Microsoft has claimed to have reinvented the smartphone around the user, at its official launch of Windows Phone 8 in San Francisco, California, today. What this means is a highly customisable, personalised smartphone experience Microsoft hopes will tempt users away from iOS and Android.
Joe Belfiore, manager of Windows Phone, spent about an hour lauding the plaudits of the new smartphone platform, which is necessary considering the small dent Windows Phone has made in the market so far.
Windows Phone 8 could mark a turning point, though, and the key selling point is personalisation. While Apple is often criticised for the homogenised look and feel it offers users, and Android is just as often derided as a rip-off of iOS, Microsoft’s plan is to give users devices that play to their individuality. In both the range of hardware on offer with Windows Phone 8 – with a variety of forms and colours – plus the largely customisable user interface, the uniqueness of each Windows Phone 8 smartphone is something that makes it stand out.
A personalised Windows Phone 8 start screen
More apps for that
Some of the new features for Windows Phone 8 include Live Apps, which builds on the idea of Live Tiles offering further integration with other hubs. Aspects of Live Tiles have also been brought to the lock screen, where users can customise what they see and have quick access to from this screen.
An example of this would be an ever-changing Facebook collage, which is just one of the ways in which the Facebook app has been redesigned for enhanced integration with Windows Phone 8.
Windows Phone 8 lock screen with live info
In total, there are now 120,000 apps available for Windows Phone 8, which includes 46 of the top 50 apps across all other platforms – representing significant progress for the Microsoft platform.
Skype has also been revamped for Windows Phone 8 to resemble Skype for Windows 8. The service operates on an ‘always on’ basis, which means users are always accessible this way. However, this is executed efficiently, without running code in the background, so the user’s battery won’t suffer.
Belfiore also announced that one of the new names coming to Windows Phone 8 is Pandora, which will come with one year of ad-free internet radio for Windows Phone 8 users – unfortunately, though, the service isn’t available in Ireland.
A new feature called Data Sense will help Windows Phone 8 users to better manage their data usage. The built-in system automatically compresses every web page viewed on the phone, meaning less data is used; and, when a user is approaching their monthly limit, the software automatically adjusts settings to ensure they get the most out of the data allowance they have left.
Windows Phone 8 Data Sense usage overview
In testing, Microsoft reckons users can get up to 45pc more web browsing for their data plan than they would without Data Sense.
Microsoft has also accounted for children using parents’ smartphones and introduces Kid’s Corner to give them a safe space to play on the phone without parents having to worry about them messing up their settings or accidentally sending messages to their social networks.
Kid’s Corner on Windows Phone 8
Parents can control what apps are accessed via Kid’s Corner and it is easily switched on or off in user settings.
For users’ social networks, Windows Phone 8 incorporates Microsoft’s People Hub, meaning their contacts and all their connected accounts are accessible from one address book. This has been improved with the addition of ‘rooms’, which operate like circles on Google+, allowing users to share certain things with selected groups of individuals.
Example of a ‘Family’ room on Windows Phone 8
This is also available to users on other platforms in a limited capacity, so if an iPhone user in is your ‘Friends’ room, they will still be able to see the calendar to let them know you’re meeting for lunch on Friday, or what have you.
As well as appointments, messages and photos, notes can also be shared in rooms and these are powered by OneNote, allowing users to add images.
Integration with Windows 8 and Xbox was highlighted today, particularly through SkyDrive. With 7GB free for users, Microsoft claims its cloud storage services offer the most of any, and all content from a Windows Phone 8 smartphone will automatically be stored here for access on other devices.
Integration with the Xbox entertainment hub services works the same way, meaning users will have access to the same music, video and games from device to device.
When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to the stage, he emphasised this point by explaining that if users are going to be operating on Windows 8, then Windows Phone 8 is the best phone for them to have – and considering the high adoption rate of Windows products to date, it’s a highly convincing argument.
To further encourage adoption of the phones, the Windows Phone 8 launch turned out to be a ‘one for everybody in the audience’ event. A keen move by Microsoft in an effort to convert the tech press to their platform.
Ballmer also confirmed that recently announced Windows Phone 8 devices (such as the Nokia Lumia 920, the Samsung Ativ S and HTC’s Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S will be available in Europe from this weekend.