Another day, another major announcement from Microsoft -- and yes, another round of opinions from your humble team at Engadget. Today it's Windows Phone 8, the (finally) formally announced successor to the company's mobile platform. Rather tragically, there's no upgrade path from any current Windows Phone device (the 7.8 stopgap notwithstanding). Your hot new cerulean blue Lumia 900? It'll be obsolete this fall. Join us after the break to get our thoughts on that and all the other bits of information gleaned today -- right after you read our initial thoughts from the original Windows Phone 7 Series, to see just how far we've come.
First, the good news: Windows Phone 8 looks really great. I've been a big fan of the various flavors of Windows Phone 7 and, honestly, it was only the lack of a good mobile Gmail app and high-resolution screens that have kept me from switching over. With this new version things look even better. The more customizable Start screen is a great start, the ability for devs to break out of CLR and write native apps has been long-needed and bringing Nokia's offline maps to every device is a very strong selling point for the platform -- though at the cost of a strong selling point for the Lumia line. That, plus better voice recognition and a suite of other tweaks, makes this version far and away the most likely to succeed of any of Microsoft's attempts since Windows Mobile -- even if a maximum WXGA resolution still feels short-sighted.
Any bit of momentum in the Windows Phone platform has just been lost.
But, it comes at the expense of the entire Windows Phone userbase today. There is simply no way to upgrade any current Windows Phone device to Windows Phone 8. None of the handsets sold between today and the release of WP8 (this fall) will be upgraded, and none of the devices sold between now and then will run Windows Phone 8 apps. Any bit of momentum the platform has gained over the past 18 months has just been lost.
That may be the right thing to do for the platform's future, but it's sure going to sting for current users who, it must be said, are left feeling a bit like beta testers.
To me, the highlight for Windows Phone loyalists (or potential newcomers) comes from the hardware. Microsoft can finally, finally attach the Windows Phone name to high-end devices. I've always seen the Nokia Lumia 900 launch as more than a bit awkward, as Nokia was shipping a smartphone billed as a flagship but was really sitting just above the mid-range. Even if the game moves on a bit, the support for up to 64 cores and 720p-plus resolutions should give hardware partners room to breathe that they never had before.
There's no way to beat around the bush: legions of existing users, even those walking into a store today, just got hosed.
And yet, looking at the early launch details, it's hard to see how Microsoft will expand, or possibly even hold on to, its market share. Just four hardware makers? All of them are big names, to be sure, but the absences of WP7.5-era collaborators like Fujitsu, Toshiba and ZTE (let alone originals like Dell and LG) won't do much to broaden the influence, not unless they come back fairly quickly. It'll all come down to how committed the big four will be. Nokia has no choice, but there's no assurance that HTC, Huawei and Samsung won't leave Windows Phone as the perpetual footnote that it has been so far.
I appreciate Microsoft's bending over backwards to provide some kind of accommodation for legacy Windows Phone users through 7.8. Still, there's no way to beat around the bush: legions of existing users, even those walking into a store today, just got hosed. If Apple or Google revealed that the only way to use iOS 6 or (presumably) Jelly Bean would be to buy a new phone, there would be riots in the streets. Microsoft having little legacy to shed won't be much consolation to someone who just bought a Titan II this morning. Let's not forget the Osborne Effect, either; if you're anything more than a casual shopper, why would you not wait until the fall to buy if it's not urgent? That's fine for most partners' bottom lines, but that could be deadly for Nokia and Windows Phone as a whole.
One by one today, Microsoft ran down my list of complaints about Windows Phone and put a big red line through each of them. High-res screens, multi-core support, more homescreen customization and a seriously modern browser. All-in-all, Windows Phone 8 is shaping up to be a beastly update to the most visually appealing mobile OS on the block. But, it's not all wine and roses in Redmond. Things that I've harped on, and been criticized for unfairly hammering Redmond over, have come back to bite the platform. Most notable is the lack of support for truly modern mobile hardware. The problem is, no existing devices will be upgradeable to WP8, they simply don't have the muscle for it. And, to make matters worse, apps designed for the upcoming OS update will not work on handsets running Mango -- essentially rebooting the platform and burning the legions of "early adopters" who have signed up over the last 18 months. It used to be that you could safely tell a person to wait for a second-gen product before drinking the Kool-Aid, but today Microsoft proved that sometimes you'll need to wait for G3.
