Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8 on Wednesday, confirming the mobile operating system will share core code with Windows 8, and will add support for mobile wallet and Near Field Communications when WP8 is released in the fall.
"The biggest thing today is that Windows Phone 8 has a shared common core with Windows 8," said Windows Phone Manager Joe Belfiore at the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco, which was webcast. "For us, this is a huge release and a huge year."
Sharing the kernel in Windows 8 with Windows Phone 8 means developers can build apps that work on both PCs and tablets with Windows Phones, Belfiore said. Users will be able to see their apps on both kinds of devices, and hardware makers will be able to adapt the OS more easily across devices, he said.
For months, analysts have predicted this common code direction based on previous Microsoft comments. Other improvements were announced for the hardware.
Among the new features in Windows Phone 8 are:
- Support for multi-core processors. Existing support for single core has been a major concern for some high-end users wanting faster processing ability.
- Two new high-definition screen resolutions for the coming OS. They are 1280 x 768 and 1280 x 720.
- Removeable micro-SD support for the first time to allow expansion of base storage.
- A busier start screen with room for more live tiles than in Windows Phone 7.5. Today's Windows Phones have room for up to eight live tiles and WP8 will have room for up to 32 live tiles, which can be sized differently.
- IT support. Adminstrators will see some gaps in the existing OS filled, including support for encryption and secure boot in WP8, as well as the ability to allow IT to deploy apps without going through Windows Marketplace.
- Built-in Nokia Navteq map technology, with turn-by-turn driving instructions in many countries.
- Full Internet Explorer 10 support with more features of HTML 5 added. Belfiore said that Windows Phone 8 with IE10 will download Web pages slightly faster than three other popular smartphones on the market.
- Native code support, a feature seen as useful to developers eager to move their apps from iOS or Android to Windows Phone.
Belfiore demonstrated several improvements on a phone that was designed for development, but not for sale to the public.
Microsoft said apps built for Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 will run on Windows Phone 8, but said the new OS will not run on existing Windows Phone hardware. Also, all updates to Windows Phone 8 will be delivered to the devices over the air, eliminating the need for tethering.
The mobile wallet Microsoft has built will vary distinctly from what Google Wallet offers by supporting what is called the "secure element" in a SIM card, and not in the phone hardware, Belfiore said. Verizon Wireless decided not to support Google Wallet over concerns that security would not be easily transferred, but Belfiore said transfers of the secure element from one phone to the next will be easier through its location on the SIM card.
Belfiore said Orange, a wireless carrier in France, will be the first to offer the SIM secure element for customers as well as support for the the Windows Phone 8 mobile wallet. No timetable was announced.
Also, Microsoft supports the efforts of ISIS, a joint venture of three U.S. carriers: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA, which is rolling out its NFC-capable network this summer. Belfiore said Windows Phone 8 and mobile wallet won't be ready for ISIS until 2013.
Chase is also building an app for Windows Phone 8, he said.
Belfiore didn't give more details on when Windows Phone 8 will launch, other than to say in the fall. Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Huawei are expected to build phones for the platform.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.