Today Microsoft has announced Windows Phone 8 and whilst not really talking about end user features the company had a lot to talk about which goes a long way to addressing many peoples’ requests for Windows Phone. Windows Phone 8, as rumoured, will be based on the Windows Core, the same as Windows 8, which will mean that developers will have a very easy time creating apps that will run on both Windows and Windows Phone. As part of that developers will now be able to use native code for creating apps on the phone.
By using Windows Core there is a lot of new things that Windows Phone will offer such as device encryption, that will please businesses, and support for MicroSD card, that will please everyone. Microsoft also went on to announce that IE10 will be coming to Windows Phone 8, it’s not surprising but certainly good to hear. There will also be better support for VoIP and video calls that make the call experience just like receiving an actual phone call and it will be open for any developer to access.
The next version of Windows Phone will allow for 3 different screen resolutions, 800×400, 1280×768 and 1280×720 which is great to hear. Additionally NFC chips will also be supported allowing Windows Phone to exchange data with a wide range of materials and devices, including Windows 8 devices. To make the experience of using NFC better Microsoft also announced a new “Wallet” feature for managing deals and credit cards for both on the phone (in app purchases) and NFC payments.
Microsoft also announced that there would be 4 hardware partners bringing Windows Phone 8 devices out this autumn, they are Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC. Nokia were on stage briefly and announced updates to most of their Windows Phone apps will be coming out in the next few weeks and that the Tango update will be released for Lumia 800 and 710 devices next week bringing with it the option for Internet Sharing.
There is a lot of new hardware supported in Windows Phone 8 which leads on to a fairly controversial topic in that current Windows Phone will not be able to update to Windows Phone 8. Instead Microsoft will release an update for Windows Phone 7.X devices that will bring them up to version 7.8 and bring a new UI that can be found on Windows Phone 8.
Both the news of the lack up Windows Phone 8 update for current hardware and the new UI have proved to be controversial with commentators online. I want to spend some time understanding what Microsoft is doing with both of these pieces of news and what actually I am not too bothered by either of them.
The new Start Screen
The main end user announcement yesterday was the unveiling of the new Start Screen that is coming to Windows Phone (both Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 7.8). This new interface brings much more customisation to the Start Screen than we currently have by allowing users to choose the size of any Live Tile on their Start Screen. There are threes sizes available, one of which is new to Windows Phone.
- Large: This is a rectangle that fits right across the screen, just like Photos and Calendar does currently on Windows Phone
- Medium: This is a square that is just like the current square Live Tiles found on Windows Phone
- Small: This is a square that is a quarter of the size of the medium Live Tile
In the below images and video you can see what this level of customisation will allow users to do.
On first look the new Start Screen might appear to be really cluttered and not nearly as simple as the current Start Screen. Now that is true but do bear in mind that everything is customisable so it is easy to have the Start Screen in Windows Phone 8 look pretty much how you have your phone now. In fact if you look at the bottom right Start Screen it is almost exactly how a Windows Phone 7 would look.
When I first saw the new Start Screen I wasn’t a fan but after seeing lots of images of it I am looking forward it. There are quite a few Live Tiles that only show me a number of notification, I don’t really need them to be medium sized tiles, it would make more sense to have them as small tiles and arranged in such a way as to resemble some kind of notification bar.
The new Start Screen looks great to me and I am looking forward to using it on my Lumia 800 when Windows Phone 7.8 comes out.
Windows Phone 8 vs Windows Phone 7.8
There has been a lot of discussion about this online, I have even gone back and forth on the issue. Windows Phone 8 requires the new hardware to be able to work and therefore it can’t run on the current hardware. Microsoft doesn’t want to abandon its current Windows Phone users and so will offer an update, Windows Phone 7.8 that will bring some new features, specifically the new Start Screen UI.
Some people who bought a new Lumia only a few months ago are upset some even angry that their phone wont get Windows Phone 8. It’s understandable to be annoyed that a device wont get an update however the device will get an update! If Windows Phone 8 was available for Windows Phone 7.X hardware then it would be fairly pointless as many of the apps designed for Windows Phone 8 just wouldn’t work. Therefore, an update will be offered that enhances using a Windows Phone 7.X device through new features but one that doesn’t impair the experience (the latest version of iOS running on older iPhones often slows the iPhone down and doesn’t improve the experience).
I think the thing that is concealing the truth and causing this contention is the name. It almost seems to me to be that if Microsoft just said “yes, Windows Phone 8 is coming to all current and future Windows Phones” more people would be happy. However, in reality it would cause a lot of confusion when people actually tried to use their updated phones as so much of the OS just wouldn’t be available for them. They would have a Windows Phone 8 device but without most of the Windows Phone 8 hardware. How confusing would that be?!
Instead Microsoft are keeping it simple in terms of branding, only new phones with the new hardware will be Windows Phone 8 devices. All older Windows Phone will be 7.8. That is a clear distinction and should make things simpler for users.
Additionally, I think we need to bare in mind that Microsoft really hasn’t announced many of the new end user features it has planned for Windows Phone 8. The Windows Phone Summit’s purpose was to outline the plan for the platform and not offer a list of new features. I imagine that most of the new features will make use of new hardware coming with Windows Phone 8 but that actually much of it will still work (perhaps just not as well) on older devices. Therefore, we can expect that the Windows Phone 7.8 update will bring more with it than just the new Start Screen.
I imagine that IE10 and the new voice control system, that allows people to talk to their phone like they can with the Xbox, will both come in the 7.8 update as I see no reason why they couldn’t as they aren’t dependent on new hardware. Maybe they wont be as quick and smooth as they are on Windows Phone 8 but they should still work.
I think Gizmodo summed it up pretty well in their post “Sorry, But Microsoft Screwing Windows Phone Fans Is the Right Thing To Do”.
You can watch the whole Summit keynote.
What are your thoughts on Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft’s plan for the 7.8 update? Looking forward to the Start Screen? Got any ideas for new apps that make use of the new hardware?