Microsoft ran down my list of complaints about Windows Phone and put a big red line through each of them.
While some of the necessary trade-offs might be bad for current customers and result in less than flattering coverage, I've got to hand it to Microsoft for finally unifying its code base. We'd heard that Windows Phone 8 would borrow heavily from Windows 8, including the kernel, and we're glad to see that rumor come to fruition. Truth be told, sharing the most basic of components, security tools, libraries and browser tech between all of its major OS versions is the best move Microsoft could make to ensure the future of its platform. Apple may have been at the forefront of that evolution, and continues to push iOS and OS X towards complete convergence, but it at least seems that Windows has done so in a more elegant and logical manner. And Windows' core technologies are already broadly supported, meaning that devs and IT departments will have a much easier time adopting the new mobile ecosystem.
It's appropriate that Microsoft revealed Windows Phone 8 at a developer-focused event, because, of all the details doled out about the new OS, the most important, in my mind, is the new "Shared Windows Core." Sure, the new Start screen looks to be a great addition and WP8's future-proof hardware support and higher screen res are great (Though not high enough. Really, Microsoft, no 1080p?). Throw in true multitasking, free turn-by-turn navigation and expanded NFC support, and the artist-formerly-known-as Apollo appears to be a thoroughly modern and compelling mobile OS. But, the real magic of Windows Phone 8 is its sharing of the NT kernel and other code with Windows 8.
The "Shared Windows Core" provides just what's needed to get more devs cooking up apps for WP8.
Thus far, the battle for consumer smartphone consumption has, for all intents and purposes, been a two-front affair, with Android on one side and Apple on the other. It's common knowledge at this point that the availability of quality apps plays a huge part in the failure or success of a mobile platform, and the "Shared Windows Core" provides just what's needed to get more devs cooking up apps for WP8. This change addresses one of the biggest hindrances to user adoption of previous editions of Windows Phone -- I've met more than a few folks who profess a love for the Metro UI, but wouldn't trade in their Android or iOS handsets for a WP7 unit because they'd have to give up many of their favorite apps. And, it turns out, not jumping on the Windows Phone bandwagon earlier was the right move, as anyone with a WP7 device won't be able to enjoy all the new WP8 apps to come. That said, should you hop on board when the first WP8 phones hit the market in the fall, you're likely to have plenty of apps to choose from.
Giving coders the ability to write an app or driver for desktops, and painlessly port it to tablets and phones will, no doubt, prove extremely appealing -- it vastly increases the market size for devs' digital wares. Granted, the success or failure of Windows 8 has yet to be determined, but it's safe to say that the new Windows will maintain its status as the desktop OS of choice the world over. Because of Windows' momentum and massive market share, there will be plenty of people writing software for Windows 8, and with WP8, Microsoft just turned every one of those folks into developers for its mobile platform. In short, this, at the very least, should help Microsoft close the app gap, and it has the potential to eventually vault Windows Phone Marketplace ahead of its competition from Cupertino and Mountain View -- and that bodes well for Windows Phone's future.
Plenty of good news for Windows Phone users this week, including, perhaps most notably, a greater spectrum of hardware compatibility, letting manufacturers differentiate their products and offer more powerful handsets. In terms of widespread adoption, however, it's Microsoft's push toward business usage that may be the most significant takeaway from today's event. Granted, it wasn't the sexiest portion of the announcement, but it marks a return to Redmond's mobile focus prior to the advent of Windows Phone, a focus the operating system should have had since the start. Rather than diving headfirst into a space dominated by Android and iOS, business mobile presents a more open field, thanks to the loss of Palm and the continued erosion of BlackBerry.
