Microsoft’s announcement of the new version of the Windows Phone operating system has left some fans of the platform disappointed. While MS collaborator Nokia has dedicated its leading Lumia range to the operating system, current users will not be getting an upgrade to the new software, being left instead with an incremental update called Windows Phone 7.8.
The reasons for this are, while on the surface the latest version of the OS may look like an evolution of its predecessor, its foundations have been ripped out and re-built, making it incompatible with older devices. We’ve picked out some of the platform’s key points to see how they now compare to the biggest names on the market, Android and iOS.
Much has been made of Windows Phone’s good looks, with the general consensus being that it brings something new to the smartphone table in terms of the appearance of its user interface. Live tiles are a great idea, and finds inds a comfortable position between app icons and widgets while remaining distinctive from each. Windows Phone 8 takes the idea one step further. The tiles on the homescreen of the new OS can be re-sized, displaying more and more information as they get bigger.
Apple’s iOS 6 sticks with the minimalist approach that has existed since the OS’s first iteration, with a grid of static icons forming the UI’s basis. Other features have been added over time such as folders and the notifications bar, but the basic framework which reduces the UI to almost nothing and conducts nearly all functions via applications remains.
Android’s interface on the other hand has developed into an idiosyncratic array of icons and widgets sprawled across several homescreens. While HTC has recently paired-back its Sense user interface and admitted that it had become too cluttered, the average Android screen remains a busy place.
Windows Phone has caught up with other operating systems by offering support for multi-core devices in its latest iteration. Quite what Nokia will make of this remains to be seen after the Finnish firm’s CEO Stephen Elop recently claimed that dual-core CPUs are nothing more than a drain on battery life. Nevertheless, the new OS has the capability to support up to 64 cores within a phone’s processor, allowing it to go way beyond what is available today.
Android and iOS have been supporting multi-core chips for some time, with recent Android-powered devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X pushing the platform into quad-core territory and Apple likely to follow suit with the next iPhone.
Where WP8 joins Android and trounces iOS is in support for microSD cards, previously absent in Windows Phone devices and something that is at odds with the sealed, unibody design of Nokia’s flagship Lumia range. However, with cloud storage options becoming more commonplace, support for physical removable storage may not be so important anymore.
Perhaps most noteworthy with the new version of Microsoft’s mobile platform is the inclusion of support for higher-specced screen resolutions than in previous iterations. WP8 could theoretically be seen on screen sizes up to the 4.8-inches of the Galaxy S III with support for 720p resolution being introduced.
Android already has excellent support for a variety of screen resolutions with Ice Cream Sandwich even stretching as far as full HD. Apple’s iOS is configured for the limited number of devices which run it, but the Retina displays that are now standard on many Apple devices can boast incredible performance. The highest resolution currently supported by iOS is the latest iPad’s display of 2048×1536 pixels.
Apps and Features
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has addressed one of the long term problems that existed with the platform – the lack of apps available for it. Although that number has recently passed the 100,000 mark it still pales in comparison to Android’s 500,000 and iOS’ 650,000. The software giant’s solution to this has been to utilise standard programming languages, C and C++, to build the platform, making it much easier for app developers to port their creations across from other platforms.
Recent statistics have revealed that app developers far prefer iOS as the first platform for their projects, despite the enormous sales figures for Android devices. Although a number of iOS apps are written in the Objective C language (which locks them into Apple’s platform) many are written in C++, making them easily portable to Android, and now Windows Phone. This could vastly increase the number of apps available and make the operating system itself a more attractive proposition for developers.
Alongside the potential opportunities for developers, Windows Phone 8 has some native features which could make it very appealing indeed to consumers. Nokia Maps, which uses Nokia’s NavTec data and has so far been exclusive to the Finnish manufacturer’s Lumia Range, is being made available across the whole spectrum of Windows Phone devices. Unlike Google’s navigation offering, Nokia’s mapping service is available offline and operates in a similar way to the new map functions Apple has announced for iOS 6.
Apple led the way for voice-assistants with Siri and Android has begun to follow suit with Samsung’s S-Voice on the Galaxy S III. Windows Phone steps into the fray with a voice command system that allows users to give basic functions to the device. The service will also be open to third party developers, allowing them to incorporate it in to their apps in the future.
Connectivity and Compatibility
Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 are built around what Microsoft calls a ‘Shared Windows Core’, ostensibly a framework at the heart of both platforms and something that means apps and content can be easily developed and ported between both.
While several of the developments brought in with WP8 are following what the other, bigger platforms already do, there is one area where Microsoft certainly leads the pack.
Windows Phone 8 is designed to be fully compatible with other Windows devices, offering a level of interaction that is not matched by Android and iOS. WP8 features Xbox live integration, utilising this ‘shared core’ with Windows 8, allowing apps and data to be easily transferred between them.
Although iOS and Android both feature a range of compatibility options, neither can match the levels to which Microsoft has taken its new OS. Apple is increasing the compatibility of its desktop and mobile browsers with iOS 6 and Android uses your Google account to sync content and data between devices, however, Microsoft is leading the way in terms of incorporating its mobile platform into a wider ecosystem.
The other big development in terms of connectivity with Windows Phone 8 is the introduction of support for NFC. Android still leads the way in support for this technology but Microsoft is clearly following suit in terms of contactless payments. iOS lags behind, with no support for NFC in devices running the platform, despite the Passbook app that has been announced for iOS 6 which allows users to store all their electronic tickets, passes and coupons in one place.
Lastly, Windows Phone 8 is said to bring innovative solutions to mobile security, with Microsoft promising “desktop level security for mobile”. Internet Explorer 10 is capable of filtering malicious content, hopefully avoiding the Windows desktop platform’s notorious vulnerability to viruses from being transferred over to the mobile sphere.
Whilst Antivirus software is available for Android, so far the area is only covered by third party apps, with several available via Google Play.
With iOS being such a restrictive environment for developers, there are limitations on what third party apps can do, and security comes down to Apple itself. Although the possibility of malicious programmes gaining access to an iOS device has been suggested, Apple does not currently offer anything like the security that Microsoft promises with Windows Phone 8.
Windows Phone 8 is a huge revamp of Microsoft’s operating system, rebuilding it from the ground up and preparing it for the future. Such a change is surprising since it is only a couple of years ago that Microsoft rebranded Windows Mobile into its current form, and the hardware needed to run the new OS means current WP users won’t get an upgrade.
Compared to Android, WP8 looks like an excellent operating system that is in a position to gain a significant market share. The way in which a Windows Phone device can now integrate with a whole ecosystem is beyond anything that other mobile platforms can manage and will be a good selling point for devices running the OS. Success could now hang on whether or not the changes to the basis of the operating system is enough to tempt more app developers over to Windows Phone, with there being a good chance that users will follow if they do.