This morning, Microsoft has launched Windows Phone 8 worldwide. We’re attending the San Francisco, and Paris, France events which happen at the same time. This is a critical launch for Microsoft because Windows Phone 8 uses the unified Windows 8 code – this is a first on a mobile platform. Microsoft has unveiled new features and apps, like a new Skype and Pandora for Windows 8, which will come with one year of free music, without ads.
Talking about Skype, Microsoft did say in the past that it would be very well integrated to the OS and be somewhat transparent when sending/receiving calls. The thing that we didn’t know was that Skype is always-on and is super-efficient because its code does not run in the background to handle notifications. This is really smart and priceless for heavy Skype users.
Microsoft also showed the new Windows Phone lock screen which can display all kinds of live information. Users get to decide which information appears, or can choose a random mix of information coming from the installed apps. Interesting — we’ll have to try that, but out of the box, it seems better than most lock screens out there.
The number of available apps is always a topic of interest, and while Microsoft still lags, the store is growing fast, and the company has more than 100,000 apps now. Obviously, numbers don’t mean anything, so Microsoft said that 46 of the top 50 most used apps on smartphones will be available on Windows Phone 8. Microsoft did not provide the full list, so we’re not sure how “hot” the apps really are. Let’s wait and see.
For iTunes users, Microsoft reminded that the iTunes connector utility is now available and works. In addition to this, Microsoft also has its own music store where you can “Rent” music by paying a monthly fee. This lets you access and download millions of DRMed music tracks. The iTunes Sync will work on Windows and Mac “this fall”.
Microsoft has introduced the Kids Corner, a parental control system that works on a “per app” basis. It seems simple and lets kids access games that parents have approved. The “locked until opened” seems to be an efficient blanket strategy for parental control.
Family Room is a new feature that creates a private place for family and friends to stay connected. It handles TODO list, private calendars etc… this seems like a good alternative to managing two social networks accounts. People who does not have a Windows Phone can have partial access to the Family Room activities via the sharable calendar.
Microsoft showed how SkyDrive integrates all kinds of data “not only photos” they insist. Office documents are also supported stresses Microsoft. SkyDrive syncs with all Microsoft devices and systems in the background, so files will be available on all of them shortly after they’ve been saved to the cloud. SkyDrive starts with 7GB of storage, and more can be purchased. Microsoft pointed out that iCloud doesn’t let users store photos there forever (30-day limit).
The appearance of Jessica Alba on the stage was certainly very appreciated by the audience, but Steve Balmer, the Microsoft CEO, got the biggest applause. He concluded the launch event by telling the audience about the Microsoft line-up and the recent Windows 8 announcement. He talked about the unification of computer, tablet and phones via a common code and a common user interface — without abandoning the legacy computer interface.
By doing all of this, Steve Balmer says that they have managed to address all those markets and usage models, while giving developers an opportunity at targeting all of them with a single set of API and development tools.
But for a phone launch, the ultimate pitch from Microsoft is that Windows Phone 8 has been “designed around you”, Steve Balmer says. Microsoft points out that it has finally reached a level of integration between phones, tablets and computers that surpasses the competition. Personally, I think that SkyDrive finally has a meaning now.
This is a good pitch. In fact this is the best one yet for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. You may have seen our recent review of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet. Now, the next step is to see if the pitch stands up to a real-world usage. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Windows Phone 8 reviews, starting with the Nokia and Samsung handsets.
Availability: Windows 8 handsets will be available at the Microsoft stores. “every phones” will be available at Microsoft Stores, says Steve Balmer. Major carriers will have Windows Phone handsets. AT&T getsthe Nokia 920, 820 and the HTC 8X. T-Mobile is getting the Lumia 810 and the HTC 8X and Verizon gets the HTC 8X and the Lumia 822.