Redmond's got a long history of enterprise support to fall back on, and this slew of new features certainly looks promising with regards to Window Phone's place in the business space.
Monday's Surface announcement certainly marked a renewed romance with business for Microsoft, offering up a tablet that presents a much superior choice for many businesses versus the iPad, thanks to its desktop version of Windows (including software compatibility with popular applications like Office), multitasking and keyboard case. The announcement of WP8's "Shared Windows Core" brings some of that interoperability to mobile devices, helping work desktops, tablets and phones all play nicely together. Microsoft has also harnessed its enterprise experience to bring encryption, secure boot and IT device management to the table. The advent of Company Hub should also prove pretty sweet for corporations, letting businesses offer up their own app distribution to employees, highlighting key apps and keeping off ones it doesn't want on company handsets. The Microsoft IT app also promises to offer up custom-fit solutions for businesses' needs.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, balking a bit at the business space allowed Android and iOS time to offer up their own solutions. But Redmond's got a long history of enterprise support to fall back on, and this slew of new features certainly looks promising with regards to Window Phone's place in the business space.
While Windows Phone 8 seems like a huge sprint in the right direction for Microsoft, today's big event hid some bittersweet announcements. Possibly the flagship device for Windows Phone in the US, and unarguably the prettiest (aside from its smaller brother), the Lumia 900, won't get all the bells and whistles promised on the full-fat version -- meaning there's going to be some angry early-adopters. Instead, it gets a sympathy nod, receiving the veneer of Fresh New Windows Phone (the homescreen) without the other tangible (true multitasking?) benefits. Yes, Microsoft looks like it'll replicate the same in-store confusion we're going to see when Joe Public tries to work out the difference between Windows RT and Windows 8 hardware.
The other bizarrely positive announcement? 100,000 apps are now out for Windows Phone. A company with the clout of Microsoft has barely tip-toed over this milestone and it's gosh-darn proud of it. It's still very visibly playing catch-up -- cheerleading a pair of apps already available on iOS and Android. Both of those rivals aren't slowing down. Microsoft has to follow these announcements with store-bound hardware, fast.
With Windows Phone being the underdog in the current smartphone market, I couldn't help but stay up late in Shanghai to see what Microsoft's got up its sleeve to change the game; and what Joe Belfiore's team showed us sounds promising. While it's no surprise that Windows Phone 8 will support NFC, larger screen resolutions, multi-core processors and OTA updates, the killer feature of the day is that the next-gen mobile OS shares the same core components with Windows 8. That means the former will get the same NT kernel (as opposed to keeping the feeble CE kernel), a few of the same code libraries, the same Internet Explorer 10 browser engine and potentially the same graphics power as its PC counterpart. This is akin to injecting some high quality steroid into the slick, intuitive OS and thus opening up all sorts of possibilities for the ecosystem, as the devs can apparently port apps between the two OS classes with ease, making the phone almost as capable as a PC. Still, this obviously requires some work to adapt the popular desktop applications to the smaller form factor; though we'd imagine if the work's already started with Metro-optimized apps for the larger touchscreens, then we're probably already halfway there. I even wonder if this will enable ASUS to create a Windows 8-powered PadFone -- something that several of you have expressed interest in, judging by the comments under our review.
This is akin to injecting some high quality steroid into the slick, intuitive OS.
I'm also particularly excited about Microsoft's vision with NFC. Sure, on the surface it's not that much different to what iOS 6 will be offering when it comes to the digital wallet, but as the late Steve Jobs once said, Microsoft's always been very good about working with partners. As a bonus, so does Nokia, whose incentive has somewhat helped expand the marketplace with new and practical local apps when launching its Lumia devices in untried markets. At least in Hong Kong and China, anyway. With "Shared Windows Core" Redmond is, in theory, making it easier to bridge its mobile devices and PCs with NFC -- something which we've yet to see from Apple -- and consequently giving both the contactless technology and the Windows ecosystem a real boost in the near future.
