Windows Phone 8
Much like the Surface tablet that Microsoft showed off earlier this week, Windows Phone 8 represents a major shift in how the tech giant is approaching mobile.
Although we will have to wait a while to go hands-on with the new version of the OS, what we saw today at the Windows Phone Developer Summit was quite impressive. Here are some of the new things to look for in Windows Phone 8 devices when they launch sometime in the next year.
A Modern Smartphone
Windows Phone 8 will support multiple cores and various screen resolutions. Windows 8 also brings support for near-field communication and advanced graphics, which I'll cover a little later in this slideshow.
A New Start Screen
One of the biggest changes coming to Windows Phone is the new start screen. Whereas Live Tiles on the current Windows Phone 7 start screen are more or less the same size, the start screen in Windows Phone 8 allows you to resize tiles based on importance. Care a lot about email? You can stretch out the email title to make it prominent. This new start screen looks great, and it was by far one of the cooler things Microsoft showed at the developer summit.
Current Windows Phone 7 owners will not be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8, but they will be able to take advantage of this new start screen thanks to the upcoming Windows Phone 7.8 update.
Internet Explorer 10
Online phishing is a major problem, no matter what OS you're on. Thankfully, the mobile version of IE 10 will have built-in phishing protection to keep you away from unsafe sites.
An Enterprise-Ready OS
The protection doesn't end with the browser, however. Windows Phone 8 is enterprise ready, and features tons of tools for IT admins to better manage employee devices. The OS will also encrypt your data, keeping it safe from anyone who might be snooping around.
Businesses will be able to create their own hubs through which they can send alerts to their employees, recommend apps, and display relevant news.
In the demo today, Microsoft showed how its own company hub allowed staffers to change their profile picture and access other employee-specific data such as time-off requests and HR documents.
New Camera Features
Smartphone shutterbugs will be happy to learn that Windows Phone 8 will bring several new features and improvements to the OS's camera software.
For instance, Windows Phone 8 will allow you to take panoramic photos, and the new self-timer feature will let you take self-portraits without having to resort to using the front-facing camera (or a bathroom mirror).
Smart Group Shot
The coolest new feature coming to the Windows Phone camera has to be Smart Group Shot, which takes a burst of pictures and uses an algorithm to combine the photos into a composite that has the best qualities of all the pictures taken.
NFC has thus far been off to a slow start in the United States--but with Microsoft making it a big feature of Windows Phone 8, that may soon change. Microsoft said today that you'll be able to use NFC on Windows Phone 8 phones to send data (and possibly documents, photos, music, and video) from one Windows Phone 8 device to another simply by tapping them together.
You'll even be able to use NFC to send data between phones and laptops, though we didn't get a chance to see how that would work.
Leave your wallet at home, and get ready for Windows Phone 8's Wallet hub. The Wallet hub works a lot like Apple's Passbook in iOS 6: It will hold all of your credit and debit cards, as well as coupons, frequent flyer information, and loyalty cards.
The hub will work with third-party apps, as well, so you will be able to use offerings such as the upcoming Chase app to pay at places that are equipped to receive NFC payments.
Let's face it: Bing maps in Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 are a bit lackluster. They work okay for grabbing directions, but lack other features such as turn-by-turn navigation. In Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has opted to use Nokia's mapping software over its own, finally giving Windows Phone users turn-by-turn navigation and support for offline maps.
Developers will be able to use these advanced map APIs when building their apps too, so you can expect a slew of new apps that take advantage of Nokia's mapping technology.
Windows Phone 8 will support in-app purchases, allowing you to buy additional content without having to exit the application.
Such content can include items like extra money in games, or more substantial items like magazines and newspapers. And since in-app purchases work with the Wallet hub, you'll be able to use payment apps (like the aforementioned Chase app) to pay for your purchases.
Windows Phone 8 supports Direct X, allowing for much richer gaming. Microsoft has partnered with companies such as AutoDesk and Havok to bring better graphics to the games on Windows Phone 8.
Havok took the stage today to demo some of its new game engines, and we're excited to see what kinds of games make their way to Windows Phone 8 in the near future.
Developers, Developers, Developers
At the conference today, Microsoft did its best to court both new and existing developers to create apps for Windows Phone 8.
The company emphasized how current Windows Phone 7 apps would also work on Windows Phone 8, and stated that developers would be able to create an app for the desktop version of Windows 8 and then port it to Windows Phone with relative ease.