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6/21/2012
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Windows Phone 8 Preview: Visual Tour

Microsoft Windows Phone 8 shares a close connection with Windows 8. Take a closer look at what that means for users, enterprises, and developers.




Microsoft provided an inside look at many of the major elements coming with Windows Phone 8 at an event this week in San Francisco. Windows Phone 8 , the next version of the company's mobile platform, is now moving in lockstep with Microsoft's evolution of its flagship Windows platform to Windows 8.

Microsoft hopes to establish a family of platforms that works across all computing devices, from the mobile phone to the tablet to the PC. Windows, of course, also powers various other industrial platforms, including ATMs, for example. Microsoft announced its own tablet--Surface--earlier in the week at a special event in Los Angeles.

The Windows Phone 8 announcement was aimed largely at Microsoft's ecosystem of developers and hardware partners, and somewhat at potential enterprise customers, more so than at smartphone consumers. While the company's executives revealed several end-user and consumer features--like the Wallet Hub, a new Start screen, upgraded hardware support (including support for NFC)--the major news revolved around the operating system's revamped kernel, which it now shares as common code with Windows 8.

Simply put: Microsoft wants to own the entire end-user computing experience, regardless of the computing device. Windows 8 was its first big step toward doing that, and Surface, the tablet Microsoft announced earlier in the week showed just how serious Microsoft is about that goal. Windows Phone 8 is the next major component.

Microsoft is using the commercial success of Windows as a predictor: 1.3 billion Windows users, Microsoft says, from the household to the enterprise, an unparalleled ubiquity, like it or not. With RIM's fate quietly chiseled away, Microsoft is well poised to make the enterprise its battle trench in mobile.

The message: developers can create applications that can leverage all of the screens Microsoft's software is powering. And it's a pretty powerful message, or at least the most powerful one Microsoft can tell, given its history in both the consumer and enterprise markets, and its entrenchment in both. From its support for native code, to new features for enterprise support (security, MDM, more flexible app deployment models) to significant new APIs, Microsoft made a big statement regarding Windows Phone 8.

But Microsoft's announcement was also a little short on details. There were prototype phones only, and executives were unprepared to answer questions beyond what the audience heard on stage. Microsoft promises that more updates will come in short order.

Dig into our slideshow to get a closer look at what Microsoft shared about Windows Phone 8 at this week's announcement.


Microsoft announced an update to Windows Phone's start screen--namely that it is customizable. You can arrange it however you wish, stuff it with apps, and so on. In Windows Phone 8, tiles will be resizable. A more limited version will come via a minor Windows Phone 7.8 update.

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Microsoft demonstrated how its new start screen for Windows Phone 8 lets users resize and re-arrange tiles.

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If there was one key point Microsoft wanted to make about Windows Phone 8, it was this: There is now a shared core across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, running the same kernel, using the same .Net engine, and a common set of APIs.

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The entire point of the shared Windows core is that a developer could use native code, written in C++, access a common set of APIs and underlying services, and provide a component that would work on Windows 8 tablets, PCs, and phones.

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Support for native code also promises to make porting apps from iOS and Android easier. It lets developers take advantage of native open source libraries. It should also, in theory, let corporate developers more easily port legacy apps to the Windows 8 platform.

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Windows Phone 8 gives developers access to multitasking. The two examples Microsoft discussed included location (access to location services from within an app, but with the location app running in the background), and VoIP and video chat (using Skype). VoIP is built into the operating system as a service, and acts just like a cell phone call.

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The shared Windows core, and the ability to use native code, lets enterprise developers leverage Windows across platforms. But Microsoft also added security to Windows Phone 8--secure boot and device-level encryption using BitLocker, missing features from Windows Phone 7.x. Windows Phone 8 also gets MDM support, but Microsoft would not detail whether third-party MDM tools would have access to the platform.

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Microsoft introduced Company Hub, an application through which IT can manage the deployment of applications to corporate end users. Microsoft demonstrated a sampling of its own Company Hub.

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Microsoft's My Profile app, which is part of its Company Hub, allows end users to change their profiles within the system--for instance, update a company photo.

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Microsoft employees can manage their time off using this application, which is part of Microsoft's Company Hub.

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Microsoft supports NFC in Windows Phone 8, and built a Wallet app that serves as a hub for loyalty cards, coupons and deals, and credit and debit cards. You can also use it in tap-to-pay situations. This is similar to what Apple just announced with its Passport app for iOS 6.

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Windows Phone 7.x ran on a very limited set of hardware, but Windows Phone 8 can now run on multiple core CPU architectures, address higher resolution displays, and includes support for graphics processors and NFC.

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Microsoft's initial smartphone OEMs include Samsung, HTC, Huawei, and of course, Nokia.

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10 Windows Ultrabooks: Not Just For SMBs

Windows 8 Release Preview: Key Features

8 Tablets Fit For Windows 8 Beta

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