 will support app development for both Wp7.5 and Windows phone 8. IN addition it will allow you to use various different languages to write your app with support for XAML + C#/VB, native C/C++ and HTML5. You can mix and match technologies so you can use the most appropriate technology for each bit of your app. E.g UI using XAML, advanced 3D animation in C++ and data pulled from the web in HTML5. YOucan have your apps compile in the cloud, which will help speed up submissions to the marketplace (though I have to admit, I didn’t fully pick up on how so I will revisit the video later).
- For Developing Windows 8 + Windows phone 8
Guidelines were given for this which can be summariesd as write your code libraries once and share them but be prepared to adapt your UI for the relative screen sizes in each form factor. The various recommendations are:
- App – XAML with C#/VB code and optimize the Ui for each screen size.
- Games – Direct 3D with native C/C++ code. Can target shared API’s to get same experience. Remember resolution of screens again
- Website – design for IE10 and optimize for mobile resolutions.
Developers can download the SDK this summer and Microsoft will be having developer events to get people started with their apps and allow developers learn a lot more about the platform.
Some final bits of information regarding hardware
The first Windows Phone 8 devices will be developed by Nokia Huiwei Samsung and HTC, and all using Qualcomm processors. They will be availiable in a large variety of markets and this is reflected by Windows Phone 8 supporting 50 languages and with marketplace support in 180 countries. Software updates will in Windows Phone 8 will be delivered over the air, and all Windows Phone 8 devices will receive device support and updates for at least 18 months from device launch. There will also be a program for registered enthusiasts to get first access to updates.
As to existing hardware, Windows Phone 8 will NOT run on existing devices and I suppose that’s understandable with the number of things here that reflect new hardware. However, they will get updated to Windows Phone 8′s new start screen, and possible more. This new update will be called Windows Phone 7.8
Kevin Sheilds from Nokia announced a few goodies for Lumia devices coming soon to existing hardware starting next week.
- DLNA app called PLayTo which will allow you to send media to DLNA compatible devices.
- Counters is a tool to count data/voice/text usage – something people on limted plans (i.e most users) have been hoping for.
- Nokia Music is having an update which brings an improved Gig-Finder tool.
- Camera Extras – Self Timer, Burst mode, Panorama maker & Smart group shot functionality for your phone camera. The last takes a series of images and uses face detection to pick the ones in which people have their best face on, and spits out a composite image that has everyone looking their best. Sounds good and looking forward to see if it can deliver on this in the real world.
- Nokia Maps, Drive and transit getting updated for Windows Phone 7.5. In practice, the biggest change here is for drive which will incorporate a feature called My Commute. This feature learns the routes you take on your commute and will lt you know how long each will take, and direct you along the fastest route to work each morning. I’m sure that will be useful on the freeways of south Minneapolis for sure.
One last comment on the app marketplace
One great thing is that al WP7.5 apps will run on Windows 8. The Marketplace has reached the milestone of having over 100,000 apps published and it’s impressive that none of them will be dropped in the switch up to Windows Phone 8. In addition, several partners were announced today (Audible, Gameloft etc) but specifically mentioned at the end was Zynga who will be bringing Words With Friends and Draw Something to Windows Phone.
So lots of info and announcements and although we didn’t get to see too much of the core UI experience, except from the start screen, it’s clearly a big improvement. I’m sure I’ll be posting aging with more thoughts on this in the next few days but I hope that was a pretty comprehensive list of the key points from todays announcements for you to digest in the meantime.