Windows Phone Summit: the highlights
This blog post summarizes what Microsoft announced at the Windows Phone Summit.
Only a few end-user features were announced, the summit was mostly about platform changes. And those are big: Where Windows Phone 7 (WP7) was based on a Windows CE core, Windows Phone 8 (WP8) will be based on a “Windows Core” – basically the foundation of Windows 8 (Win8). On one hand that means that WP7 phones won’t be upgradable (they’ll get a consolation prize, a version 7.8 with a changed start screen). On the other hand, it will be easier to port apps between WP8 and Win8. And time to market for Windows Phone drivers should improve.
Windows Phone 8 features:
- Multi-core chips, which are not supported by WP7. The Win8 kernel has been tested with 64 cores.
- More screen resolutions:
Existing apps will scale up and down to new hardware.
- WVGA (800x480), 15:9
- 720p (1280x720), 16:9
- WXGA (1280x768), 15:9
- Native game development based on DirectX. Compatible with Win8, same graphics drivers.
- Support for NFC: to establish peer-to-peer connections (e.g. to exchange files with other WP8 or Win8 devices). One will also be able to retrieve data from stationary access points. For example, waving your phone in front of an ad in a bar will allow you to call a cab.
- Microsoft Wallet: NFC-enabled, intended to become a complete replacement for a physical wallet. Example content: credit cards, coupons, library memberships, frequent flyer cards, etc. There will be a third-party API to integrate apps.
- Nokia’s mapping technology will be built into WP8, including an offline mode and turn-by-turn directions.
- More enterprise features (thanks to the Windows Core): encryption, device management, etc.
- New start screen: more space for tiles, more customizable (e.g.: can resize tiles).
- Multi-tasking: Voice over IP and video chat is handled in the same manner as normal phone calls. And are integrated with built-in phone features.
- Support for speech input: control apps (e.g. start/stop a podcast application), search by voice.
- Later this summer: developers can download the SDK.
- WP8 devices will be available by Christmas.
- Four OEMs: Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, and HTC. All based on Qualcomm processors.
- All updates for WP8 will be delivered OTA (difficult in the past). All devices will get a minimum of 18 months of support from Microsoft.
Developing for WP8:
- APIs seem to be largely compatible: It took two days to port the third party app “Spell It”, including support for NFC.
- Native code (C, C++) makes it easier to use open source libs and to port from iOS, Android and Windows 8. Example: SQLite has been ported to WP8.
- There are three ways of programming WP8:
Quoting Microsoft: “Windows 8 developers are also Windows Phone 8 developers”.
- XAML with C#/VB code
- Native C++/C code
- HTML5 code
- With regard to screen resolutions, Microsoft is playing it smart. They offer more choice (in contrast to Apple), while limiting device fragmentation (in contrast to Google). Compare: The iPhone currently has a screen resolution of 960×640 pixels at 326 ppi. The next iPhone is rumored to have more pixels vertically, but not horizontally.
- Tiles remain a great feature and are becoming even more customizable. They strike a perfect balance between the ease of use of the iPhone and the configurability of Android. They are an app state between icon and full screen.
- Microsoft’s Wallet is similar to Apple’s Passbook . One can only guess that the iPhone 5 will support NFC and give Passbook more payment features. Google has already introduced its Wallet  a while ago.
- Microsoft is gambling with consumer loyalty. After declaring phones obsolete that are often only a few months old, Microsoft goes on to promise a minimum of 18 months of support for WP8 devices. That is still too short. Many phone users are on two year contracts. When the contract starts, they buy a new phone. Then while they are in that contract, they will witness their phones not getting the latest upgrades, any more. When the contract is up and they are ready to buy a new phone, they are bound not to feel much loyalty towards Microsoft. Apple is smarter and usually supports devices for 24 months (with some, increasingly marketing-driven, restrictions).
- There are now two different versions of Metro: One for phones (WP8), one for tablets and PCs (Win8). Both are based on the same Windows Core. Sharing the core is smart and mirrors what Apple does: OS X runs on Mac, iPhones, iPads and Apple TV.
More information on the web
- Quoting “Windows NT coming to phones with Windows Phone 8” by Peter Bright for Ars Technica:
With the new kernel, Microsoft is also enabling the creation of native code applications written in C++ for the first time on Windows Phone. In version 7.5, all applications are developed in C# or Visual Basic .NET and compiled to platform-independent bytecode. While this has proven easy to use and attractive to many developers, it makes it hard for game developers to eke out all the performance the hardware can offer. It also precludes the use of useful libraries that developers on iOS, Android, and Windows can take advantage of.
- Microsoft’s new tablets: overview and thoughts
- Apple’s WWDC announcements: a summary
- Google Wallet: pay with your Android phone (a summary)