Microsoft Offers First Look at Windows Phone 8

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It’s been quite the week for Microsoft. First, the company unveiled its new Surface tablets at a last-minute press conference on Monday, marking its first entry in the tablet hardware market. Now, Microsoft just wrapped up its “Windows Phone 8 platform preview,” giving developers (and the rest of the world, as it was live-streamed) a first look at the new Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system.

Among the most notable additions to the OS are multi-core chipset support (up to 64 cores, up from just one), support for higher-resolution screens (up to WXGA, 1280 x 768), and expandable storage via microSD cards.

And, of course, per Microsoft’s push for unifying its operating system over all devices, Windows Phone 8 will share the same kernel as Windows 8, which will run on both desktops and tablets, making it even easier for developers to port apps between devices.

Windows Phone 8 Start ScreensThe newest version of Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer 10, will also be carried over from the upcoming Windows 8, providing faster javascript performance and HTML 5 support.

The Start screen will see a bit of a reboot as well, now providing users with more options for resizing and rearranging individual tiles, allowing them to take advantage of the high-resolution displays on impending Windows Phone models. Windows Phone 7.5 currently only allows users to choose from one of two tile sizes, square or rectangle, when arranging them on the Start screen. According to Microsoft, the new Start screen will also have new live tile features, but further details are sparse at the moment.

NFC support is also coming to the Windows Phone platform, along with a new mobile wallet feature. The mobile wallet appears to be a synthesis of Google Wallet and Apple Passbook, supporting both banking/credit cards and tickets/passes. Though all Windows Phone 8 hardware will support the wallet feature, Orange is currently slated to be the first carrier to support the service, with Microsoft’s hope being that it will gain support from US carriers sometime next year.

Upgrades? Yes and No

Unfortunately for Windows Phone 7.5 users, the rumors are true: devices running the current version of Microsoft’s mobile OS will not receive an update to Windows Phone 8. Due to the hardware requirements for the upcoming version, including the multi-core support and higher screen resolutions (current Windows Phones only run on single-core processors and sport WVGA screens), it simply isn’t possible.

As a compromise, the company plans to provide Windows Phone 7.5 users with an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8, which will contain many of the new features from Windows Phone 8. An official summary of what features will be available in the upgrade has yet to be provided, though it does appear that Windows Phone 7.8 will, at the very least, benefit from the new Start screen.

The release of Windows Phone 8 will coincide with the launch of the Surface tablet and Windows 8, which is currently scheduled to take place this fall.

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