Microsoft formally unveiled Windows Phone 8 today, launching an operating system Microsoft hopes will finally mount a compelling challenge to Apple’s iPhone and devices running Android. Microsoft had already shown off much of what was new in Windows Phone 8 at an event earlier this year, but they did have some new features to show off today.
The most important new announcement was a brand new lock screen, powered by what Microsoft is calling Live Apps. Live Apps can push relevant information, such as pictures, sports scores, news, or other data you might find relevant, to your lock screen. The feature doesn’t appear to be as robust as home screen widgets on Android 4.2, but Microsoft is hand displaying data with the same elegant aplomb it’s shown with the rest of the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 user interface. It’s not a game changing feature, but it does bring Windows Phone’s glanceability to the lock screen. An updated Facebook app will be one of the first live apps in the Windows Phone Store.
Microsoft also announced that it’s expanding People Hubs to include Rooms, private groups that can share files, calendars, lists, and other information and chat in real time. Rooms will be cross platform, Microsoft showed off Rooms running on an iPhone, but no word yet on how the feature will work and which operating systems it’s going to be available on. We do know, however, that live chat will only be available between Windows Phone users.
Kid’s Corner is a new Windows Phone feature that lets parents, and other Windows Phone owners who don’t want their kids poking around where they might find more *ahem* adult content set up a place for children to use approved content. Kid’s Corner can be accessed directly from the new lock screen, and the list of approved programs can be adjusted from the Kid’s Corner app. Think of it as multiple users, lite. Like the new lock screen, it’s not nearly as powerful as multiple users in Android 4.2, but it is better than what Apple’s offers on iOS: nothing.
Also announced was Data Sense, a set of data saving tools that includes a live widget to track data usage, data compression in Internet Explorer, and the ability to automatically find and connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. Windows Phone 8 will also force applications to be a bit thriftier with data as users approach their cap. Unfortunately, Data Sense won’t work for all users right away—it requires support from carriers to work properly. Verizon Wireless will be the first to support the new feature with its upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices.
If you’re a prolific smartphone photographer, you’ll need to use Data Sense—Microsoft also announced instant photo uploads to Sky Drive. Google+ and Dropbox have brought similar features to other platforms, but neither integrates as deeply with the operating system as Sky Drive uploads on Windows Phone will.