Windows

Is Windows Phone 8 worth the wait?

Deb Shinder discusses Microsoft's preview of Windows Phone 8. Find out why she's cautiously optimistic about this device.

As a Microsoft MVP, with a spouse who's an FTE, I wanted to want a Windows Phone from the beginning. When Windows Phone 7 was introduced, I liked the user-friendly, responsive interface, the live tiles, and the fresh, new look. But it was just lacking too many "must have" features -- that I already had on my Android phone -- for me to make the switch. When WP 7.5 (Mango) came out, with multitasking, tethering, and other improvements, I was tempted again. However, it just wasn't enough, so I invested in a Galaxy Nexus while waiting for Windows Phone to win me over.

I had little doubt that someday it would. Microsoft has often been slow out of the gate, but they do a great job of playing catch-up. The remaining deal breakers for me were removable storage (microSD), 4G, and a really good camera, although there were a number of additional little things on my wish list.

Starting all over again (again)

In 2010, Microsoft "started over" in the mobile phone software market, dumping their long-time Windows Mobile OS and replacing it with a new and different one they called Windows Phone 7. Yesterday, Microsoft held a Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco, where they gave us a brief sneak preview of Windows Phone 8, which is coming out in the fall. Note that this came one day after the unveiling of their Surface tablets that will run Windows RT and Windows 8.

The excitement at the Summit began with the hoped-for announcement that WP 8 will be built on the idea of "shared code" -- that is, instead of being based on Windows CE, it will be based on Windows 8. Once again, it seems, Microsoft is starting over.

That has a lot of implications, most good but some bad, depending on your point of view. For those who took the plunge and bought WP 7/7.5 devices, it means your current hardware won't be compatible with the new OS. However, WP 7x users were assured that Microsoft will remain committed to them and will provide updates to provide some of the same functionality as WP 8.  For those who waited, it means that now you can get a Windows phone without making all those compromises you didn't want to make. For developers, it means the ability to easily move their apps from Windows 8 to Windows Phone and vice versa.

What's new?

The presentation by Joe Belfiore (Microsoft corporate vice president) began with the caveat that the focus would be on the platform, not on features. Consequently, there were still many unanswered questions at the end, but there was enough information to get me excited and hopeful that later this year, I just might be ready to finally make the leap to a Windows device as my primary smartphone.

New and improved Start screen

First, the interface just looks better. It's more customizable, with more colors to choose from (finally) and options to resize individual live tiles to small, medium, or large. Those of us who want it all at our fingertips can fit more tiles onto that all-important "first page" (the portion that shows by default) of the Start Screen. It's a small change but could prove big in improving usability. An update for current Windows Phone users, which will be called Windows 7.8, will add the new Start Screen to Windows Phone 7.5 devices.

Better hardware for better performance

A big frustration for would-be Windows Phone adopters has been the way the hardware lagged behind that on which other platforms were built. Windows Phones have been single-core, low resolution, 3G devices competing in a multi-core, high definition, 4G world. It appears those issues are being addressed with WP 8. The first WP 8 phones will run on dual-core processors and will support up to 1280x768 displays. AT&T spokespersons have previously said they would launch "the very first 4G LTE Windows Phone smartphones in the U.S." later this year.

I rejoiced when I heard the news that WP 8 will support removable microSD. That was the one "missing in action" piece that almost kept me from getting the Nexus, and I was disturbed by what appeared to be a trend in the direction of no user-removable flash memory support. Dare I ask for even more? Microsoft could really move out in front if they added support for microSDXC (which allows cards more than 32 GB in capacity), as they've done with the Pro version of the Surface tablet.

No traveler left behind

Every time I considered moving from Android to Windows Phone, there was a big roadblock in my way: I didn't want to give up Google Navigation. Google Nav on my phone has completely replaced my old standalone GPS; it works better, it's always up-to-date, and it has a more pleasant voice. So, I was happy to hear that WP 8 will have Nokia's well-known and liked mapping software, with turn-by-turn directions, built-in. It will also work offline, which is something that has presented a problem for me in the past when traveling overseas where I didn't have a data connection.

"We need to talk"

During the presentation, we saw a demo of a Siri-like speech feature that could be used not just to give commands, but to have a "conversation" with your apps. It didn't work perfectly (neither does Siri), but it did work pretty well and shows a lot of potential for those who prefer to talk to their phones. The speech platform will now be opened up to all developers. It's going to be interesting to see what they do with it.

What's in your wallet?

A great deal of time was spent demonstrating the NFC capabilities of Windows Phone 8. Microsoft has put a lot of effort into creating a functional digital wallet that will hold your debit and credit card information as well as other documents, such as boarding passes, and allow you to pay at NFC-enabled checkout facilities using your phone. NFC can also be used to share data between phones, tablets, laptops, and PCs (that have NFC technology) or read embedded NFC tags on magazine pages, business cards, signs, etc.

Phone calls

Oh, and by the way, the phone will also make phone calls, but not just traditional cellular calls. Developers will be able to create apps that will let you answer VoIP calls made over the Internet, using the same phone interface that you use for calls over the cellular network. Skype integration is another bonus.

OTA updates

Another deal-killer for me, when I was considering a Windows Phone 7 device, was the necessity to connect the phone to Zune on a PC in order to update it. This requirement annoyed me no end when I was testing a Windows Phone. So, it made me very happy indeed to learn that WP 8 updates will be delivered over the air.

Bridging the gap between consumer and enterprise?

