Windows Phone 8- A World Without Walls
When Microsoft first announced the mere presence of Windows Phone 8 back in June, I was every bit excited back then as I am now. And now, six months later, the OS is out of the door alongside Windows 8 for PCs, tablets, hybrids and whatnot. Windows Phone 8 has been a massive update for the Windows Phone ecosystem. Like its brethren, this update is simply mind-blowing. The main new features of Windows Phone 8 are-
- Live apps– Almost everyone is aware of the Live Tiles made famous by Microsoft. These tiles constantly update information from various sources and for various purposes and are an integral part of the Windows Phone experience. Like Live Tiles, Microsoft has now introduced Live Apps. These Live Apps are applications which can be pinned onto the lockscreen of the phone to keep getting updated. Along with the live apps, you can now add any five icons at the bottom of the screen to give you updates on missed calls, messages, Facebook updates etc. There is support for third-party applications, as well.
- Syncing– Most of the complaints that Microsoft must have received from Windows Phone users was the compulsory usage of Zune, the syncing software for previous generations of Windows Phone devices. But, with Windows Phone 8, users can use their devices is various ways! Users can drag-and-drop documents, music, videos and photos onto their device. Not only that, if you’re a Windows Media Player aficionado, you can even sync over your entire playlist. Another major new addition is the allowance of using iTunes to sync over your data from your iPhone to your newly-acquired Windows Phone. This is a move welcomed by people switching over from iOS to Windows Phone.
OTA updates are also a late but great addition to WP8.
- Improved Hardware Support– Previously, when users asked for specifications which were comparable to that of Android’s or even iOS’, WP manufacturers would simply cite the limitation of Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 limited manufacturers only to single-core processors. Microsoft has brought Windows Phone up to speed. It can now support phones with multiple cores, right from 2 to 64. This will surely be an important feature for Windows Phone 8 devices. There is much room to expand later and rival Android beasts like the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3.
Alongside the processor, the screen resolutions of devices can also be improved. WGVA, 720p (1,280 x 720) and WXGA (1,280 x 768) are now supported. WP8 also supports microSD cards for external storage support, up to 64 GB. This is extremely good news for storage junkies. Windows Phone 8 devices can now support Near Field Communication, as well. Now, you can never lose your coupons and credit cards! 😀
- DataSense– Microsoft has introduced a handy new feature in WP8. An app called DataSense now manages the amount of data you consume, intelligently. When the user starts DataSense for the first time, he/she is asked to input their billing cycle dates. Then, the WP8 Operating System works to make sure that the maximum amount of usage is made from the amount of data available within that period in a smart manner. To make sure that the user doesn’t clock up on extra data usage, DataSense will compress websites in Internet Explorer 10 to minimize the amount of data consumed while browsing. It can also show the user a list of free WiFi hotspots around him/her so that data is saved. The phone can also adjust the data usage of specific applications according to the data cap. Microsoft claims that just by using IE10 on WP8, users can get up to 45% more data usage from their data plan. That’s an impressive statistic and can really help people with limited data plans and this feature would be a sureshot hit in the Indian subcontinent.
- Kid’s Corner– Microsoft is making the Kid’s Corner a huge marketing feature for the new Windows Phone 8 devices. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t. Kid’s Corner is a ‘smartphone-within-a-smartphone’ especially for kids. The user of the phone can set up a special Kid’s Corner on his/her device, especially for his child. The Kid’s Corner will contain apps approved by the parent and it even has its own Camera Roll! It features customizable lockscreens and it can be fully personalized by the child. Kid’s Corner also has resizable Live Tiles so that he can do exactly what Daddy does. Sweet. 🙂
Kid’s Corner can by accessed by swiping to the left on the normal lockscreen of the device.
- Improved Camera– Though the quality of the camera of the device is in the hands of the device manufacturer’s, good software implementation can greatly improve it. And that’s what Microsoft is aiming to do here. With their new Lenses app, users can apply various filters in the camera’s viewfinder to customize their pictures, to change the overall picture-taking experience. Bing Vision comes preloaded on all WP8 devices, to help the user scan barcodes and QR codes. An app called PhotoStrip works by taking a series of pictures in burst mode and then presents them to the user in the same way as an old fashioned photobooth. The number of images and the time lapse between each image can also be set in PhotoStrip. 360 degree panaromas are also available thanks to Microsoft Photosynth.
Microsoft is clearly hoping for developers to catch on to their Lenses app and create new features for it. Users can also choose the quality of images that is uploaded to their SkyDrive. Users can choose between “good quality” and “best quality”. The former would include compression and the latter would upload the picture in full resolution. This can help users decide how much space they want to dedicate towards each picture.
- Rooms– The People Hub in Windows Phone is an app which sync your Facebook and Twitter data to the contacts on your phone. Every person’s social networking activity can be viewed from the People Hub. Now, Microsoft has gone one step further and introduced ‘Rooms’. With the help of ‘Rooms’, users can create a special, private chat for selected users. The members of the Room can share calendars, important reminders, important dates, shopping lists and whatnot with the other members of that Room. Each Room can be pinned to the Start Screen of the device and updates information automatically on the Live Tile. Rooms will also be available on competing mobile Operating Systems soon but, Microsoft insists that the Rooms experience on WP8 will be the very best.
- Applications– Along with tight SkyDrive integration, Microsoft has also included MS Office, OneNote and various other services in WP8. Windows Phone 8 uses Nokia Maps instead of Bing Maps, which has turned out to be a brilliant move for them. Nokia Maps is extensive, fast and superbly detailed even in countries like India. This could be a huge boost for the WP8 devices.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone Store has come a long way since its inception. It now has 120,000 applications in its repository. Though this is a mere fraction when compared to Android and iOS, Microsoft claims that a huge percentage of applications are being approved and added to the WP Store every single day. Also, Microsoft has signed up with 46 of 50 of the most popular application makers to make apps for WP8. Angry Birds Star Wars, Cut The Rope Experiments, Draw Something, Temple Run, UrbanSpoon, Pandora and a plethora of popular apps are going to make their debut on the Windows Phone ecosystem soon. Pandora has agreed to provide an ad-free subscription of one year to all Windows Phone 8 users.
This is where the WP ecosystem is really losing out. The Operating System itself is friendly, usable and beautiful but, the lack of apps is what makes consumers decide against it. New services often come to Android and iOS way before they come to Windows Phone. Also, the absence of various Google services is a heavy loss for consumers.
Windows Phone 8 is an out-an-out improvement over its previous iterations. It has been brought up to speed with its Android and iOS counterparts. And how. Microsoft is really going all-out with its Windows Phone 8 marketing and adoption amongst developers. If developers do take the plunge and decide to develop apps for the Windows Phone platform, Apple and Google could be in for some real trouble.