An event is scheduled for October 29th where Microsoft is expected to announce the availability of their new phone operating system called Windows Phone 8. The phone OS event will follow on the heels of the Oct 26th launch of Microsoft's new computer operating system; Windows 8 and Windows RT. Windows Phone 8 was unveiled last summer and will round out the next generation of Microsoft operating systems that are well suited for a cross section of devices from desktop computers to tablets and smartphones. If you're considering one of the new Windows Phone 8 smartphones here are some things you should know.
Tiles, Widgets and IconsWindows Phone 8 retains the "tile" interface from previous versions of Windows Phone. Tiles will be the way users interact with Microsoft devices from laptops to smartphones. Tiles have some advantages over icons; they can be sized differently and they can display more or less information depending on their size. Android offers widgets that can also be resized and can be used for things like displaying dynamic information and playback control. Apple doesn't offer widgets but they do offer badges and a new improved notification center for information updates. We think Microsoft tiles offer a better method for displaying different snapshots of changing information at a glance.
SD Card SupportApple has never offered a microSD Card slot on any of its phones or tablets and probably never will. Android supports SD cards and so does Windows Phone 8. Microsoft greatly improved their support for SD cards from what they offered in previous versions of Windows Phone. You can buy a high speed 64GB microSD card for around $60. They can also be a fast way to transfer big files like videos from your mobile device to your computer.
Mobile Wallets and NFCMicrosoft will be supporting NFC (near field communications) in Windows Phone 8 with a "Wallet" app and payment platform. NFC can also make other contactless interactions possible including tapping objects to get information about them or sharing information with other NFC-enabled devices. Android has supported NFC for some time and has been trying to get their Google Wallet mobile payment service off the ground for a while as well. Apple decided to forgo NFC in the iPhone 5 but that doesn't mean we won't see it in future products. Apple, instead offers Passbook which provides a way to combine coupons, boarding passes, movie tickets and more on your iPhone but Apple doesn't make NFC-based contactless payments possible.
Maps and DirectionsApple ditched Google maps in favor of its own version and took some heat for glitches that were widely publicized. Google maps and directions are highly regarded and one of the reasons to consider an Android phone. Microsoft invested a lot of money in Nokia who themselves had acquired a world class mapping company Navteq that provides maps for many devices including Garmin GPS devices. Windows Phone 8 will take advantage of Nokia's mapping expertise as it replaces Bing Maps in Windows Phone 8.
Tellme vs. Siri vs. Google NowWhether you love voice-activated assistants like Siri or find them somewhat comical, they are here to stay and they will only get better with time. Apple’s Siri got a bump up with iOS 6 offering support for other languages and better integration with social media services. Google Now is fast and capable much like Samsung’s S Voice used on its smartphones. Microsoft acquired a company named Tellme in 2007 to beef up their voice technology and have been building up their service over the years. Microsoft’s voice activated phone assistant will have to work hard to compete with Siri and Google Now but it’s not too far behind.
Windows Phone 8 Camera "Lenses"There's no question that Microsoft will have its work cut out for it to compete against the quality of the camera and apps in iPhone and Android phones. One way Microsoft hopes to do that is with its "Lens" apps that integrate other photo apps like their own Photosynth panorama app into the camera functionality. Recently Nokia showed off their "City Lens" which adds augmented reality to Windows Phone 8. We expect to see many third party developers add Lens apps to Windows Phone 8 in the future.
Smart Glass, AirPlay, Xbox, Games and MediaNeither Apple nor Google has a game console like the Xbox as part of their "ecosystem." Although there are plenty of games to play on iPhones and Android phones, Microsoft might be able to leverage its relationships with game developers to create a competitive gaming environment on Windows Phone 8 devices. Apple's AirPlay offers some similar capabilities to Microsoft's new Smart Glass including the ability to move content from your phone or tablet onto your big screen TV through AppleTV but with technology like Smart Glass, Microsoft might be able to give Apple some competition in the battle for the living room.
Video ConferencingWe don't expect to see Apple create a FaceTime app for Windows Phone 8 but if they wanted to, they'd find it pretty easy to do with the way Microsoft has integrated VoIP into its new phone OS. Skype, a Microsoft company, may be one of the more prominent video conferencing services to take advantage Windows Phone 8 but we expect to see many developers create apps that work with People Hub, Contacts, Dialer and more Windows Phone 8 services and APIs.
Can Windows Phone 8 Be a Contender?Although Microsoft makes most of its money selling software to big corporations, it's putting a lot of resources into the consumer market these days. Microsoft's "8" platform includes two computer operating systems (Windows 8 and Windows RT) and a Phone OS which all share much of the same code base. This should make it easier for developers to write apps across many different devices. In re-writing the Windows Phone 8 kernal around NT, Microsoft made it possible for developers to take advantage of the security, file structure and other features that have made Windows a popular platform in the corporate and consumer world. Enterprise IT departments might find Windows Phone 8 management and security features like BitLocker and secure boot mode very compelling, making Windows Phone 8 devices attractive alternatives to BlackBerry, Apple and Android devices. Microsoft could either establish a third place in the smartphone market with hopes of moving higher or it's possible they could fall further behind as Apple and Google fight for the larger slices of the pie. Right now it's anyone's guess but be prepared to see significant marketing campaigns from Microsoft and their partners to create demand for Microsoft "8".