Microsoft Announces Windows Phone 8 with Multi-Core Support, New Start Screen, and More

After months of rumors, Microsoft today unveiled their latest mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8. At their Windows Phone Summit for this year, the corporation showed off some great new features and capabilities like dual-core and quad-core CPU support, Skype and VoIP integration, NFC, Wallet, Nokia Maps, support for three screen sizes up to 720p, and a slightly redesigned Start Screen – this is Windows Phone’s version of the home screen, in a way.

Keep reading for an in-depth look at the most important new features in Microsoft’s upcoming OS.

Windows Core

Microsoft is calling the new kernel in Windows Phone 8 “Windows Core,” but it’s really just the same architecture that’s in Windows 8 — NT, that is. This means that both operating systems will have better opportunities of being connected to each other, meaning that your tablet, PC, and phone could be more in sync than you had ever imagined. With the NFC that’s also supported in WP8, the possibilities of all your devices being very close are better yet.

But this new Windows Core also brings security into question. If Windows Phone, a mobile OS, is using a desktop OS’ technology and kernel, then does this mean it will need virus protection and all that? That’s just a question to be asked and I honestly don’t know the answer, but it’s something people should probably be wondering.

New Start Screen

The new Start Screen is much better and more customizable than the old one giving you the ability to resize your tiles like you would a widget on an Android device. Microsoft says it’s “drop-dead gorgeous,” but sadly, it still lacks dimension – the design is flat, as Windows Metro has always been – and smaller tiles look as if they might take away from the Windows Phone experience. This is not to say that the whole Start Screen is ruined or anything though because you can always just make a tile bigger if you want to.

Another thing the new Start Screen seems to do is become more of a home screen. Even though tiles are live as they have always been on Windows Phone, the smaller ones look more like app icons than anything. Sure, there are the live-updating features and all, but they’re going to be a lot smaller; it seems to be on more of an iOS or Android scale with smaller tiles. I think that this kind of feature is a waste since the whole Start Screen just becomes an app menu if you make half the tiles small.

Microsoft wants to make sure you can make the phone fit you best, so that’s why they added Start Screen. It looks interesting, but I wonder how much people will actually use the new customization that’s integrated into the OS.

Nokia Maps

One very surprising thing that Microsoft announced today at their event was that they’d be using Nokia Maps to provide offline mapping and an overall better experience than what Bing offers. This is actually a very strange move by Microsoft since Bing has always been in the Windows Phone OS by default. For them to partner with Nokia, a manufacturer of Windows Phone hardware, is a very interesting thing indeed.

Even though it does look like Microsoft will be using Nokia for mapping by default, there’s no word on how exactly they’ll be branding things. You might still see Bing with enhanced and offline coverage provided by Nokia, or you might just see an app built by Microsoft using all Nokia Maps. We’ll find out more about that in the future.

Microsoft isn’t saying exactly how the experience will be branded, but Lieberman says it’s “going to be very clear to users” that it’s fueled by Nokia data. – Tom Warren, The Verge

Release Date and Devices

Windows Phone 8 will be out later this year on a slew of new devices around the world. There’s not really a specific date on that, but most sources heard it would be “this autumn.” Sadly, all existing users of the OS will not be able to use the new one on their older phones. Microsoft is going multi-core with the new revision and won’t be supporting any older devices at all, so you might want to start looking for a new phone later this year if you want the new update.

If not, then don’t fret yet! Microsoft will be bringing Windows Phone 7.8 to older devices with some fresh new UI elements and “core customer experiences.” They’re not really saying what these “experiences” are, but hopefully a few of the aforementioned features will be arriving on your legendary device sometime this autumn.

Is It Windows Phone’s Future?

Yes and no, really. Even when you disregard its shortcomings like not supporting older devices, Windows Phone 8 isn’t going to help Microsoft move forward in the mobile phone industry. It really doesn’t bring a whole lot of new features and is a minor update, to say the least. I think Microsoft could have put a lot more into this OS than they did. We all knew that multi-core support and NFC would have come eventually, so that was no surprise. The new Start Screen and Windows Core are interesting, but not much more than that.

Maybe it’s just that there’s more on the inside of this new OS than anything. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and the actual user experience itself hasn’t changed much in the version boost. Developers will love being able to write their code in C and C++ with the new kernel, but users won’t know anything about that other than the fact that there might be a few new apps in the store that were ported over from the desktop OS. It’s the little things like this that make a difference, but aren’t recognized by customers who want the cutting-edge technology.

Now that Windows Phone 8 is bringing support for faster processors and larger displays, users might just want to check out the devices. Still, if you’re one of those people who already uses an iPhone or Android device, this update won’t change your mind. Microsoft has a great idea, they’ve actually marketed it well, and it has a lot of potential to be the better phone, but they’ve arrived too late. The boat’s already halfway to its destination by now and they’re likely not going to be able to swim that far.

It was back in April when journalists like The Verge‘s Joshua Topolsky said that Windows Phone is on its way out. Sure, this new version could change the performance issues and all, but the OS as a whole just isn’t something most customers want. It’s what those few out there really like to use and I personally even enjoy messing around with it, but I don’t think I’d ever have it on my regular smartphone.

Even though the ecosystem seemed to be pretty bad, it’s actually picked up quite a bit. The Marketplace now has 100,000 apps and is still growing, just a bit slower than the competition. Even Zynga is going to bring their popular titles, Draw Something and Words with Friends, to the platform. It’s still dying though and Microsoft is just hoping their updates like this one will be the AED that saves it from failing completely. Only time will tell though.

[The Verge, Wired]

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