Microsoft has taken the wraps off its next-generation mobile
operating system and, as widely expected, its highlight is full integration with its counterparts on PCs and tablets.
But you'll have to buy a new smartphone to enjoy it. Multi-core processor requirements for the powerful new system will preclude its use on current Windows mobile devices.
"Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware," writes Microsoft Vice President Joe Belfiore on the company's Windows Phone Blog.
But as a "consolation" the company will give users of devices running Windows 7.5 a Windows 8 start screen as part of the 7.8 update (essentially a teaser reminding you to get a new phone whenever you turn it on).
Apps created for Windows Phone 8 also will not work on older phones.
Microsoft unveiled the new platform at its Windows Phone Summit for developers in San Francisco. It will roll out around the same time as Windows 8 for computers, this fall.
"Windows Phone 8 is based on the same core technologies that power Windows 8," Belfiore wrote on the blog. "As a result, Windows Phone 8 will unleash a new wave of features for consumers, developers, and businesses."
Leaping into the world of multi-core processing, Windows Phone 8 will allow for shared networking, security , media and browsing technology, and a common file system with its PC counterparts. Internet Explorer 10, the latest version of Microsoft's Web browser, which recently lost its top share of the market to Google's Chrome, will be included in Windows Phone 8, which will also feature feature sharper screen resolutions of 1280x768 or 1280x720 pixels for high-definition 720p displays.
Windows phones will now support MicroSD cards for increased storage capacity, as well as near-field communications for wireless sharing of contacts and files with just a tap. And to compete with Google Wallet for mobile payments, Windows' digital Wallet will store debit and credit card information, coupons, boarding passes and more in conjunction with a carrier's secure SIM card.
"It was expected and necessary for Windows Phone 8 to support multi-core processor and HD resolution displays in order to compete with the iPhone and flagship Android devices," said Peter Han of Current Analysis. "NFC is not a major factor for consumers looking to purchase a smartphone but it also does not hurt."
Microsoft is also promising better maps and directions, and what Belfiore promised would be "freaking killer games" in the company's fast-growing game and app Marketplace.
More Encryption, Custom Apps
In a bid to gain some traction in the enterprise market as longtime leader BlackBerry slips, Microsoft has enhanced device encryption with built-in technology and Windows 8 supports the United Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) secure boot protocol. Other business features include remote management and individual, customized hubs and apps for companies.
"The update looks to be very compelling," said analyst Michael Gartenberg of Gartner. "Clearly Microsoft isn't ceding any part of the market to their competition and it looks like they will definitely be targeting Android for the holiday season."
In addition to Nokia, which partnered with Microsoft last year in a smartphone joint venture, hardware partners will include Samsung, HTC and Huawei.
The Windows platform has some major growing to do to stay competitive. Its single-digit share of the market is so small that in some surveys it is included in the "other" category.
Numbers for the current quarter may slow considerably because the update won't work on current phones.
"Consumers who are looking to purchase a smartphone could easily pass on current Windows Phone handsets because they are not looking to invest in a device that will not run the latest OS and apps," said Han of Current Analysis.