Microsoft announces Windows Phone 8, aims it head-on at iOS 6

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

Included in Windows Phone 8 will be what Microsoft claims is a feature-complete version of the desktop Internet Explorer 10 (IE 10). That includes SmartScreen, HTML5, and JavaScript performance which Microsoft claims beats Android 4.x on the Samsung Galaxy S III, and the iOS 6 beta on the iPhone 4S.

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.

Native gaming

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.

Wallet

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 announces Wallet for Windows Phone 8

Nokia Maps

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.

That leaves Google with Google Maps, and Apple with the only other supplier of map data, TomTom's TeleAtlas, for iOS 6 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:

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

79 Comments
  • Just because a MicroSD card slot is added, it doesn't mean Apple is behind any sort of curve.....
    It just means Apple isn't adding useless features.
  • how is having a micro sd card useless...just cause apple dont have it dont make it useless...millions of people rely on micro sd card...i dont get any phone without a micro sd card as i keep 1 sd card with all my photos,music,video and evertime i get a new device all i need to do is put im my sd card and am ready to go..the cloud is good for backup etc but with limited data only available streaming music or videos will eat through your data in a day.
  • i would assume jobs was going to eventually get to the point were they have enough servers to not limit the amount of data stored on there servers. but either way sd card slots are not useless, me personally i never use them because i have an iphone, but then again i never have needed one either. but thats me
  • u mean to say.. added memory is useless feature?? god u r stil in the spell of jobs.. wake up...
  • Bravo Sidh and Taz, couldnt have said it better myself ! :)
  • MicroSD on an iPhone would make life so much easier. Save your music and pictures on it so that if you have to restore it you don't have to waste time reloading everything. It's already there.
  • i suppose i have never thought of that mainly because i have never had to restore my iphone. that is a pretty good idea, i like it.
  • Rene never said it would put Apple "behind the curve." And just because you find it useless, doesn't mean millions of other people follow that same train of thought. Some people would love to have microSD access on their iPhones, I'm not one of them, but they're out there. Apple won't ever add microSD capabilities because it's one more thing to make their product less elegant and more complicated (even if it's just ever-so-slightly). As ANY Apple fanboy will tell you, Apple is all about elegance and simplicity... at damn near ALL costs.
  • A microSD slot is just an added extra.. In my opinion all mobile phones will be going in the direction of the iPhone.
    In the near future with cloud based systems and faster handsets and internet services a massive memory or added memory wont be a selling point for any handheld device.
  • Only a true Apple fanboy would call add on memory useless. The mothership would be proud of you.
  • OK..U did find one advantage...but its not relating to any kind of a
    OS superiority over iOS... its like saying Balmer's brain is relating to his head size and not to his body proportions, as he is trying to prove since that red hared nerd retired :)
  • So far - extremely impressed with what I've seen from Microsoft in the past couple days. The tablet looks incredible and the phones are looking stellar.
  • Did you see when the new tablet locked up during its unveiling? Classic windows. I look forward to not ever wanting one.
  • Ya... so new, unique and innovative... shame just Apple did it before...
    this magnetic cover attachment may come after the legal battle is over
  • Douchey? Apple will do the same thing when iOS 6 launches. They'll compare to, most likely, the SIII or Evo "3". MSFT can only compare it to what is available.
    I also think it is a far stretch to say it is aimed at iOS 6. They've been working on this for many months prior to even knowing what iOS 6 has available. I believe they are doing what they see is best for their market [their customers and potential converts] regardless of aiming at iOS 6 or Android "Jellybean".
  • For clarity, Evo "3" means the whole HTC One line.
  • It'll be just as douchey when Apple does it :)
    And yeah, of course it's aimed at iOS 6, as much as iOS 6 is aimed at Android and Jellybean will be aimed at iOS 6.
    No one is in this to lose. Which is great for us :)
  • And of course by that line of reasoning, iOS 6 is also aimed at WP8.
  • i dont recall apple ever comparing their products to others in the sense of better. i do know that they compare sales and they compare how many people have updated their os and how many phones they have sold. but i dont THINK they have compared actual software quality... feel free to prove me wrong