Microsoft Unveils Windows Phone 8, Unifies Its Platforms

Boy, Microsoft is on a roll this week. Shortly after shaking up the tablet market with its new Surface tablet, the company offered up a preview of its latest mobile OS, Windows Phone 8.

Unifying desktop and mobile platforms is clearly the way forward in the computing world, and with the impending release of both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, it looks like Microsoft is about to do a bang-up job of it.

The big change between Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 is that the former was built on the Windows CE core; WP8 will share the same Windows core and drivers with Windows 8. That’s a huge deal, because it makes unifying all your screens and apps simple and smooth. Windows developers are probably crying tears of joy.

In addition to providing a consistent experience between WP8 tiles (which can be easily resized by the user) and Metro tiles, the shared core will help WP8 offer support for IPv6, better Bluetooth and NFC, a Direct3D graphics core that enables hardware acceleration, and C and C++. They even share APIs, and porting games will be very easy.

The platform includes support for some impressive features including hardware-based security; multicore device support (which is currently at the dual-core stage on Microsoft’s end); microSD; and WVGA, WXGA, and 720p resolutions.

Windows Phone 8 will ship with Internet Explorer 10, which features faster JavaScript performance, an anti-phishing filter, and more support for HTML5 features, and Nokia’s map technology is onboard, too. Users will be able to enjoy offline map support, turn-by-turn directions, and more.

Microsoft played up the new NFC capabilities, which will enable everything from mobile payments to loyalty and membership cards to tap-to-pay, and security will come in part in the form of PIN code protection. NFC will also enable pushing content smoothly from PC to phone.

Enterprise features weren’t overlooked; WP8 will have boot encryption and secure boot technology, “more familiarity” with Microsoft Office, and IT can set up apps for users without using the Windows Marketplace via the new Company Hub feature.

Microsoft apparently has an eye toward VoIP calling, because it’s Skype app will have the same UI as the phone app, and calls made with either will purportedly feel the same. For example, VoIP calls can run in the background. The platform also features Audible for Mango (available now in the Marketplace) for voice search and command functions.

Unlike its Surface tablet, Microsoft doesn’t appear to plan to use its own hardware, instead going with the traditional route of working with hardware partners, which include Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, and HTC.

Tough luck if you’re hoping to upgrade your current device to WP8, though--the new OS won’t run on them; as a consolation prize, though, legacy devices will get a tweener version called Windows Phone 7.8 that will have some of the new features.

Microsoft is making big moves, and it’s using the launches of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 to do it. Not that we have a horse in the race, but it’s nice to see a giant like Microsoft shake off some rust and step up to compete with the other big players in the market.