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Windows Phone 8’s top eight new features

If the giant handset greeting journalists as they walked in wasn’t enough of a clue, Microsoft just held a keynote at San Francisco’s Moscone Center to talk all about Windows Phone, more specifically what we can expect from the future of the OS and the next major release, Windows Phone 8.

It was near enough a sure thing when Microsoft scheduled the keynote. Following on from the unveil of their new desktop computer platform, dubbed Surface, the Windows 8-running tablet experience, it was now the turn of the company’s mobile division to pull the wraps off the new Windows Phone experience coming in the latter half of 2012.

Windows Phone 8

Window Phone 8 holds to the same conventions as its predecessor, but the underpinnings of the OS have been fundamentally rewritten for a more cohesive experience with the Windows ecosystem. From the keynote, we’ve taken eight (get it?) significant alterations or additions to the Windows Phone experience that come with WP8.

1. Multi-core support

From near enough the start of the keynote, Windows Phone VP Terry Myerson specified that not all of Windows Phone 8’s secrets were going to be discussed on stage, although we were treated to a broad look at the new, more focused direction Microsoft intend to take their mobile OS.

Current generation Windows Phone devices are all solely single core, not by choice but by necessity, and only recently have manufacturers pushed clock speeds past 1GHz. Despite the competition’s implementation of dual and now quad core processors, Windows Phone 7.5 has proven that pure hardware clout isn’t always necessary in order to provide a premium, fluid mobile experience.

The single core experience will only suffice for so long however, with the growing demands made by competitors it’s a smart move on Microsoft’s part to finally implement multi-core support, even if the need for such devices is not immediate.

2. Multiple resolution support

You may not have realised, but every Windows Phone available right now makes use of a WVGA (800×480) display. Size and underlying screen technology may vary, but the resolution has stayed the same since the original Windows Phone 7 lineup. WP8 finally allows manufactures to mix it up, between a choice of WVGA, WXGA (1280×768) in 15:9 aspect ratio, or for upcoming phones with a focus on video, there’s now support for 16:9 720p (1280×720) displays, viewtiful.

3. Removable memory

A small addition by comparison to the likes of Android, but a significant one that will help quell the heavy criticism Window Phone fell under surrounding user storage previously. Microsoft not only announced that WP8 would offer microSD card support, but users will be able to transfer music, photos, videos and even install apps from SD, an intriguing feature that we look forward to test driving.

4. IE 10

As with many underlying systems which make up Windows Phone 8, its new browser, Internet Explorer 10, will be able to make use of many of the same assets as its desktop counterpart. Microsoft promised improved security (such as SmartScreen anti-phishing ware which is set to feature), the same HTML rendering technology as the desktop client and as Microsoft proudly pointed out, faster JavaScript performance (demonstrated using SunSpider) than both the leading Android and iOS handsets.

5. “Shared core”

The term was dropped in a number of times through Microsoft’s presentation, but what does it actually entail? By design, Windows Phone 8 is capable of sharing a number of key assets with its desktop counterpart, Windows 8. Elements such as kernels, graphics, audio, media, file systems, networking, inputs, commerce, base types, and sensors are all shared between the two operating systems. By comparison, the underpinnings of Windows Phone 7, Windows CE was far more disconnected from the desktop Windows experience of Windows 7.

The advantage of the ‘shared core’ design is that cross-platform application development should theoretically work out significantly faster and cheaper compared to the competition’s ecosystems. Microsoft even demoed a number of Windows 8 software samples, running without issue on the Windows Phone 8 developmental devices.

6. Wallet Hub

Mobile payment systems have seen an increasing presence and sophistication over the past year, with new ways to pay via mobile having cropped up through a number of companies. Microsoft are baking mobile payment services directly into Windows Phone 8, including NFC compatibility and payment management software.

Called Wallet Hub, the new native Windows Phone app encompasses digital debit, credit, membership, loyalty cards and even special offers under one application. However a transaction is initiated, the payment interface remains consistent within the application. NFC with Windows Phone 8 will be slightly different too, as Microsoft have focused on working with carriers to offer NFC payment support which will function through NFC capable SIM cards, as opposed to current systems where NFC is designed into the handset itself.

7. Nokia Maps Integration

At last week’s WWDC, Apple unveiled their hotly anticipated new Maps application, as part of iOS 6. By comparison, Nokia Maps on Windows Phone may not have the same noteriety, but it maintains its position as a differentiating feature amongst Nokia’s Lumia Windows Phones, or rather, it did.

The NAVTEQ data, used by Nokia Maps will now help power the next generation of Windows Phone devices. The service is said to not only include the standard maps functionality, but offline map support, map control for developers and turn-by-turn directions.

8. New start screen

One of the biggest shortcomings of WP8 is that it offers no back-compatibility to current generation Windows Phones. Be that as it may, one significant addition/alteration that will permeate Microsoft’s back catalogue will be the newly improved start screen design. The most note-worthy addition being its resizable icons. Users no longer need adhere to the predesignated layouts that come with typical app selection. Both WP8 users and WP7 users will have access to the new customisable homescreen, with existing Windows Phone devices receiving an OTA update that will place each devices firmware to WP 7.8.


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