Microsoft Unveils Windows Phone 8
Derek Walter for redOrbit.com
Microsoft showed off a revamped start screen and pledged a “unified experience” across phones and tablets while unveiling Windows Phone 8 Wednesday in San Francisco.
At its Windows Phone Summit the company demonstrated a more customizable home screen, NFC chip capabilities, new Nokia Maps and enhanced developer tools.
Microsoft corporate vice president Terry Myerson said the Windows Phone interface is “buttery smooth,” offering a sharp contrast to rivals Google and Android. A new smart screen allows for further customization, as users can re-size the Live Tiles.
The company also demoed a Wallet feature that stores coupons and can make payments, much like Google Wallet and or Apple´s forthcoming Passbook. A video demonstration sought to show the full capabilities, as a family is walking to a cafe and discovers a coupon through Groupon, them redeems it by transferring the data from a Windows Phone to a Windows 8 tablet.
Myerson characterized the Windows Phone solution as more secure due to a different method for handling the user´s personal wallet data. He blamed Google Wallet´s issues on gaining carrier adoption on their decision to store such data directly in the device.
Unfortunately for Windows Phone users Windows Phone 8 will not be coming to current devices. However, Microsoft said that Windows Phone 7.8 will be available for legacy devices, which includes the re-tooled start screen.
Myerson also said that the Windows Phone Marketplace has passed the 100,000 apps milestone, which was accomplished “faster than our rivals” Apple and Google. He announced that popular games from Zynga, Words with Friends and Draw Something are coming to Windows Phone.
Microsoft is ditching its in-house Bing Maps in favor of Nokia maps. The move, which drew substantial applause from the developers in attendance, adds additional traffic features, such as Nokia Transport and Nokia Drive. Nokia vice president Kevin Shields talked up these features, which are designed to alert a user of unfavorable traffic conditions and learn their commute patterns to better predict which routes to take.
Microsoft vice president Joe Belfiore said the improved performance in Windows Phone 8 will result in “freaking killer games” due to changes in how developers can code them. He played up the capabilities of DirectX for enabling high-end content. During another game demonstration, he showed a concept game that was ported over from iOS with “only” two weeks of coding work.
As for developer tools, Microsoft reps talked up the “common core” between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, enabling developers to create apps that work across phones and tablets.
Belfiore said the upgrade makes Windows Phone “the best” modern smartphone operating system. He demonstrated the syncing capabilities between a phone and tablet, showing how a move made in a Scrabble-style game then showed up exactly on the tablet.
This is the second major announcement of the week for Microsoft. On Monday the company showed off its Surface line of tablets, running Windows 8 or the variant Windows RT.
Microsoft is now joining Google and Apple in building one operating system and functions similarly across a company´s family of phones and tablets.