Microsoft has some major changes in store for Windows Phone 8, we’ve learned, which is the version of the platform currently being referred to by codename “Apollo” (the one scheduled for deployment after the upcoming Tango update). Thanks to a video hosted by senior vice president and Windows Phone manager Joe Belfiore, and intended for partners at Nokia, a number of WP8 features and themes have now been revealed.
According to Belfiore, the overarching theme with regards to the Windows Phone 8 hardware ecosystem will be scale and choice. Specifically, Apollo will add support for multicore processors, new screen resolutions (a total of four, although actual pixel counts weren’t specified), and removable microSD card storage. It’s clear that Microsoft is addressing one of the platform’s pain points, which is a perceived inability to compete in spec sheet comparisons with the iPhone and Android-based devices.
NFC radios will also be supported, with Belfiore placing specific emphasis on 8’s push into contactless payments. The “Wallet experience,” as he calls it, will have the capability to be carrier-branded and controlled, either by a secure element on the SIM card or utilizing hardware in the phone itself. In addition, tap-to-share capabilities will reportedly work across multiple platforms, allowing desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones to all share content.
Windows 8 integration
Windows Phone 8 won’t just share a UI with the next-generation desktop and tablet OS, apparently: it will use many of the same components as Windows 8, allowing developers to “reuse — by far — most of their code” when porting an app from desktop to phone, according to Belfiore. He specifically mentions the kernel, networking stacks, security, and multimedia support as areas of heavy overlap.
Moreover, Windows Phone 8 will reportedly scrap integration with the desktop Zune client in favor of a syncing relationship with a dedicated companion application. In other words, Microsoft is bringing back a (presumably) richer version of ActiveSync after letting that program die out for the most part.
The Xbox Companion app, currently found on Windows Phones, will see a partner client on Windows 8. Skydrive support promises seamless sharing of data between devices; Belfiore gives the example of instantly having one’s music collection available on a newly-purchased Windows Phone, without the need for a PC sync.
It sounds like the tagline for this so-called Windows 2012 relaunch, or “Windows reimagined,” will be “The New Familiar.”
Microsoft expects 100,000 apps to be in the Marketplace (tipped for imminent worldwide availability) at the launch of Windows Phone 8 — rumored by WMPoweruser as happening sometime in the fourth quarter. The biggest news on the app front is probably the addition of native code support, which will enable more powerful applications as well as ease the porting of code from programs initially developed for iOS or Android.
Also mentioned is support for app-to-app communication, as well as a revamped Skype client that hooks directly into the OS, letting Skype calls behave almost identically to regular, non-VoIP telephony. The camera will now be based around so-called lens apps: Microsoft provides a basic camera interface that can either be skinned by OEMs or overlaid with viewfinders from third-parties. Belfiore gives the example of a lens app that combines burst mode with smile detection to capture a perfect portrait shot.
One of the main highlights of the overview was a feature called DataSmart, which aims to reduce, and simplify the tracking of, data usage. Besides providing a breakdown of data consumption, as other platforms already do, Windows Phone 8 will actively attempt to give Wi-Fi connections precedence, going so far as to automatically connect to carrier-owned WLANs when in range. To that end, the Local Scout feature of Bing Maps will enable the real-time location of nearby hotspots. Data usage will also be made glanceable thanks to a live tile.
Perhaps most interesting is Windows Phone 8’s planned use of a proxy server to feed pages to Internet Explorer 10. Like Opera Mini and the Skyfire of old, this service uses server-side compression to reduce the amount of data required to view websites — in this case, by a claimed 30%.
In an attempt to recapture the enterprise, Windows Phone 8 is said to add native BitLocker encryption — the same 128-bit, full-disk encryption found on Microsoft’s most recent desktop platforms. So-called “line-of-business” applications are also gaining support, allowing businesses to deploy proprietary, tailored software behind their company firewalls.
Overall, we’re looking at a lot of changes and additions here, all of which seem designed to either bring Windows Phone in line with other platforms, feature-wise, or make it more closely identical to the desktop version of Windows. It’s probably safe to say that the jump from Mango/Tango to Apollo will be nearly as significant as the transition from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone, and this preview certainly gives us a lot to look forward to.
Update: Microsoft insider Paul Thurrott has published a post confirming many of the details that we learned, adding that despite the change to a desktop kernel, current Windows Phone apps will indeed be backwards compatible.