Microsoft is taking aim at phablets—smartphones with 5- and 6-inch screens, generally—with Windows Phone 8 Update 3.
Set to begin rolling out in the coming weeks, and showing up on handsets over several months, the mobile OS update "paves the way for future Windows Phone devices with 5- and 6-inch touch-screens," Windows Phone Vice President Darren Laybourn wrote in an Oct. 14 blog post. This marks the third official Windows Phone 8 update this year, he noted.
Much like Apple made room for an extra row of home-screen icons when it upgraded to a 4-inch display for its flagship iPhone 5 smartphone in 2012, Microsoft is putting the extra screen real estate to use with the newest Windows Phone 8 update. "The larger, 1080p HD displays on these devices will make Windows Phone even more personal—for example, by sporting jumbo-sized Start screens with room for six Live Tiles across instead of four," wrote Laybourn.
"A bigger Start screen means the ability to pin even more of the people, info and apps that matter to you," Laybourn wrote. He added that built-in apps and hubs will "be carefully scaled" to maximize the space provided by 6-inch displays.
With this update, the company is making a play for the booming market in phablets. Although marketed as a smartphone, consumers have flocked to Samsung's popular Galaxy S 4, which sports a 5-inch display (placing it within phablet territory).
Nothing that in Europe, Windows Phone's market share "has grown to nearly 10 percent," Laybourn hinted that his company is banking on upcoming hardware that leverages the update's new capabilities to attract more buyers. "Our hardware partners, meanwhile, have been taking advantage of this innovation by releasing amazing new Windows Phone devices throughout the year," he stated.
Beyond roomier screens, the update includes support for a more powerful mobile chip, namely the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor. "The added horsepower that this chip delivers should make our already-fluid operating system perform even better," Laybourn wrote.
A new driving mode allows users to limit lock-screen updates (calls, texts and alerts), to limit distractions and improve road safety. A suite of features, called Mobile Accessibility, extends the operating system's usability to people of varying levels of physical ability.
"The apps, which include a screen reader, make it easier for blind and visually impaired users to manage calls and contacts, send texts and emails, browse the Web, make Skype and Lync calls, and hear notifications like alarms, calendar events and low-battery warnings," explained Laybourn.
Windows Phone 8 Update 3 includes a streamlined mobile hotspot mode that simplifies pairing with Windows 8.1 devices over Bluetooth. Other enhancements include a rotation lock, "out of the box" WiFi setup, more ringtones and the ability to quickly close apps in the app switcher.
To get developers on board, Microsoft launched a new program called Windows Phone Preview for Developers. Members are given access to OS updates, including Windows Phone 8 Update 3, "so they can verify that their apps work as expected on the new code," Laybourn said.