A new start screen, Nokia Maps, better games, and enhanced VOIP support are coming to Windows Phone 8. Microsoft unveiled these and other features while pitching the latest version of its mobile operating system.
Current Windows Phone others will have to get a new device to get the full feature set, as Microsoft vice president Terry Myerson said the new OS will not be coming to current phones. However, to ease the pain the company is soon releasing Windows Phone 7.8, which does bring the new start screen to existing devices.
Myerson said users everywhere would love the new “buttery smooth” interface that furthers the company’s commitment to Metro. The new interface keeps the live tiles, but allows users to resize them. Larger tiles will display more pieces of information, so one could expand messages for faster access to incoming notifications.
Microsoft is also ditching Bing Maps in favor of Nokia’s version, which drew some enthusiastic approval from the developers in attendance. There are enhanced directions and voice commands, including a Siri-like assistant that will warn you when traffic conditions are unfavorable.
The company is seeking to unify the experience across Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets. Developers will be able to use one common source code for developing apps. This is an important move as Microsoft is catching up to Apple and Google, which both offer a common operating system across tablet devices and smartphones.
VOIP services such as Skype get better treatment, as a Skype call will now function much like any regular phone call. Developers can also enable this in their own apps.
Looking to capitalize on its success with Xbox, vice president Joe Belfiore said Windows Phone 8 would have “freaking killer games.” Popular titles from Zynga Words with Friends and Draw Something are coming to the platform, he said.
A new wallet app will also be included with Windows Phone 8, enabling for NFC-chip payments and a “Local Scout” that will find nearby deals and coupons, which can be redeemed with one’s Windows Phone. The Microsoft team said the technologies enabled with their version would be more secure than Google Wallet.
Updates will now come over-the-air; no more connecting one’s phone to Zune or Windows Phone Connector on Mac. And “enthusiasts” will have a more rapid access to newer versions of OS updates. It was not detailed how this would work in practice, however. Additionally, Microsoft hopes to further bond with users by offering to support new Windows Phone 8 devices for “at least” 18 months.