When it comes to operating systems for mobiles, Microsoft is without question, the underdog. Although the situation is bad, the Redmond company has the chance of reviving its fate and to win a few more percentages in market share with their latest mobile OS, Windows Phone 8.
Coming as a great hope to all manufacturers that have signed a partnership contract Microsoft (wave back Nokia), Windows Phone 8 may prove to be just enough. The latest mobile OS from the Redmond camp is also backed-up by its bigger brother, Windows 8 for desktops and by the looks of the situation and how things are starting to, we may actually see a turn-around.
Before anything major happens, Windows Phone 8 must prove itself first. A few days after it’s official unveiling, we take a quick look on how the operating system has evolved from past versions and what new features are hidden in plain sight.
Windows Phone: a bit of history
Microsoft took an interest in the mobile world in April 2000, when the first version of Windows Mobile was released. This early implementation has witnessed over 12 years of innovation and after being delivered on various smartphones, through the use of over 9 versions, it was rebranded as Windows phone in 2010. At that stage, the transition was from a platform that had no multi-touch gestures, a few cloud computing services and no support for capacitive screens without 3rd party intervention.
As time passed by, what was supposed to arrive as Windows Mobile 7 was actually rebranded to Windows Phone 7 and was served as a totally different dish, with no backward-compatibility whatsoever. Introduced two years ago in October 2010, WP7 was mainly aimed at the consumer market and was the first package to embed
Metro UI Modern UI, the interface now powering every version of Windows 8.
Windows Phone 7 – the changer
Windows Phone 7 was a complete revamp and a change of focus for Microsoft. Besides targeting regular users instead of corporations, the Redmond-based company has worked day an night to integrate various features which have been served as small updates, through the years. At the time of change, the final edition of WP7 integrated the following features, which may now look like common to an every-day user:
- Metro as user interface
- Virtual keyboard
- Threaded text messages
- Integrated web browser (Internet Explorer)
- Contacts management using the People hub
- Native email integration of Gmail and support for various other clients (Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.)
- Multimedia support and built-in applications for Music, Xbox and others.
- Games hub with Xbox Live functionality
- Support for hardware search buttons
- Integration with Microsoft’s Office suite
- Frequent syncing using Zune software
- Updates delivered via an official center
- Platform for advertising
- Bluetooth support
Besides this list of 2010 goodies, Windows Phone 7 also introduced a list of hardware requirements to make sure that every phone running this version can also benefit of its improvements. Perhaps the most hyped requirement was brought by Tango, which introduced multitasking with a limited number of applications for devices with under 256 MB of RAM.
Windows Phone 8 preview – third place is not enough
At this moment, Microsoft battles for the third position of the world’s most used mobile OS, with Android leading with 75% of the market share and iOS in distant second. The goal is not to survive, but to conquer even more of the market share and why not, even surpass iOS. We know it sounds bald, but Microsoft has the resources and the potential to do it.
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has done the first steps to unite the mobile world with that of the desktops, and besides introducing a platform that can cooperate a lot with its Windows sibling, the company has now stepped into the big-boy land.
Windows Phone 8 Features
Codenamed Apollo, Windows Phone 8 comes with a lot of improvements, which mainly target compatibility for advanced hardware while having in mind the concepts of performance, accessibility and of course, ease of access. Here’s a quick round-up of what this version has introduced new into the game:
- Background multitasking: this is the true version of multitasking, which allows applications to continue running in the background
- Kid’s corner: a multi-user setup where owners can choose what applications can be seen by their children, functioning just like a parental filter for smartphones. Once the kid’s corner is activated, WP8 will show only the apps marked as safe.
- Rooms: a private place where families, friends or companies share content (notes, calendars, photos) without letting any uninvited pair of eyes take a peak and, the best part of all, is that Rooms can also be accessed from other platforms.
- Xbox SmartGlass: featured in our top 10 applications that a Windows 8 user should install, SmartGlass can use device with Microsoft’s platform as an additional screen for the console, on which detailing information can be rendered (like scores, achievements, etc.)
- Data Sense: this feature will make sure that users won’t go over the data cap set in the monthly carrier plan, by analyzing and limiting the traffic usage. Also, it optimizes web pages so transfers would be kept at a minimum, while constantly looking for a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Full NFC support: although NFC was added in WP 7.5 Tango, it was with limited support. Now the feature can share content with all Windows 8 machines, without regards to their manufacturer.
- Simplified code porting: thanks to native code support for C and C++, porting applications from Android, Symbian and iOS will be done much simpler. Moreover, because of the compatibility with Windows 8, apps from the desktop environment can also be ported without fuss.
- Carrier control: using the SIM or even the hardware of the phone itself, carriers can insert control options to certain features, like the wallet. This will not be used for location monitoring or things like that, just for elements that relate to paying using the mobile.
- New maps: using maps ported from their partner (Navteq), Windows Phone 8 will offer turn-by-turn directions and offline navigation. Unfortunately, this will only be available for Nokia devices.
- Firmware updates served over-the-air
- Camera application can be skinned by vendors and also comes with a highly customizable interface, which accepts new features
- Support for multi-core CPUs (up to 64 cores) and high resolution (1280×720 or 1280×768)
- Easy screenshots by pressing the home and power simultaneously
- microSD card compatibility
- Secure Boot and 128-bit Bitlocker encryption
- Remote access similar to the one embedded in Windows 8
- VoIP and video chat integration
- In-app purchases
- Internet Explorer 10
- Easy transfers
More than what meets the eye
Besides those presented above, Windows Phone 8 also comes with a switch under the hood. One of them can be found in the core components of the operating system (kernel, file system, drivers, network stack, security components, media and graphics support) which have been directly ported from Windows 8.
Another trick concerns the visual interface this time, where users can now re-size application tiles or set devices to display information from various services, like Facebook and such, right on the screen.
The bad side is that Windows Phone 8 will not be supported by any existing terminal on the market and to actually enjoy the new version, you will have to purchase a new device, like the Lumia 920 or HTC 8X. Though a limited version of the OS called WP 7.8 will be launched, it will only feature the visual improvements.
Moreover, the lack of their own turn-by-turn navigation system is considered a huge downside, because the Navteq application will only be available to Nokia smartphones. All other manufacturers will have to use services from 3rd parties, such as Google.
We shall soon be back with a detailed review of Windows Phone 8. Till then, check out this roundup of reviews.