Windows Phone 8 RevealedToday, right on schedule, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8, the newest version of its mobile operating system. While we've seen a lot about it already, there are some new things being brought into the fray.
As we've seen before, the user interface has undergone a subtle, but marked, facelift. Remember that black bar on the right of every Windows Phone device? The one used to display extra information when needed, but just sat there taunting you with misused space? Its gone. All that information has been encapsulated elsewhere. Oh, and the live tiles are now able to be resized, letting you better customize your phone to fit you.
Microsoft has introduced a bevy of new features and improvements. Windows Phone 8 now supports NFC, for example, and there is a corresponding wallet app to go with it. Skype will be getting deep integration into the operating system, though it wasn't available for a hands on at the announcement. Kids Corner is a kid-friendly environment that lets the parent control what their child can see. Zune products have been transformed into Xbox products, so you now have Xbox music and movies. The camera has what are referred to as 'lenses,' but which are far more than Instagram-esque filters. These are full apps which are meant to act solely on the image. One example is a CNN reporting app, so that you can snap a picture, tag relevent data, and then send it on to CNN as a citizen journalist.
But by and large the most critical changes have been under the hood. Windows Phone 8 eschews the kernel that powered Windows Phone 7 and the previous Windows Mobile devices. Instead, it now runs on the same kernel as Windows 8. That has a major impact. Some apps, for example, are simply modified versions of the desktop apps. Internet Explorer is based on some of the same code, thanks to this. The more modern operating system also allows for new features to be added with less hackery, for example multiple cores. Much of the code underpinning Windows Phone 7 was written before multiple cores were common on computers, much less phones.
Overall, Windows Phone 8 is an impressive operating system. But I can't help but feel that it is a losing race. For all the innovation and character that it brings to the market, it also has its share of limitations. The interface has been designed to accommodate a wide array of interface styles, but there isn't any room to expand beyond that. The design language of Windows Phone 8 is just too rigid.
That, and Microsoft really needs some developers if they will have any hope of succeeding.