Where Will Microsoft Take Windows Phone Next?

 

Windows Phone has recently made some significant leaps forward. True, no WP handset has set the mobile world alight in the same way a new iPhone will, but the platform and its related devices have been making headway. Earlier this week it emerged that Windows Phone has taken a larger market share in China than Apple, despite the first phone running the OS only having been released in the world’s largest mobile market two months ago.

Whilst Windows Phone is supported by several manufacturers, it is Microsoft’s relationship with Nokia that has drawn the most attention when it comes to the emerging mobile platform. Following Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s ‘burning platform’ speech the Finnish manufacturer dropped its MeeGo OS and reduced support for Symbian, choosing to focus on Windows Phone with its new handsets.

This collaboration has produced some excellent devices, most notably the recent Lumia 900, which could turn Nokia’s recent fortunes around. With the latest Windows Phone iteration having gradually embedded itself in the consciousness of the mobile-buying public as a realistic third choice behind the big guns of iOS and Android, where is Microsoft going to take its mobile platform next?

Although not officially confirmed by the software-giant, many rumours suggest that a new version, Windows Phone 8, will be released in October. We decided to take a look at what we already know, or think we know, about the upcoming operating system.

Official Announcements

Specific, detailed, confirmed announcements from Microsoft or any of its manufacturing partners are still very thin on the ground. However, there have been a few scraps thrown our way, some of which have led to even  more speculation and confusion.

As far as mobile manufacturers go, Samsung and HTC have announced that they will be producing Windows Phone devices in the future. Backing like this is hugely important for the platform, especially since Samsung recently overtook Nokia to become the world’s biggest manufacturer of mobile phones. Both have created devices for Windows Phone before, with Samsung’s Omnia 7 and HTC’s Titan being notable examples of how Microsoft has worked with manufacturers to produce proficient, if not particularly prevalent, handsets.

 

 

As for Microsoft itself, the company’s evasive and sporadic approach to announcements and revelations has led to some confusion. Microsoft developer Nuno Silva announced in April that a new version of Windows Phone will be compatible with all current WP devices, and all upgrades would be rolled out in one go. Great, thought the platform’s subscribers, especially those who have recently bought Nokia’s new flagship Lumia 900, and don’t want their new device to become dated within a few months of purchase.

However, no sooner had the sweat been wiped off the collective brow of the Windows Phone faithful than Silva gave them more reason to worry. Just days after his original comments the developer wrote a post on his blog retracting the majority of what he had said, stating: “The point I was attempting to make was simply that existing Windows Phone applications will run on the next version of Windows Phone. This is the same guidance that Microsoft shared late last year.

“I mistakenly confused app compatibility with phone updateability . . .I did not intend to give the impression I was offering new guidance on any products under development or their upgradeability”.

So all existing Windows Phone apps will be compatible with the new version of the software, but there is no news on devices themselves. Windows Phone users will not find much comfort in knowing that the apps they have bought on their account will work when the device they use them on may not.

Leaks

As with many anticipated developments in the mobile world, there are far more leaks and rumours than there ever are confirmed details. Windows Phone has so far not garnered anywhere near the number of stories that abounded in the build-up to Samsung’s Galaxy S III release, but we have still seen some interesting things emerge.

 

The most comprehensive revelations came about back in February when mobile tech site PocketNow somehow got its hands on a promotional video meant only for for the eyes of Nokia employees. The video featured Microsoft senior vice president and Windows Phone product manager Joe Belfiore explaining several developments made in relation to the  mobile platform. Rather than anything visual, the improvements were focussed on the inner-workings of the operating system.

Assuming the video and details within it are genuine, a new version of Windows Phone will see support for multi-core processors – something that is missing in the current iteration and probably influenced Nokia’s decision to opt for single-core chips in its Lumia range. There could  also be compatibility with a range of screen resolutions, possibly to accommodate HTC’s Titan with its large, 4.7-inch display.

Support for microSD cards may also be introduced, allowing users to increase their device’s storage capabilities beyond what is available out of the box. NFC support might also be on the cards, after Belfiore claimed that the new OS will be “placing specific emphasis on (Windows Phone) 8′s push into contactless payments”.

The video suggests that Microsoft will be taking a different approach to camera functionality on the new software, creating a base on top of which a manufacturer can build its own software and tailor it towards the capabilities of each device. Nokia recently grabbed headlines with its 808 PureView and the device’s 41 megapixel camera, so it will be interesting to see if the Finnish manufacturer continues to push the boundaries of mobile photography with the freedom which the new version of Windows Phone will bring.

The last revelation to emerge from Belfiore’s video involves Skype, with the VoIP service integrating with the OS so that calls function in a very similar way to those placed in the traditional manner.

No other sources have revealed anywhere near as much information as the video uncovered by PocketNow, but rumours have emerged from elsewhere. Most recently, a banner ad for the Lumia 900 which appeared on computer site PC Advisor may have seen Nokia accidentally giving us a peek at the upcoming OS. The homescreen of the device in the advert displayed some features that don’t currently appear in Windows Phone 7, such as a split Pictures tile listing how many images are on the handset, and a People Hub tile which sees a reminder for the user to “Meet up with Sarah”. Once spotted, these small details led to speculation that the device used in the advert may have been running a development version of a new Windows Phone iteration.

 

Also worth noting are a collection of images which purport to show sketches of future Windows Phone features, although no source has ever been named and the veracity of the information is unclear. Genuine or not, the images hint at some interesting ideas concerning the management of multitasking and suggest that Live Tiles might become customisable in  future versions.

All of these rumours suggest that a new version of Microsoft’s mobile platform will be an evolution rather than a revolution, with incremental but important changes to the existing software seen on the likes of the Nokia Lumia 900 being introduced.

Windows Phone users are still very much in the dark about the upcoming version of the OS, and concern amongst those who have recently purchased WP handsets over whether their devices will get an upgrade, are understandable. From a consumer perspective, it does seem slightly unfair that Microsoft has done nothing to dispel these fears, even if it stops short of actually announcing the new operating system.

Windows Phone has grown into an impressive, versatile platform that is making a small but significant impact and offering a real alternative to the dominance of iOS and Android. What remains to be seen is whether or not Microsoft can built on its operating system’s recent success and take the Windows name to the top of the mobile world, and achieve the same levels of dominance as its desktop offering once did.

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