Hot on the heels of its desktop OS launch last week, Microsoft has now officially launched Windows Phone 8.
The new operating system is due to be sold on a number of fresh handsets from the likes of Nokia (the Lumia 820 and 920), HTC (Windows Phone 8X and 8S) and Samsung (Ativ).
These phones are notably colourful, matching the customisation levels of the tiled interface, and enabling punters to buy devices which aren’t just black, grey or silver slabs.
But it’s not the colours folks are really interested in, but the hardware which is running the OS, and what’s new in Windows Phone 8.
The hardware is certainly a big step up from Windows Phone 7.5, with the new handsets sporting dual-core processors to try and keep up with the Android Joneses (not quad-core, mind).
The operating system itself makes a number of new introductions, including Rooms, Kid’s Corner, integrated Skype, a Wallet feature, and something called Data Sense.
Kid’s Corner is a customisable, locked away area on the phone that parents can set up, and then hand the smartphone over to their kids without worrying that they’ll end up accidentally one-click buying something on Amazon, or surfing to a dodgy corner of the web.
Rooms allows you to create groups of people in order to easily connect with them to chat, share photos, calendar events and so forth.
Wallet is Microsoft’s digital wallet application, which can store debit/credit cards, as well as loyalty cards, and can facilitate payment in conjunction with your handset’s NFC.
Finally, Data Sense is a web page compression service, allowing you to conserve your data allowance better and do more surfing per month as a result – the snag is a network has to sign up for this feature, and it’s not clear who will, yet. Only Verizon in the States is confirmed.
One of the biggest changes, though, is the fact that Windows Phone 8 is built on the same kernel as Windows 8 itself. This means that it should be easier for developers to write apps for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 – and will hopefully lead to an expansion in Windows Phone app numbers.
Currently there are 120,000 Windows Phone apps, which is a decent number, but less than a fifth of the amount which can be gleaned on Android and iOS. Yes, a fair few of those apps are of a dubious quality (cue the iPhone fart app comments) – but the fact is, there are plenty of quality apps which can’t be had on Windows Phone. Not yet, anyway.
Thus far, Microsoft has failed to make any real impact on the mobile market with its new mobile operating system – and it has had two long years to do so. Windows Phone 8 has to start carving out some serious market share, otherwise Redmond’s mobile strategy is going to founder and sink.