Microsoft this morning revealed key new features for the upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system, including the ability to resize and tweak their Live Tiles, one of the flagship features of the Windows Phone operating system. Among other goodies for developers, Windows Phone 8 will include an e-wallet capability and a partially shared code base that makes it easier to quickly port apps between the PC and the phone. Perhaps most importantly, Microsoft also announced new partners who would be building Windows Phone 8 smartphones.
Microsoft executives took the stage in San Francisco to tell a small audience of developers about the Windows Phone 8 Platform Preview, including features that “developers need to know now,” said Terry Myerson, a corporate vice president for Microsoft. Microsoft executives didn’t disclose when Windows Phone 8 would be available to consumers, but promised that the SDK will be available to developers later this summer.
To date, Microsoft’s Windows Phone has been well received by critics, but hasn’t yet managed to make a substantial dent in U.S. smartphone sales, falling to just 4.4% of all U.S. smartphone sales in March, according to comScore. Google’s Android OS, meanwhile, has hovered around 50% of all U.S. smartphone sales, with Apple’s iOS at about 30%. Microsoft staged today’s event to lure additional developers, hoping to boost the ecosystem of hardware and software development that has come to be the essential foundation of smartphones. More than 94,000 Windows Phone apps have been developed, a Microsoft graphic indicated.
Microsoft executives also said that its OEM base for Windows Phone 8 would be expanded to include Nokia, Samsung, Huawei and HTC, all based on next-generation silicon from Qualcomm, across a wide range of prices and hardware capabilities. Windows Phone 8 will be released in 50 languages and 180 countries, Myerson said, calling it the “best lineup” in the company’s history.
Myerson and Joe Belfiore, the Microsoft vice president who is responsible for Windows Phone, unveiled eight platform features for Windows Phone 8 that the company will use to motivate developers. “This is a huge release. This is a huge year” for Microsoft, Belfiore said.
The flagship capability is what Microsoft calls “the common core,” a shared set of code between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 on the desktop that will allow developers to write an app once for Windows 8 and make minimal changes to port it to Windows Phone 8. Apps will share drivers and hardware, including multicore processors.
“Really, it changes what the platform is about,” Belfiore said of the common core. “It’s a platform for software developers and hardware markets and Windows Phone 8. This is a well-tested piece of software, and now that familiarity is on Windows Phone.”
“The net of this, in our opinion: We will see more apps, bigger apps coming faster, and we will see bigger, more beautiful apps running on Windows Phone running faster than ever before,” Belfiore claimed.
At the event, Nokia announced new experiences for its Lumia devices, including PlayTo, a streaming app to DLNA devices. Nokia Counters, meanwhile tracks data usage, and new camera apps will create panoramas and “smart group” shots that can mash up pictures, a Nokia executive said. Nokia also upgraded its Maps apps with the ability to pin a location to the Start page, and a “my commute” feature to calculate the best commute route.
But Common Core also means that Microsoft will jump to an upgraded code base. Early Windows Phones were based on Windows CE, and the new software will break with that. That means that early Windows Phone adopters will have to buy new, incompatible phones. However, the new Windows 8 phones will be supported for 18 months, Myerson pledged – and Windows Phone 7.5 customers will be upgraded to the new Windows Phone 8 Start Live Tiles experience, Myerson said.
‘We care very deeply for Windows Phone 7.5 customers,“