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Windows Phone 8: What We Need To Know ?

Skype will be deeply integrated into Apollo

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango may have only have appeared in October, with the smaller Windows Phone Tango update due soon.
But already rumors are flying about Windows Phone 8, Microsoft’s next-gen phone OS, codenamed Apollo.
Here’s everything we know about Windows Phone Apollo so far.

 

Windows Phone 8 release date

According to a roadmap leaked late last year, the Tango update for Windows phone will come out in Q2 this year and Apollo follows in Q4; probably late October like Mango.

Windows Phone 8 kernel

The biggest news revealed regarding Windows Phone 8 is how many components of the Windows 8 architecture it will include: networking, security, multimedia support – and at least part of the kernel.

Although Microsoft dismissed the details in the video as just “a wishlist” after the leak, a Microsoft job advert from last year suggests the situation may be more advanced, talking about system software that will run “in user-mode and kernel-mode”.

That’s not another way of saying native code and managed code (although there are changes there); user mode and kernel mode are two security levels in the Windows NT kernel in desktop versions of Windows, used to give programs different levels of access to the system. If they’re coming to Windows Phone 8, it’s a strong argument for the kernel now being based on Windows.

Windows Phone 8 for developers

There is more native code access in Apollo too. Developers can already write native code on Windows Phone today – but only if they’re working for an OEM or directly with Microsoft.
Opening that up to more developers would let them create more powerful apps and would explain references in the video to making it easier to take apps designed for Windows 8 and bring them to the phone, especially as apps will now be able to pass information between each other using similar mechanisms to the ‘contracts’ for searching and sharing in Windows 8.

Perhaps that will finally allow you to take screenshots of your phone too…

Developers and phone makers – especially Nokia – will get much more control when they write software to work with the camera; these ‘lenses’ will let them add features or change the interface of what Windows Phone chief Joe Belfiore called the “basic” built-in camera app in the leaked video..

Windows Phone 8 for developers

There is more native code access in Apollo too. Developers can already write native code on Windows Phone today – but only if they’re working for an OEM or directly with Microsoft.
Opening that up to more developers would let them create more powerful apps and would explain references in the video to making it easier to take apps designed for Windows 8 and bring them to the phone, especially as apps will now be able to pass information between each other using similar mechanisms to the ‘contracts’ for searching and sharing in Windows 8.

Perhaps that will finally allow you to take screenshots of your phone too…

Developers and phone makers – especially Nokia – will get much more control when they write software to work with the camera; these ‘lenses’ will let them add features or change the interface of what Windows Phone chief Joe Belfiore called the “basic” built-in camera app in the leaked video..

Windows Phone 8 Skype

There are two things delaying Skype for Windows Phone. One is simply writing the code; Skype needs to be rewritten both for Windows 8 using the WinRT framework so it works in Metro-style applications and Windows Phone 8.

But with Windows Phone 8 getting more Windows 8 technologies, that means less work to redo. The other is architecting Skype so it’s not a battery hog.
We’re hearing conflicting reports on whether Skype will be fully integrated on Apollo, a separate app or – perhaps more likely – a component that carriers can choose to include or leave out.

The leaked video also promises another VoIP standard called RCSe which handset makers and carriers started talking up last year as something that would be included on many different handsets out of the box. Both options will be integrated into apps like the address book so you can directly, instead of going through a separate app.

 

Windows Phone 8 will run Windows Phone 7 apps

This isn’t news; Microsoft announced it at the /build/ conference last September, evangelist Brandon Watson confirmed it on Twitter and there’s even a job advert on the Microsoft site for someone who can set up “automated testing of marketplace apps written for Mango but running on Apollo”.

 

Windows Phone 8 upgrades

There’s no official word, but Microsoft has always said handsets would get at least two major upgrades and if Mango apps can run, it seems probable that at least Mango handsets would get an update.

Windows Phone 8 handsets

The leaked video talked about four new form factors; we think we’ve found those on a slide deck Albert Shum showed TechRadar last year, with different screen resolutions and aspect ratios, including a 5-7″ tablet, a phone with a forward-facing keyboard for the business segment mentioned in the roadmap and a 1.2″ square Windows Phone watch, like an iPod nano or MOTOACTV.

New handsets will have a microSD slot, which means Microsoft has either found a source of fast memory cards or changed the way it uses extra storage.

Windows Phone has always supported microSD but currently it formats the card and uses it as part of the pool of storage that the operating system and apps run on as well as storing multimedia files there. If the card isn’t as fast as the internal memory – and many aren’t, especially as counterfeiting is rife– then the whole phone would slow down.

With the change in the underlying code, Windows Phone 8 might be using memory cards just for files that don’t need to load as fast as app code does.

 

Windows Phone 8 NFC

Windows Phone 8 phones will also have NFC chips, so you can use them to tap on readers to pay with a credit card, go through a ticket barrier or pair with an external device (your laptop for wireless file sync or a Bluetooth keyboard perhaps?).

Carriers will be able to brand the payment wallet, both on network-locked phones and when you transfer a SIM into an unlocked phone (the same way that putting an Orange SIM into an unlocked phone gives you access to the Orange Collection in the marketplace).

This could be one reason that Microsoft has been drawing so much attention to having what it claims are better privacy policies than Google lately. It also means the secure boot and BitLocker data encryption Windows Phone 8 gets from Windows 8 will be important for consumers as well as making it more popular with businesses.

 


Windows Phone 8 goes beyond Qualcomm Snapdragon

Apollo will also finally support ARM systems that don’t come from Qualcomm (all Windows Phones so far have been Qualcomm-based). ARM CPUs aren’t like Intel chips; they don’t come pre-built with chipsets to integrate them onto a motherboard and drivers for all the pieces.

ARM integrators like Qualcomm and Marvell and ST-Ericsson licence the instructions for the ARM CPU and do the work of integrating a GPU, chipsets, firmware and drivers for everything down to the buttons on the handset (that’s called a board support package), which means every ARM platform is different.

Nokia has announced that it’s going to use ST-Ericsson’s dual-core NovaThor platform instead of the Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Qualcomm with have dual-core versions of Snapdragons ready for manufacturers like Samsung and HTC.

 


Windows Phone 8 on small screens

At the other end of the market, one of the new form factors looks to have a much smaller screen. That’s the kind of handset we expect to take advantage of Microsoft relaxing the hardware specification by making the front and rear camera, compass and gyroscope all optional, giving Windows Phone a shot displacing the Android phones that NPD In-Stat says will be 80% of the cheap smartphone market by 2015.

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