Aside from unknown future apps that will take advantage of the more powerful Windows core, it remains to be seen how effective the new features will be in helping Windows Phone reignite shoppers' interest. But one thing's certain: the stronger enterprise support will be critical to gaining a large marketshare, considering how many businesses already have a Windows back end. On a personal level, I'm a fan of the more flexible Live Tiles (which will be available to all WP7.5 devices in the 7.8 update) and the new screen resolution options will certainly help vendors further differentiate, and therefore freshen up, the hardware market in the process. Even the Xbox SmartGlass announced earlier this month (but not arriving until this fall) will also make a difference, despite its cross-platform nature. But that won't be enough. For the mid-range and high-end models, Microsoft must provide stronger support and encouragement to manufacturers to incorporate more unique hardware features -- namely Nokia's PureView and HTC's ImageSense -- in their Windows Phone lineups. Otherwise, everyone risks going into a stalemate again over who should contribute more to the common goal. Keep it up, Microsoft!
Windows Phone 8 is the most exciting thing I've seen from Microsoft on the mobile front in a really long time. Wait, maybe just the overall front. I've spent weeks with a Lumia 900, and there are a lot of things I love about it. And so far as I can tell, WP8 simply takes the best of WP7 and gives me more of it. One of the concerns I've voiced against Apple in its decision to place a Retina display on the iPad is this: why give me the pixels, but disallow me from adding more icons? Let me decide when enough is enough. So, thanks Microsoft, for hearing that.
WP8's Wallet setup strikes me as the best of the bunch (that secure SIM thing aside), and the collection of deals, local search, etc. into siloed areas makes a ton of sense to me. The tight integration of Skype definitely tickles my fancy, and the clear focus on using Nokia's outstanding offline mapping platform is unquestionably the right move -- even if it leaves Nokia with one less marketable reason to select a Lumia over a handset from HTC, Samsung, etc. I'm still not a fan of IE, though, and would greatly prefer a version of Chrome when it comes to browsing. Like that'll ever happen.
I also think it's hugely wise for Microsoft to launch the Company Hub. So many enterprises already use Windows, so why not try to capture that market more while RIM is down? It doesn't impact me, but I like the concept, and I appreciate the effort. So, with all this positivity, surely WP8 is for me, right? Not so fast. I need a Google Drive app -- and a handful of daily productivity apps that have yet to make the jump to WP -- before I'd consider it. But it'll definitely suit a huge swath of average consumers just fine. Kudos, Microsoft.
Who would've thought that Microsoft's vision for Windows 8 would be solidified at its Windows Phone Summit? Now, for the first time, everything makes sense. It's no secret that Microsoft Windows enjoys a massive user base and a plethora of applications, but this only applies to the traditional desktop environment. In my mind, it was never a foregone conclusion that the Metro side of Windows 8 would enjoy the same level of success and relevance. That changed today with the announcement of shared code between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Now, developers have a compelling reason to code for both the Metro environment of the desktop and Microsoft's mobile platform. Ostensibly, this will solve another problem, which is the relatively small number of apps for Windows Phone. Granted, developers will still need to hop aboard and share in Microsoft's vision, but to do otherwise seems downright foolish.
The changes we've seen today will pave an incredibly bright future for the Windows Phone ecosystem.
As for Windows Phone 8, we saw many new features today -- many of them geared for developers -- but the facet that stole the show for me is the new start screen, which introduces resizable tiles. I love Windows Phone in many ways, but could never escape the feeling of being "boxed in" by its interface. I think this changes all that. Now, users will benefit from what could be the best launcher in the industry, which provides a proper balance of customization, along with easy access to apps and live content.
