Until yesterday, only the most enthusiastic Windows Phone 7 fans (or Microsoft execs) could have compared the Mango platform to iOS or Android, but today, things have taken a rather sudden and welcome turn for the folks over at Redmond. Microsoft just announced Windows Phone 8 for 180 countries and in 50 languages. It is an absolutely gorgeous variant of their mobile platform, but the announcement could be termed as a true example of mixed emotions. WP8 sounds just about perfect, but the bad news is that it will not be compatible with any of the existing WP7 devices (you read that right; not even the exalted Lumia series made the cut). Although Microsoft has got a set of sound reasons for this exclusion (which will be discussed past the break), the news won’t be pleasant for current Mango users. Having said that, maybe you will forgive MS once you hear about the awesomeness that constitutes Windows Phone 8. Plus, Mango users haven’t been completely forsaken either, thanks to Windows Phone 7.8.
Before we tell you anything about the new features that will be introduced in WP8, let us discuss the hardware changes that are coming to Apollo (Windows Phone 8 ) devices. First of all, Microsoft has managed to entice more OEMs, with Huawei joining the existing partners Nokia, Samsung and HTC. The reason that Windows Phone 8 will be incompatible with Mango devices include a new multicore chipset, an enhanced graphics processor, modem system architecture, removable storage and a lot of NFC-dependent features. Here are all the major new features that will be hitting the markets this fall when Windows Phone 8 gets released.
The New Start Screen
Perhaps one of the most lauded announcements of the lot. Both Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.8 will come with a new, revamped Start Screen, one that will allow users to mold live tiles to their preferences. Users will be able to resize each tile individually to three different sizes – large/wide, medium and small – to view detailed information, essential info or just an unread count on a tile respectively. This makes the Start screen and live tiles many times more useful than they have ever been. You can expand an active live tile (for example a weather one) while minimizing others, set the size of the Messaging live tile to large so you can read incoming texts without having to launch the Messaging Hub, and decrease the size of the Email tile to the small if you don’t communicate much through mail.
Windows 8 App Portability
As Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will share the same kernel, it will take close to no effort by developers to port apps across both platforms. Imagine running all your PC games on your phone! That is why WP8 requires higher hardware specs. Everyone knew beforehand that both platforms would share the metro interface, but the app compatibility sounds almost too good to be true (both for devs and users).
The Ultimate Mobile Gaming Platform
Thanks to a combination of WVGA display (720p plus), superior GPU and multicore processors in upcoming Windows Phones, Windows Phone 8 is going to be perfect for gamers. So, not only is MS merging Windows 8 and WP8, the boundaries between Xbox and your phone will get a bit blurred too, come this fall. Zynga and Gameloft are coming to the Marketplace as well, and with them, two very popular titles, Draw Something and Cut The Rope.
The idea behind Wallet might not be the most original Microsoft has ever come up with, but it is sure to bring a lot of convenience to WP8 users’ lives. Thanks to the compulsory NFC hardware in Windows Phone 8 devices, you will be able to keep all your cash receipts in one place, while also being able to use your phone as a credit card. Whenever you initiate a purchase (app, in-app, or through NFC), your phone will open the Wallet Hub and ask for your PIN. How is it any different from Google Wallet? The WP8 Wallet Hub will use carrier-provided, NFC-enabled SIM cards to authenticate purchases, making it a tad more secure than the former.
Internet Explorer 10
Cosmetically, the next iteration of Windows Phone’s official web browser is going to look almost exactly like its desktop counterpart. IE10 is also going to be the most secure web browser for WP yet. It supports SmartScreen, which will alert its users of phishing scams or harmful websites.
To be honest, Bing maps (that come integrated with WP7) don’t really cut it. Fortunately, Microsoft has noticed that too, and WP8 will come integrated with Nokia maps, even on non-Nokia devices! In addition to being infinitely more detailed than Bing, Nokia Maps in WP8 will also offer shopping deals for users, and alert them of any opportunities of finding a nice bargain anywhere in their vicinity.
So, Android is no longer the only smartphone platform that can claim to have true multitasking. Windows Phone 8 is going to have that too! This means that you can now run location-based or GPS apps in the background without the fear that they will stop working as soon as you navigate away (I really hate using Endomondo on WP7, as the tracking stops every time you push the app to the background).
The Company Hub
If there’s one thing that Windows Phone 8 is going to be good for other than gaming, its business. With the Company Hub, any organization can set up a custom group of its own, push out updates to that group and even notify members of the company about app-specific tasks.
Microsoft has joined hands with Audible to improve Windows Phone’s built-in voice recognition and speech capabilities. The app is coming out for Windows Phone 7.5 Mango users soon, and will be integrated with WP8 by default.
Skype/ VoIP Integration
Despite the rather disappointing Skype app for Mango, Windows Phone 8 is billed to come with deep Skype and VoIP integration. In fact, Skype calls are going to be treated just like ordinary phone calls. In addition to that, the social network integration present in WP7 will also be there in Apollo, making it the most social smartphone platform to date.
This list of features is not complete by any means, as WP8 is almost a complete new OS, and not just an update. The next version of Windows Phone 8 is going to have a lot more apps, in-app purchases, independency from Zune (OTA updates are coming!) and many other winning features. We can’t wait for the new generation of WP devices and their many new, flashy features. No need to be glum if you own a legacy WP7 device, as you’ll be getting some of the new features in the aforementioned WP7.8 update.
Update: You can now watch the Windows Phone Summit keynote video online
What are your thoughts about Windows Phone 8 and its new features? What’s your favorite feature? Do you think Microsoft will be able to disturb Apple and Google’s market shares in mobile devices? Pour your thoughts into the comment section below.