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Microsoft announces Windows Phone 8, launching this Fall with redesigned Start screen, dual-core support, and more

Microsoft held their Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco today, and they used the event to premiere the next version of their mobile operating system: Windows Phone 8. Joe Belfiore, head of all things Windows Phone at Microsoft, highlighted 8 new features that Windows Phone 8 will bring for developers and users when it launches in the Fall.

First, and most importantly, Windows Phone 8 now has a “shared core” with Windows 8. For developers, this means that kernel, networking, multimedia, driver support, and more will be shared between Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Belfiore said the shared core will allow for a wider range of form factors, price points, and capabilities for consumers, as well as better apps from third-party developers.

Multi-core support is also on its way to the platform, meaning that hardware manufacturers will finally be able to produce dual-core Windows Phone devices. Though quad-core phones are technically feasible with Windows Phone 8, Belfiore stated that Microsoft is focusing on dual-core for now. Also coming is support for 3 new screen resolutions – WVGA 800×480, WXGA 1280×768, and 720p 1280×720 – and removable microSD storage for Photos, Movies, Music, and Installing apps.

Internet Explorer 10 will be built-in to Windows Phone 8, which will bring SmartScreen anti-phising, 4x faster JavaScript performance, and 2x HTML5 feature support. Microsoft is providing a native game development platform based on DirectX which will be common across Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Belfiore says this should allow developers to easily port games from Windows, iOS, and Android to Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft has taken a huge step into the mobile payment world by announcing native NFC support and a Wallet hub for Windows Phone 8. Microsoft’s Wallet hub will support debit cards, credit cards, loyalty & membership cards, and NFC Tap to Pay. The company is working with Orange France, as well as ISIS backers AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, to support Windows Phone 8 Wallet sometime next year. This support will come by way of a “secure SIM” that the carriers will provide. Orange France will be first to provide this secure SIM sometime in the Fall. In addition, all Marketplace purchases and in-app purchases (another new feature of WP8) will be handled through the Wallet app.

NFC support in Windows Phone 8 will extend beyond mobile payments. Users will be able to send information such as contacts and photos from one phone to another, similar to Android Beam. NFC can also be used for peer-to-peer gaming across Windows Phone 8 devices, or cross-platform between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Nokia Maps will also come standard on Windows Phone 8, which includes NAVTEQ map data, offline support, access for developers, and Turn-by-Turn directions. Microsoft is also targeting the enterprise with Windows Phone 8, which will support encryption, secure boot, LOB app deployment, device management, and Office.

Microsoft did show off a few user-facing features coming with Windows Phone 8, namely a redesigned Start screen. The new Start screen allows users to pack even more information onto the screen by introducing 3 different sizes for Live tiles: large “double-wide”, standard medium, and the new small size. Users can manually resize any Live tile by long pressing and using the new resize arrow that appears on the bottom right corner of the tile.

Unfortunately, thanks to the extensive behind-the-scenes changes, existing Windows Phone devices will not be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8. However, Microsoft will be issuing a Windows Phone 7.8 update that will bring the new Start screen, as well as other currently unannounced UI changes, to existing Windows Phone 7.5 devices.

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