Earlier this week Microsoft held its Windows Phone Summit where it made a set of announcements about the next generation of Windows Phone – Windows phone 8 in summary these were
- Hardware Support for Multi-core processors , Additional Screen resolutions, Removable memory cards, NFC
- Software The Windows 8 core is now the base OS, Support for native code written in C or C++ (meaning better games), IE 10, new mapping (from Nokia), a speech API which apps can use. Better business-oriented features, VOIP support, a new “Wallet” experience and in-app payments, and a new start screen.
This summit came hot on the heels of the Surface tablet launch, which seemed to be a decision by Microsoft that making hardware for Windows 8 was too important to be left to the hardware makers. The first thing I noted about phone announcement was the lack of a Microsoft branded phone. I’ve said that Microsoft should make phones itself since before the first Windows Mobile devices appeared – when Microsoft was talking about “Stinger” internally; I never really bought any of the reasons given for not doing so. But I’d be astounded if Nokia didn’t demand that Microsoft promise not to make a phone (whether there’s a binding agreement or just an understanding between Messrs Elop and Ballmer we don’t know). Besides Nokia Microsoft has 3 other device makers on-board: HTC have devices for every Microsoft mobile OS since 2000, but also have a slew of devices for Android, Samsung were a launch partner for Phone 7 but since then have done more with Android ; LG were in the line up for the Windows Phone 7 launch and are replaced by Huawei. What these 3 feel about Nokia mapping technology is a matter of guesswork but depends on branding and licensing terms.
There are some things we think we know, but actually they are things we know that we don’t know.
- Existing 7.x phones will not run Windows Phone 8 but will get an upgrade to Windows 7.8. I have an HTC Trophy which I bought in November 2010 and it has gone from 7.0 to 7.5 and I’ll be quite happy to get 7.8. on a 2 year old phone. Someone who just bought a Nokia Lumia might not feel quite so pleased. What will be in 7.8 ? The new start screen has been shown. But will it have IE10 ? Will it have the new mapping and Speech capabilities. The Wallet, In-app-payments ? This matters because….
- Programs specifically targeting Windows Phone 8 won’t run on 7. Well doh! Programs targeting Windows 7 don’t run XP. But what programs will need to target the new OS ? Phone 7 programs are .NET programs and since .NET compiles to an intermediate language not to CPU instructions, a program which runs on Windows 8-RT (previous called Windows on ARM) should go straight onto a Windows 8-intel machine (but not vice versa), and Phone 7 programs will run on Phone 8. An intriguing comment at the launch says the Phone 8 emulator runs on Hyper-V; unless Hyper-V has started translating between different CPU instruction sets this means the Emulated phone has an Intel CPU but it doesn’t matter because it is running .NET intermediate language not binary machine code. So how many new programs will be 8-specific ? – Say Skype uses the VOIP support and in-app payments for calling credit. Will users with old phones be stuck with the current version of Skype? Do they get a new version where those features don’t light up. Or do they get the same experience as someone with a new phone. If the only things which are Phone 8 specific are apps which need Multiple cores (or other newly supported hardware) there would never have been any benefit upgrading a single core phone from 7 to 8.
- Business support. This covers many possibilities, but what is in and what is out ? Will the encryption send keys back to base as bit-locker does ? Will there be support for Direct-Access ? Corporate wireless security ? Will adding Exchange server details auto-configure the phone to corporate settings (like the corporate app-store) . Will it be possible to block updates ? This list goes on and on.
It’s going to interesting to see what this does for Microsoft and for Nokia’s turn-round.