There's a problem, though, and it's news that existing devices won't receive the upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Yes, current owners will be placated with a new start screen in Windows Phone 7.8, but Windows Phone 8 apps won't be backward-compatible with the older platform. This means one thing: anyone who'd considered the purchase of a Windows Phone must slam on the brakes now and wait for these new devices to hit the market. This doesn't bode well for Nokia, and while I've no doubt that it's thrown a huge amount of resources into Windows Phone 8 devices, the next few months will be white-knuckled in Espoo. Due to its heavy dependence on Microsoft, all the company can now do is pray that Windows Phone 8 comes to market on time.
Fortunately, I'm convinced that the changes we've seen today will pave an incredibly bright future for the Windows Phone ecosystem, and for Nokia's part, it has the chance to knock one out of the park this fall. To do so, it can't repeat the same staged rollout like we saw with the Lumia 900. To capitalize on the pent-up interest -- and compensate for the dreary summer -- I really hope to see a simultaneous global launch from Nokia. Let's hope it spends the next few months in preparation for just that.
Window's Metro UI has always been the closest to my idea of what future operating systems should look like. Suffice it to say, I'm super excited for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Since I agree with much of colleagues' sentiments here, I'll be taking you down a slightly different path. Here's the thing, folks: I'm that editor on staff who actually threw caution to the wind and went for the cyan Nokia Lumia 900. I can't say I'm surprised that this device won't be supported considering its rather lowly specs, but I'm glad there'll be some semblance in the form of Windows Phone 7.8. Plus, I'd be lying to myself if I didn't already imagine what I was in for, as I agree with Jon's assessment of its overall placement being "awkward."
I don't feel slighted in the least about my purchase, but I know I'll be eager to upgrade once the more powerful and potent devices start pouring in. The question that remains, however, is whether or not owners of this device and other recent Windows Phones will be okay with how this platform has had to evolve, leaving them slightly behind pack from the start.
I've loved the idea of Windows Phone from the start, but there's always been one hold-up or another that has kept me from adopting it as my go-to mobile device: the seemingly unfinished state when it launched (remember the lack of cut-and-paste?), the generally less-than-impressive hardware (up until Nokia's Lumia 800) and, of course, the Catch-22 of the platform's app situation. But, it got an awful lot right from the start.
Metro is one of the most interesting user interfaces to come along in some time, and it excels in one area where other mobile operating systems come up short: glanceable information. Windows Phone 8 (and the 7.8 upgrade for existing phones) improves on that even further, with a new Start screen that offers more customization options and support for more tiles displayed at once. Microsoft has also overhauled the core of the OS to now share a kernel with Windows 8 and Windows RT, which should ultimately help the platform with games and apps (albeit at the expense of upgradability).
But... there's still a lot that we don't know. We know the hardware makers and some of the hardware specs that will be available, but we don't know what the next-generation of Windows Phone devices will actually look like. And, we unfortunately won't be able to take one of those devices home until this fall, when we're also likely going to be looking at new phones running the latest versions of Android and iOS. That should be an interesting time, but it also puts anyone looking to buy a phone now in a bad situation -- although perhaps not as bad as anyone who bought a Lumia in the last few months.
When I decided to buy into Windows Phone as an early adopter, I knew I was making a mistake. Despite my high hopes for the platform and an unabashed adoration for Metro, users like me have spent nearly two years waiting for Windows Phone to catch up to its competition. Now, with the reveal of Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is running off a list of long-awaited features: true multitasking, deep Skype integration, better maps, a better browser, proper enterprise support and more -- it's hard not to be excited.
Still, I have my reservations -- as a gamer, I held fast to Microsoft's promise to make Windows Phone its mobile Xbox platform. I hoped this dedication to mobile gaming would deliver innovative content that would help redefine the space. Imagine my surprise when Microsoft delivered only achievements and higher prices instead. With the introduction of Havok, a commitment to leveraging the latest hardware and the "Shared Windows Core," Microsoft is once again presenting a platform that has the potential to really shake up the mobile gaming space -- let's just hope that potential isn't wasted.