If youve used a smartphone running Windows Phone 7.5, then the latest version of the Microsoft mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, wont be a huge surprise. The tiled interface will cover the entire screen, instead of about two-thirds of it.
There will be more live tiles so that you can see whats going on with some apps without having to actually run anything. The difference will grow even smaller since current Windows Phone 7.5 devices will apparently get the new start screen as well.
But phones with WP7.5 wont be getting Windows Phone 8. This is because beneath the surface WP8 is really a totally new operating system, not just an upgraded version of WP7.5. The good news is that apparently Microsoft will keep much of what was good about the earlier version. The other good news is that several phone vendors have signed on to build the new version of WP8, and Verizon Wireless has indicated that it will carry the new phones.
Nokia will apparently bring its current Lumia line to WP8, which is a good thing for Nokia since its in the process of deep-sixing its other smartphones to focus on the Lumia, and as a result, WP8 is necessary for its survival. Its also good news for users because the initial feature set seems to make WP8 easier to use and faster with the apps running on it more seamlessly integrated.
In addition, Microsoft is showing a Siri-like voice interface that the company says will allow any application to be voice-enabled. Demonstrations at the June 20 launch event show that, once enabled, the voice interface doesnt require a button press to take commands. The demonstration also seemed to show that you can use the voice feature to launch apps as well as to look stuff up. But will it have Siris attitude? Somehow I doubt it.
Probably more important for both users and developers is that most existing Windows Phone 7.5 apps will apparently run on Windows Phone 8. This means that WP8 customers will find an app store with more than 100,000 products available for download. One of the launch-day announcements was that this important milestone had been reached. Thats nowhere near as many apps as you can find on Apples app store, nor nearly as many as youll find on Google Play, but its still a lot. Users wont go hurting for apps to download.
Another important aspect of WP8 is that it apparently shares a lot of its core code with the desktop version of Windows 8 and presumably with the code for Windows 8 RT.
Microsoft Must Encourage Phone Makers to Focus on Quality
If this turns out to be the case, then developers can create apps that run on Windows Phone 8 and on both versions of Windows 8 that will run on the Microsoft Surface with relatively few changes. This doesnt mean that you can simply load a WP8 phone app on a Windows 8 computer and have it work, however.
There is, however, a great deal of commonality between all the Windows 8 versions, so when apps are created for one, creating a new app for the others shouldnt be particularly difficult, at least in comparison to say, creating apps for Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7. This means that WP8 will feature things like Internet Explorer, which is probably a great deal more secure than the Webkit browsers used by many other phones.
So the next question is, will it sell? That, after all, is the bottom line. I think it will. But a great deal depends on the hardware platform that supports Windows Phone 8. Devices that are constructed with the level of quality that I found in the Nokia Lumia 900 probably will.
Phones that give the feel of lower perceived quality probably wont. Youll note that the Nokia Lumia phones, in this case the Lumia 710 being sold by T-Mobile and the Lumia 900 being sold by AT&T, sell very well indeed. In fact, the Lumia 900 sold so well in the United States that the phones introduction to the United Kingdom was delayed for weeks.
But to keep this up, Microsoft has to encourage its phone vendors not to give in to cheap design and a clunky feel. While it probably shouldnt matter how a phone feels when you hold it and how it looks when you use it, the fact is that it does. Part of the reason that the Apple iPhone 4 and 4S sell so well is their striking design and build quality. Microsoft needs to encourage that approach, as well.
Unlike in the tablet market, however, Microsoft doesnt seem to be creating a self-branded Windows Phone of its own, so theres no Surface Phone to look forward to. That means theres no reference platform to encourage quality design, but by now, phone makers have no doubt figured out what a Windows phone should look and feel like, and what it should and should not do. If everyone plays their cards right, the new Windows phones should sell well. This is also good news because the phone market needs all the competition it can get.