What is the most obvious thing one will be able to say about Windows Phone 8, which Microsoft announced last Wednesday hot on the heels of its very cool Surface tablet announcement? Well, as with the Surface, the new Windows Phone release is all about Windows 8. Joe Belfiore, the Microsoft VP that has guided Windows Phone over the last three years, puts it this way: "We’ve based the next release of Windows Phone on the rock-solid technology core of Windows 8. It means Windows Phone and its bigger sibling will share common networking, security, media and web browser technology, and a common file system. That translates into better performance, more features, and new opportunities for app developers and hardware makers to innovate faster."
That pretty much says it all. What does this "shared core" scenario actually mean? In short it brings together Microsoft's overarching mobile game plan - one that is at the same time firmly rooted deeply in Microsoft's decades-long history with Windows but one that is also now finally - after approximately 15 years of running in neutral - moving significantly forward at a rapid pace. Once the "big" Windows 8 is finally delivered we believe that Microsoft will begin a new cycle of growth and will finally leave its old self behind.
Is it time to buy Microsoft stock again? Hmm…
The New Stuff
So what can we expect from Windows Phone 8? Here are some highlights that we've directly cribbed from Belfiore:
- Multi-core processor support: As reviewers have noted, Windows Phone runs buttery smooth on phones with a single processor. But piggybacking on the Windows core provides support for multiple cores—so we’re ready for whatever hardware makers dream up
- Bigger, sharper screens: Windows Phone 8 supports two new screen resolutions—1280x768 and 1280x720, opening the door to amazing new handsets with high-definition 720p displays
- More flexible storage: Windows Phone 8 supports removable MicroSD cards, so you can stuff your phone with extra photos, music, and whatever else is important to you, and then easily move it all onto your PC
- NFC wireless sharing: If you haven’t heard the term “NFC” yet, I’m betting you soon will. This emerging wireless technology lets phones share things over short distances. In Windows Phone 8, it helps make sharing photos, Office docs, and contact info easier—just tap your phone another NFC-equipped device
- Internet Explorer 10: The next version of Windows Phone comes with the same web browsing engine that’s headed for Window 8 PCs and tablets. IE10 is faster and more secure, with advanced anti-phishing features like SmartScreen Filter to block dangerous websites and malware
- Wallet: Windows Phone 8’s new digital Wallet feature does two great things. It can keep debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes, and other important info right at your fingertips. And when paired with a secure SIM from your carrier, you can also pay for things with a tap of your phone at compatible checkout counters
- Better maps and directions: Windows Phone 8 builds in Nokia mapping as part of the platform. Our partnership will provide more detailed maps and turn-by-turn directions in many countries, plus the ability to store maps offline on your phone so you can work with maps without a data connection
- Cooler apps and games: Basing Windows Phone 8 on the Windows core will unleash a new wave of amazing apps and especially games, for reasons I’ll touch on in a moment
The Windows Phone Ecosystem Grows Up
What all of these features add up to is the right platform Microsoft needs for explosive growth. Look for Microsoft to rapidly expand its base of vendors for Windows Phone 8 - but more importantly we believe that the mobile device vendors themselves will start looking at Windows Phone 8 with a brand new sense of vigor. Although Nokia will remain its tightest partner, Microsoft necessarily needs to expand that vendor ecosystem, and Windows Phone 8 - but more explicitly its tight relationship with big brother Windows 8 - delivers potentially substantial new leverage.
Alas, Nokia's Lumia 900 won't be going along for the ride - but that is a good thing! Nokia needs to innovate, and as nice as the Lumia 900 is, it doesn't qualify as "innovation." So we're glad that the Lumia will need to be left behind. That said, we anticipate Nokia surprising us with some exciting new hardware.
Unlike its Surface tablet approach - where Microsoft absolutely sees the need to
drive its long time hardware partners towards innovation, we believe that Microsoft feels comfortable with the mobile device vendors holding up their ends on innovative hardware design. It is the right move - and this cannot be understated - for Microsoft to not release its own smartphone designs. It would have a negative impact on its smartphone partners and would result in unsustainable market suppression.
Now that we've put all of that in writing, all that remains is for Microsoft and the smartphone vendors to prove us right. It will be very interesting to not only see new Windows Phone 8 designs emerge, but it will be particularly interesting to see how the new Metro UI interface capabilities are handled - and ultimately how these new smartphone designs integrate with Windows 8, Ultrabooks, and the new tablets we can also anticipate the smartphone vendors getting out the door over the next 6 to 12 months.
Time to buy Microsoft again? Hmm…