As you may have seen on Ubergizmo earlier, Microsoft has lifted the veil on Windows Phone 8, their upcoming smartphone operating system. On the surface, things did not change much but underneath, Windows Phone 8 has gone through a radical transformation as Microsoft gutted the Windows CE legacy code and rebuilt everything with the Windows 8 kernel code. This is a huge achievement for Microsoft which manages to do this while maintaining the compatibility with Windows Phone 7 apps.
Higher Focus, scale and quality
This transformation of the Windows Phone (WP) foundation is at the heart of two things that guide Microsoft: 1/ a single code base for all operating systems 2/ The three screen strategy. This new step in the Windows Phone journey will enable a few positive things.
First, it will allow Microsoft to regroup and focus their energy and resources into a single point: Windows (core). Secondly, thanks to the established Windows Driver Model , the hardware partners are finally going to be able to develop their own drivers (something that Microsoft has done for Windows Phone until now).
This will allow every hardware company to develop a product (phone or accessory) without requiring direct help from Microsoft’s engineering team, so the Windows Phone hardware eco-system will finally become scalable like the PC eco-system has been for decades.
Now, Microsoft needs sexy devices, and we’ve already covered this in detail before, so let’s wait and see what happens. So far, Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and HTC are key partners for upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices.
Software is obviously even more important than hardware. Fortunately, moving to Windows Phone 8 will prove to be beneficial to everyone involved. The developers that I talked to were genuinely excited by Windows Phone 8, and by Windows 8. Why?
1/ C++ support: we told you that this was coming, and that it would open the “floodgates” for Windows Phone apps. With C/C++ (native code) support, developers can now use an immense amount of legacy proven code that has been tested over the years.
This also brings a large range of middleware and libraries to the Windows Phone eco-system. Finally, this will allow game developers from iOS and Android to port C++ applications to Windows Phone 8. The only missing link is OpenGL, but DirectX will do just fine.
2/Game development is going to rock. A huge amount of video game talent is rooted in Windows and Xbox, so now that native code is an option, you can expect to see an influx of high-quality titles.
3/ API stability: in the past, Microsoft has been good at maintaining API (Application Programming Interface) compatibility from one generation of OS to another. This is critical for developers who typically dislike a fast OS update cycle that invalidates existing code, forcing them to re-do some work on a schedule that is not theirs (Android?). With a bit of luck, developers will be able to focus on their project, and not on the next OS update.
While Windows Phone 7 was a stop-gap measure to battle-test the Metro interface and learn what the mobile market needs/wants, Windows Phone 8 is an architectural step towards building a true hardware and software eco-system that is open to partners, but has a very consistent user experience at the same time. With this great foundation in place, it all comes down to one thing: can Microsoft convince smartphone makers to build leading devices running in Windows Phone 8 and will consumers buy them?
This is the part of the story that has yet to be written. What’s your take?