Microsoft Launches Windows Phone 8

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Joe Belfiore Windows Phone 8Microsoft officially launched its Windows Phone 8 platform today at an event in San Francisco, and while most of the features discussed weren’t that much of a surprise, it gave attendees a complete picture of what exactly the new mobile OS has to offer.

Prior to the event, Microsoft had been keeping certain aspects of Windows Phone 8 on lockdown, refusing to allow the media to handle WP8 devices at launch events like that of the Lumia 920 and 820, for fear that they may discover certain aspects of the OS that hadn’t yet been revealed. But today, Microsoft fully unwrapped Windows Phone 8, offering few surprises but confirming everything we had heard — but not seen — about the platform up until this point.

“The Heart and Soul” of Windows Phone 8

Joe Belfiore, the corporate vice president of Windows Phone, took to the stage at the start of the event to do the honors and got right down to discussing the new features of Windows Phone 8.

“We first want to remind you of Windows Phone’s heart and soul,” said Belfiore, referencing the unique, tile-based UI. “A static grid of icons has become the standard, but our approach is to put people at the center of the experience. Windows Phone 8 is the most personal smartphone operating system.”

Joe BelfioreBelfiore went onto discuss the operating system’s use of live tiles which, while they are not an entirely new feature as live tiles were present on Windows Phone 7, have now been tweaked to integrate with more apps and different hubs. For instance, the new Wallet app that’s built into the OS can integrate with the live tiles, as can the lock screen.

The lock screen can be customized now to act like a giant live tile, filtering in content like photos, notifications, and content from apps of the user’s choosing, including sports updates, Facebook content, and more. This way, instead of merely sporting the same picture every time a user powers up their Windows Phone 8 device, they can instead see new photos from their Facebook stream or other updated content.

Apps Galore

While Belfiore was on the subject of Facebook, he mentioned that Windows Phone 8 will feature an optimized version of the Facebook app, which will come as a relief to just about anybody who’s ever had to use the clunky, buggy version of the app that’s currently available on Windows Phone 7. Likewise, many other companies are optimizing their apps for the platform, including Twitter, Urbanspoon (which will let users utilize voice recognition to find local restaurants), CNN, and Skype.

Specifically, Belfiore said that the new version of Skype is meant to “integrate naturally” into the Windows Phone experience, as it will always be on and ready to receive a message or call at any time. Most importantly, however, it will do so without running its code in the background and draining the phone’s battery.

Windows Phone 8 App SelectionIt isn’t just about quality on the apps front, either; it’s about quantity now, too. The app selection on Windows Phone has always been limited in comparison to Android and iOS, so Belfiore made sure to mention that many new apps would be coming to the platform, including Temple Run, Words With Friends, Draw Something, Jetpack Joyride, and the cross-platform Fairway Solitaire, contributing to the Marketplace’s 120,000 app selection. By the time these new piece of software are introduced, the Marketplace will offer 46 of the top 50 mobile apps.

One other specific app that was mentioned is one that many Windows Phone users have likely been waiting for: Pandora. Set to be released in early 2013, the Windows Phone 8 version of Pandora will come with one year of ad-free music.

And finally, the last specific app that Belfiore mentioned was the Data Sense app, which offers users information about their data usage and helps them track it. It may not be a revolutionary idea, but Data Sense goes beyond just tracking usage and also looks to make it more efficient by compressing web pages to use less data, offloading data when approaching monthly limits, and even tracking down nearby hotspots on your map so you can switch over to Wi-Fi.

Data Sense will also be one of the apps that can integrate with the live tiles, automatically updating to show how much data has been used per month. But given the fact that Data Sense (obviously) tracks data plans, it needs to be compatible with those of specific carriers. Right now, Verizon Wireless is the first carrier to offer Data Sense, with support from other carriers coming in the future.

Please continue on to Page 2, which covers smartphones that will run Windows Phone 8, the innovative Kids Corner, and more.

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