Today Microsoft presented Windows Phone 8, “the next chapter in the Windows journey”. First Microsoft gave us some retail data, saying that 7 of the top 9 highest rated phones are Windows Phones. Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore were presenting the new Windows Phone 8 platform preview. Joe Belfiore told us that Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 are going to share the same core code, which include the kernel, multimedia, graphics etc… This changes what the platform is about. Windows CE is now gone for good. Microsoft says that this means that consumers will benefit by having much more hardware choices. With a shared common core, Windows 8 developers will be able to port to/from Windows Phone 8 easily.
The hardware partners also benefit from this new paradigm. Now, hardware vendors can build their own drivers once, and expose their hardware to PC and phones with the same code. This means that a huge market of accessories will flood the Windows Phone platform. And Windows Phone Summit is all about the platform.
1/ Windows Phone 8 will support multi-core chips. Because the core code now comes from Windows, multi-core has been built-in from a long time and we all know that Windows machines can run with 64 cores or more.
Screen resolution is going higher too, up to 720p, which is rather “normal” these days, although if it’s fair to say that it is good enough for up to 5” displays. Microsoft has also said that existing apps will continue to work, and no modifications are required from the developers. Micro SD support has been added as well, so that users can upgrade their storage for cheap. Storage is the main source of gross margin for companies like Apple which can buy the Flash memory at a very low-cost and sell it to consumers as a premium.
2/ Internet Explorer 10 will power the web experience on Windows Phone 8. We’ve seen the preview on PC, and it is faster, more compatible and better in general – there’s no question about that. That’s a lot less hassle for web developers as well. Long gone are the days where IE 6 was a nightmare for web developers. Microsoft has shown benchmark numbers (Sunspider) which shows that Windows Phone 8 and IE can outperform today’s fastest smartphones.
3/ Native code is now possible (C/C++), especially for games, which is critical to game developers. Now they can not only compile fast code, but they can also port existing games to this platform. Expect an Android and iOS migration. A lot of the gaming talent is on PC, so expect to see some great things there. This is running on DirectX. OpenGL is the only obvious missing link here. That’s too bad, but Microsoft won this before, and think that it can win again.
4/ Windows core supports NFC communications in general, but Microsoft has added features to help Windows Phone and computers to communicate.
5/ Microsoft believes that it will have the best “Wallet Experience”, which is about credit cards, coupons, membership cards, deals, tap to pay. Windows Phone 8 will support all of the above. Tap to pay supports secure NFC payment via a secure SIM card from the wireless carrier. This is different from Google which added the security in the device, and not the SIM card. Guess which one the wireless carriers prefer? Expect support from Wireless carriers. Microsoft has been working with Orange in France to test its new wallet system. Orange was praising it in a video.
6/ Windows 8 will integrate Nokia’s mapping data. This includes offline map support, developer access and turn-by-turn directions. This is a continuation of what Microsoft has already done with Bing.
7/ Microsoft thinks that Windows Phone 8 is “ready for business”. Windows Phone 8 will encrypt the data and have a secure boot. IT departments will also be able to deploy apps remotely without accessing the phones. Also, device management will be much easier as Microsoft will integrate this into the existing management tools. Finally, Microsoft Office will be present on the phones.
Joe Belfiore gave us a demo of Windows Phone 8. The smaller tiles are really welcome as they did occupy a lot of space before. We also saw some unmodified Windows 8 apps run on Windows Phone 8. Nice. They were probably C# apps. Not only that, there is also a new Start screen experience in Windows Phone 8, so it is worth looking forward to that.
We were also shown how Windows web security can now be extended to Windows Phone 8 (in IE). Talking about IE, it now has first-class HTML5 support and support touch events which makes it mobile-friendly.
The Marble Maze game was shown running on DirectX on both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The code has been changed a little, but it was minimal says Microsoft . Most of the modifications were related to screen-size.
Conclusion: despite not getting much love from industry observers, Microsoft has made a leap here. Moving the codebase from Windows CE to Windows 8 is a critical step that will allow Microsoft to introduce more features, faster as it can leverage the codebase and engineering resources of the Windows group.
Another thing that should not be missed is that hardware partners can now write their own drivers. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft was in charge of writing all the low-level code, and this made it difficult to have more Windows Phone choices. This is going to change the Windows Phone hardware eco-system drastically. End-users will also have access to a lot of “PC” hardware and accessories via Windows Phone 8.
Although Windows Phone has not changed visually, it is a completely different beat underneath which run with a much more powerful code base. Developers can now use native code, which means that porting apps from Windows or other platform is going to be much easier, so you can now expect to see great apps, and particularly great games on Windows Phone 8. Great execution.