Microsoft is planning to release a developer preview of Windows Phone 9 soon after the new year.
According to a NokiaPowerUser report, sources expect Microsoft to release an early developer version of the Windows Phone 8.1 successor in January 2015. The report also indicates that the mobile operating system will run on less than cutting-edge smartphone hardware.
The preview software will run on "all existing Windows Phone 8 devices," according to NokiaPowerUser's sources. This includes Nokia's Lumia 520, an affordable Windows Phone 8 handset first introduced in early 2013. As expected, the report cautions that not all devices may support all of the software's new features.
Details are scarce, but insiders have let slip that Microsoft is readying at least one major phablet-friendly feature.
Further narrowing the gap between its mobile and desktop OSes, the software giant is enabling split-screen multitasking, according to the report. Since the feature is of limited utility on small screens, multitasking capabilities are presumed to require devices with displays that measure 4.9 inches and higher.
Multitasking has emerged as a desirable smartphone feature, particularly among business users, in recent years as screen sizes have grown larger and mobile chip makers deliver enough processing power to run multiple apps simultaneously. Curved screen aside, Samsung also highlighted the multitasking capabilities of its new Android-based Galaxy Note Edge and its 5.6-inch touch screen during its Sept. 3 reveal.
Recent leaks suggest that Microsoft may be dropping the Windows Phone branding altogether, perhaps in time for the release of the developer preview.
Internal documents recently obtained by Geek on Gadgets indicate that the Windows Phone brand is nearing its end, along with the phase-out of the Nokia logo on the Lumia line of smartphones. Microsoft completed the $7 billion acquisition of Nokia on April 25.
Instead, future versions of Microsoft's mobile OS will simply go with the Windows (sans "Phone") name. The company is also rumored to be mulling a similar tactic for its flagship desktop and tablet Windows OS.
Microsoft's new branding strategy makes sense in light of the company's moves to unify its development ecosystem. On April 2, during the company's Build conference in San Francisco, Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, discussed the universal Windows application development tools in Visual Studio 2013 Update 2.
"We have what we call a Windows Device Platform update that we're going to be delivering at Build that contains a platform for phones in Windows Phone 8.1 and an update to Windows 8.1. And it also contains the latest tools that let you target those platforms," Somasegar told eWEEK's Darryl K. Taft.
"Whether you are running Windows on a PC or a laptop, or whether you are running Windows on a slate, or whether you are running Windows on a phone, you can now use a concept we call Universal Project in Visual Studio to build one application where you literally share 90 percent of the APIs and a lot of your code and build different heads for the different form factors," added Somasegar.