As part of their Windows Phone Summit today, Microsoft has unveiled Windows Phone 8, the next generation of their next generation mobile phone operating system. Already surprisingly simple and elegant, Microsoft now seems ready to amp up the power and features of Windows Phone 7. And a lot of those features seem aimed squarely at Apple's upcoming iOS 6. Our Mobile Nations sibling site, WPCentral is live at the event, and here's what they've seen.
Latest and greatest hardware support
This one was a no brainer -- Windows Phone will now support multi-core and much higher resolution displays, including 800x480, 1280x768, and 1280x720 (15:9 for the two, 16:9 last). The Nokia Lumia 900 has a screen density nowhere near what it should have been for its size. This fixes all that and catches up to the leading edge Android phones on the market.
They've also added MicroSD support. (Which Apple will be adding never.)
Internet Explorer 10
It is slightly douchey to benchmark prototype Windows Phone 8 hardware against 9 month old iOS hardware running beta software. (And does that break Apple's NDA?). But it is what it is, and almost everyone does it.
Mobile Nations will run our own tests on an iPhone 5 when it ships, as well as whatever Android and Windows Phone devices are on the market at the time.
But credit where it's due. Microsoft is one of the very few not using WebKit -- the rendering engine behind Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome -- in mobile and, in stark contrast to the Pocket IE 6 days, they seem intent on keeping it absolutely competitive.
Microsoft is giving gaming developers C++ and DirectX to work their wonders with on Windows Phone 8, which is a huge step up. Microsoft is aiming to have gaming go from Windows to Windows Phone, which is smart. Curiously, there didn't seem to be any mention of Xbox, though Xbox Live is already in Windows Phone.
Apple has provided direct Objective-C, OpenGL, and an increasing set of APIs for developers since the iOS SDK launched in 2008, and with iOS 6 will be doing Game Center and AirVideo from Mac as well, making for a fairly awesome intra-platform gaming experience.
It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft ties their ecosystem together.
At first glance, Windows Phone Wallet looks to be a hybrid of iOS 6 Passbook's repository and Google Wallet payment system. So, not only can you keep all your cards, coupons, tickets, etc. in one place, but you can pay right from the phone as well.
There'll be a dedicated Wallet Hub for everyone, but proper payments look like they'll need a TPM secured SIM card.
Apple hasn't announced any NFC (Near Field Communications) plans yet, but it wouldn't be surprising if Passbook was already set up with this in mind, and the PassKit framework wasn't abstracted and modular enough to, for example, swap out QR Codes for full on NFC in future hardware...
Microsoft used to license NavTeq data for Bing Maps. Nokia owns NavTeq. Microsoft partners with Nokia. So Windows Phone 8 will now simply use Nokia Maps.
New Start Screen
Windows Phone 8 updates the tile-based Start Screen, adding more customizable sizes and colors, and removing the old "gutter" so they go full screen.
I'm not a huge fan of Windows Phone tiles. They aren't as easily distinguishable as icons or as informationally dense as widgets. Microsoft means them as a best-of-both-worlds but to my eyes they're the one aesthetically displeasing part of the otherwise gorgeous Metro UI. And this all just makes a bad thing worse.
Still, if you are a fan of Titles, there's more of them to love.
Windows Phone 7.8
Owners of almost brand new Windows Phones, like the Titan 2 or Nokia Lumia 900 won't be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Instead they'll get a Windows Phone 7.8 booby prize which brings the new look, but not the new APIs needed to keep those phones relevant.
And that's, frankly, pathetic. Microsoft should have planned better. Can you imagine the much older iPhone 4S not getting iOS 6 but getting an iOS 5.5 build that had the new colored status bar but didn't maintain API compatibility?
Microsoft should have made sure any device sold in the last year had hardware specs that would maintain compatibility. I feel sorry for my Windows Phone friends on this one.
More on Windows Phone 8
That looks to be about it for the announcements. Dan Rubino, Rafael Rivera, and the entire WPCentral team are now watching the demos and digging into the details, and they'll have more -- much more! -- to come. So if you're at all interested in Windows Phone 8, head on over and check out all the info: