Monday, October 29, 2012

Meet Windows Phone 8

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It is an exciting week, and it is part of an exciting holiday’s season for the technology industry, and in particular for Windows users. Windows Phone 8 has been officially announced by Microsoft during a press conference held a few hours ago in San Francisco.

While I organize my BUILD schedule at the hotel in Seattle, I wanted to share the announcements for the new generation of Windows Phone 8 applications and devices.

Current Stats

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Microsoft claims that the Windows Phone store now has around 120,000 applications and keeps growing by the day. It is going to support 50 different languages and 191 countries. Clearly localization and emerging markets are a big part of the Windows Phone market. Devices will hit stores in Europe this week, and the US in November.

Windows Phone 8 Concepts

WP8 is centered about the people and the users with a  clear focus on personalization. Connectivity is one of the main topics, making a WP8 device the best companion for Windows. As they put it (kind of based in my own interpretation), Jobs made a phone for himself, which people actually liked, although every iPhone looks exactly the same. Google then made the Android platform to power devices made for…well, Google ! Microsoft learned the lessons, and is aligning all their services and hardware so the phone is actually made for you ! (I know, sounds like advertisement, but I believe that’s what there are trying to convey, whether you agree or not) !

Windows Phone 8 Features

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Shared Windows 8 Kernel: although Windows Phone 8 is NOT a Windows 8 device per se, it shares a lot of core code, technologies and drives, making the integration of the phone and the PC much more easy and seamless for the user. Among the core Windows 8 features supported by the phone are multi-core processors, multiple screen resolutions (480x800, 1280x768 and 1280x720) and microSD storage. Also, don’t forget the anticipated NFC support, which will make sharing content between devices and apps much more sleeker and seamless for users.

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New Live Tiles: you have now the ability to modify the size your home screen tiles  into three different sizes. Notifications and animations will be automatically updated for their final size.

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New Live Apps and Wallet: apps integration with core phone services like wallet, hubs and the lock screen have been enhanced. Apps can now feed the lock screen with a variety of information, from updates and notifications, to background pictures coming from social networks.

Social Integration: you can now share pictures to Twitter and Facebook in an easier way. The Facebook application has been revamped to offer photo streams and other optimized features.

Skype: the new version will be available for Windows Phone 8, allowing users to easily use Skype for calling and messaging contacts and use video calls. The new app shares much of the functionality and look & feel with the Windows 8 version.

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Unity3D Support: Windows Phone 8 is now fully supported by Unity 3D, one of the best gaming 3D engines out there, and used heavily for iOS, Android, Desktop and Web game development. Native Code and Unity3D support will rapidly increase the amount and quality of games in the platform.

Apps: Windows Phone 8 now supports and offers popular iOS and Android applications and games like Pandora, Angry Birds Star Wars, Urban Spoon and Temple Run.

DataSense: a new tightly integrated feature that allows users to make the most out of their data allowance, by closely monitoring data usage, WiFi availability, close-limit alerts, live tile notification and application data-usage tracking. Microsoft expects users to achieve even 45% more web browsing time by using DataSense.

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Kid’s Corner: a new feature targeting parents, which allows the owner to set a “safe” mode with restricted apps and content. Parents will be able to set this “alternative” mode containing only kids content (selected apps and games) which is entered by doing an horizontal swipe from the lock screen (instead of the normal vertical swipe, which should be protected by the user’s pin). The alternative mode allows customization of tiles and colors, just as the normal mode. The feature can be turned on/off if not useful for the user.

Interoperability: Microsoft is making sure that is easy for users to switch to Windows Phone. They are making available a set of applications to import content from other platforms. Microsoft claims that the whole iTunes collection, including user’s playlists can be imported to the Windows Phone 8 platform is less than 5 minutes.

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People Hub: enhancements have been made to include a new feature called “Rooms” which allows to set a group or list of people into a private channel. The people in the room is able to share messages, updates, photos and calendar appointments only with the room members in a private way. The feature is supposed to partially work with users of other platforms, although iPhone was the only one explicitly shown.

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SkyDrive: improvements over the cloud connectivity system to make it easier and more seamless to share content with all the user’s devices through the cloud. The full suite of Office applications will be completely in sync over the air, without any need to plug the devices to the PC. Photos, music and documents can be easily shared and maintained across all Windows devices. OneNote offers full voice support making it easier than even to take notes and sync them over the cloud.

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Camera: clearly the hero devices for Windows Phone 8 have gone through major improvements on the camera hardware. However, Microsoft has made great progress on the software. The Camera core application now exposes lenses, which developers and companies can create to apply effects and all sort of applications that integrate with the core camera app. This is a clever model since it allows devs to deliver cool camera apps without having to re-create the whole camera controller.

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Xbox Music: for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, the music services are now aligned and called Xbox music. All previous systems and external platform content can be imported into the new Xbox music. The cloud integration and interconnectivity has been enhanced so music can be streamed between devices over the air.

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Internet Explorer 10: Windows Phone 8 devices come with IE10, so far doing quite well on supporting HTML5 and the cutting-edge web standards, providing a better and faster web browsing experience.

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Maps: the maps functionality has been improved with Nokia’s map technologies to provide better information and offline usage.

Backup: a new feature that allows user to create phone content backups on the cloud, including photos, text messages, documents and settings.

Voice Support: improved across the whole WP8 platform and making it it easier for third party applications to support it.

Screenshots Enabled: Finally Microsoft enabled screenshot capture from the phone. You can just press Start and Power buttons and a screenshot will be taken and saved to the Screenshots album in Photos.

Hardware: There will be a whole new set of Windows Phone 8 devices and a lot of different variations. The hero devices are the Nokia Lumia 920, Samsung’s ATIV S and HTC’s Windows Phone 8X. Devices will begin availability this week in Europe and US will be following in November.

SDK: Microsoft said that the Windows Phone SDK will be publicly available tomorrow, so get it as soon as it comes out and start building your Windows Phone 8 apps.

Check the Windows Phone site for a full list of the Windows Phone 8 features here.
If you are new to Windows Phone, this is a good start.

That’s all for now, need to get to Microsoft campus to start the BUILD conference journey!

Images Credit: Screenshots have been downloaded from Microsoft’s sites.

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