Many of the platform features mentioned above can be useful to business users but seem designed especially to appeal to consumers. Others, such as the "killer games" that will be enabled by the new "shared native code" (C and C++) support, are decidedly consumer-oriented. But Microsoft hasn't forgotten its enterprise base in designing WP 8.

Businesses may finally have a smartphone that has all the functionality of a consumer device but is also secure and manageable enough to make BYOD less of a nightmare for IT. WP 8 offers BitLocker encryption of the entire device, UEFI secure boot like Windows 8, application sandboxing, and remote management using the same tools used to manage Windows 8 PCs.

Summary

The introduction of Windows Phone 8 was just a first -- and incomplete -- look at Microsoft's latest remake of their mobile OS. I expect criticism of the decision to go with a whole new code base so soon after the Windows Phone 7 "reimagining," especially from people who recently spent money on a 2nd generation Windows Phone 7 device, such as the Lumia.

However, I think in the long run, the decision to converge the code base across all devices, from phone to tablet to laptop to PC, makes sense. It will provide consistency for users and developers, and device management will be easier for businesses.

For the first time since the debut of Windows Phone 7, I'm excited without reservations. Until this announcement, I was pretty sure my next phone would be a Galaxy Note 2 (or the Verizon equivalent). Now, I'm not so sure. Based on the presentation, most (if not all) of my most important issues have been addressed. We haven't heard a lot about the new camera app yet, although we do know Nokia phones will have new features that include a self-timer and panorama mode. Picture quality will depend on the hardware and will likely vary.

Is it enough to make me switch? I won't know for sure until I hold one in my hand and put it through its paces for a few days of real-world use, but I'm cautiously optimistic. I just hope the carriers get behind this new Windows Phone and give it a fighting chance.

Are you willing to give Windows Phone 8 consideration in your organization? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

Also read

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

12 comments
Fletchguy
Fletchguy

The biggest thing that made wp7 a fail is still the biggest part of Microsofts new wp8..the metro tiled ui. Microsoft seems to have slowed on being in touch with it's consumer base. It was made very clear during the wp7 time that people did not want the phones mainlky due to the horrible tile look and customization. In order for Microsoft to compete they must without fail dump the metro tile ui and give the users something that make its a related to true windows expirence. In overwhelming loudness consumers have already damned the entire windows 8 idea and prereleases which should have Microsoft rethinking the entire launch which may actually be the nail in their coffin. I have always been a Microsoft guy but with the android phone tablet options and much better ui and customization options windows phone as is has no chance to even get 5% of the market.

cybershooters
cybershooters

The big deal killer as far as I was concerned is that you have to do Outlook sync OTA with Windows Phone 7 which was not practical, is there a way of connecting a Windows Phone 8 via a cable to a PC?

Aikon1953
Aikon1953

This is a real bad move on Microsoft's part, and it does not help companies like Nokia who are trying to turn the ship around. This is one of the big reasons people have gone to iOS & Android devices, Nokia did this with N900 & MeGo, and now the Luma series will experience the same issue. How can you expect customer loyalty when the new smartphone OS will become stale in a year. I wish Nokia had made these devices capable of running say Android OS if one wanted to use in instead and or a daul boot

liverdonor
liverdonor

[quote]However, WP 7x users were assured that Microsoft will remain committed to them and will provide updates to provide some of the same functionality as WP 8.[/quote] Yeah, right. Just ask anyone who is stuck with a Windows Mobile 6.5 device (still under contract, btw) who wants to use Bing for navigation. Fail! You are obsolete now that WP7 is out - no support for you! I just don't buy it. This will be fine, until they come out with the new, improved Windows for Handhelds v10, wherein you 2-year-old phone users are screwed and will no longer be supported.

neil.postlethwaite
neil.postlethwaite

WP should have had the NY Kernel 2 years ago, when WP7 was launched. If I had bought a Lumia on a 2 year contract, I'd be pi55ed. If I were Nokia, I'd wonder why I even bothered, when I could have taken Intel's money and continued with the very promising MeeGo platform and Intel's latest attempt at mobile (though why they sold their successful XScale/StrongARM business to Marvell for $600m 6 years ago is still largely beyond me - x86 v's ARM is a no brainer, even RedNeck dumb Microsoft know that one).

Altoid666
Altoid666

What I really want in the next WP8 Phone : 1. Multi Core Processor 2. Removable Micro SD Card. 3. A QWERTY Slider Key Board. Plus a nice screen and 4G capability that is offered by Verizon. I hope I live long enough.

turrenti
turrenti

All I am waiting on is for t-mobile or verizon to release a comparable phone to the 900. I won't go at&t or move off my unlimited plan on verizon to another service that doesn't have some soft of unlimited plan even if its just throttled.

Justin James
Justin James

I would LOVE a QWERTY KB, that was the one thing I liked about my original Droid and Devour deices (the Devour is, to this day, the nicest piece of physical hardware I've ever used on a phone in terms of feel, style, and features). Multi core CPU? My Lumia 800 has zero lag, and so did my original Samsung Focus. I don't fill my phone with stuff so the removable storage isn't THAT important to me, though I'd be happy to consider it if I could go up to 64 GB storage. J.Ja

Fletchguy
Fletchguy

An dont forget a real UI with no metro tiles and ability to customize it like any other sucessful phone os.

ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org
ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org

Big second on the slider keyboard. My TouchPro2 is getting a little old and I am not thrilled about an Android phone and don't get me started on Apple...

liverdonor
liverdonor

That's not going to happen. In order to get them to support your phones nowadays, you have to pay them a kickback. MSFT said (and rightly so) "no way" -- so it's not happening.