I think we can all agree to the fact that Microsoft has rushed its new Windows Phone 7 mobile platform to the market in the last quarter of 2010. The initial iteration was lacking some basic features — not only present on competing platforms but imperative to the user experience — some of which were later addressed by the NoDo and then the Mango update.
There were several voices (not only) on the Internet that criticized Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 platform because of several reasons including, but not limited to, the low number of apps in the Marketplace, the lack of copy and paste operations, missing video calling options, but mainly because we never got the chance to see official numbers representing sales of Windows Phones. The marketplace is growing fast (and now, at the time of this editorial, it already has close to 70,000 titles), the NoDo update brought copy and paste functionality, Mango and some wave-two devices added video calling and Nokia’s recent financial report talks about over one million devices sold from the end of October until the end of January (but still no global numbers).
Windows Phone 7 is still well below a two-digit OS market share, increasing ever so slowly but steadily (and even decreasing recently); however, Apple’s iOS at 43% and Google’s Android at 47% seem very far away. So, will a platform refresh like Windows 8 put Microsoft back in the game (for real this time)?
After seeing details of the upcoming OS refresh codenamed Apollo we can all agree that it will be as big of an update as Windows Phone 7 was when it replaced Windows Phone 6.5. Not only will it be a new mobile platform but it will very well blend in with Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system for PCs, slates and convertibles.
The lack of support for removable storage was probably one of the most criticized Microsoft moves with regards to Windows Phone 7. Users wanted to be able to manually sync all sorts of documents while Microsoft considered it was best to sync music, videos and pictures via the Zune software. Additionally, a huge part of the user base (or future possible users that refrained from going Windows Phone 7) was complaining about the limited internal storage space on devices. Eight gigabytes were not enough and 16GB were still too little to accommodate huge multimedia libraries for some users.
Windows Phone 8 will bring back removable storage. What does this mean? You will most probably be able to expand your storage with a microSD card to a yet undisclosed total storage supported by the platform. Not only that but you will probably be able to use your phone as mass storage and sync all sorts of documents.
While Windows Phone 7 users were quite happy with the way the OS performed on single-core CPUs clocking anywhere between 1GHz and 1.5GHz because of the way the platform was built to be fluid their friends using Apple’s iPhone and Android were rocking dual-cores (and soon quad-cores). Now that Microsoft is preparing dual-core support for Windows Phone 8, people using other platforms are already criticizing Windows Phone users; we need to get one thing straight: Windows Phone 8 will be a completely new OS and experience. It’s not Windows Phone 7 that needs dual-core; it’s Windows Phone 8 that will support dual-core. And, looking at the current Windows platform (and how well it is optimized) chances are Windows Phone 8 will be buttery-smooth with its new chip support for which it will be specially built.
Four screen resolutions are rumored. We currently have WVGA but Windows Phone 7 Tango was rumored to lower the bar to HVGA (a resolution that was mentioned in the very early stages of Windows Phone 7). What could be the other two screen resolutions? Well, qHD and 720p seem valid candidates. Let’s take a look at those: HVGA (320×480) with aspect ratio of 1.5; WVGA (480×800) with aspect ratio of 1.6; qHD (540×960) with aspect ratio of 1.7; 720p/HD (720×1280) with aspect ratio of 1.7.
We can already see the diversity in hardware but on the other hand we can already hear the critics call out fragmentation. While we could easily brush that off with Eric Schmidt’s argument about “device differentiation” we’ll just say that anyone who used Windows Phone and its Metro user interface knows how scalable it could be.
We’ve seen that on the hardware side, Microsoft seems to listen to the community feedback: adding the option for external memory, higher screen resolutions (and probably lower ones for budget phones) and just as much horsepower as it is needed to deliver a fluid user experience (and maximize battery life). Hardware-wise, Windows Phone 8 will be right there and fans will definitely continue to defend it against the competition, which by then will probably need and support quad-core processors.
On the software side Microsoft seems to plan on seriously pushing the concept of “Windows reimagined”. In a somewhat similar way to Google and its Ice Cream Sandwich OS (which is a unifying one for smartphones and tablets) Windows Phone 8 will do much more. It will be part of the Windows 8 family for PCs, slates and convertibles. It will not only lend its looks to Windows 8 but it will use many components from the PC OS; developers will be able to “reuse — by far — most of their code” and port applications from the desktop to the phone, as Joe Belfiore said. The Marketplace will see an impressive growth giving users plenty of choices. And with native code, apps will be easily portable among platforms like iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Skype, now part of Microsoft, will have deep integration with the OS; you’ll have the same experience when answering a Skype call like the one you currently have when picking up a normal phone call. In addition, native BitLocker encryption as well as business apps (with the ability for corporations to deploy and manage) will definitely push Windows Phone 8 in the business and corporate segment.
It looks like great things are coming to Windows Phone 8 software-wise too. If Microsoft can couple all of these with an improved cloud and online experience they might have a winner. The company appears to have targeted the average user with its Windows Phone 7 platform; this saw many of its old Windows Mobile users (mainly the power users, hackers, tweakers, etc.) go Android. Sharing features like the kernel, networking stacks, security, and multimedia support with Windows 8, Microsoft can crack the ice once again for its new platform; whether it will become what Windows Mobile and Windows phone was back in the day is anyone’s guess.
Let’s not forget about Android Ice Cream Sandwich (and the probably upcoming letter “J”-named refresh); we should not forget about Apple’s iOS and the upcoming iterations. The competition never sleeps. However, those who are tired of seeing a grid of icons, those who want better battery life, seamless PC-tablet-phone integration, a fluid experience, shared apps, and so on will probably consider Windows Phone 8. Microsoft won’t turn die-hard iOS and Android fans but they can gain back some of the users lost in favor of the competition once Windows Phone 7 hit the market (and that’s a solid starting point).