Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled their new tablet platform, Surface. Today they revealed not only the next version of their mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, but also how their whole Windows 8 ecosystem will play together.
Windows Phone 8 adds a lot of features that developers have been hoping for. These features should, in the end, mean better apps. Better multitasking, in-app purchase, and finally, native code apps. This last one is a big deal because it will allow game developers to quickly port games between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. It will also give the ability for developers to port iOS games to Windows Phone 8 much quicker.
For example, Fairway Solitaire from Big Fish Games was demoed on screen and according to Patrick Wylie from Big Fish, it took just two weeks to get the title from iOS to Windows Phone 8 for the demo.
In addition to native programming support, some third party game engines like Havoc will be coming to Windows Phone 8. Notably missing was an announcement of Unity support for Windows Phone 8. Unity has quickly become the number one game development engine and it's lack of support for Windows Phone 8 will be an issue.
Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will share the same core for easier app migration. While it falls short of the hope of a single app that works across all screens, this does mean that developers can quickly port their apps between the different Windows 8 devices. All that will be needed is to take into account the differing input methods and screen sizes.
In the biggest disappointment of the day as revealed by The Verge was that current Windows Phone devices will not be supported in Windows Phone 8. Some current devices will get version 7.8 that will contain many of the user facing features. While on the surface this seems like a big deal, especially since iOS users are used to getting upgrades for 3 years or more, it's not really the same on Android for example. On Android less than 10% of users are given the option to upgrade to the latest OS. What on the surface seems like a PR headache for Microsoft, but it might not matter to end users -- unless they hear there is a new version of their phone that they can't have.
Nokia have been using the tagline 'Smartphone Beta Test is Over' -- well it seems that Windows Phone 7.5 users have been the real beta testers. Expect a backlash from current Nokia Windows Phone users who were sold by that Nokia rhetoric.
In the end, Windows Phone 8 is a huge new release and advances the platform by leaps and bounds. By far the biggest new features are the expanded support for games. Native code and Havoc support are huge as is support for in-app purchasing. These features should lead to greatly expanded game support. It's bad that Microsoft have done yet another 'do-over' by making Windows Phone 8 unavailable to all current users. But something that many users won't even notice. This might not be the release that makes Windows Phone 8 a real force in the mobile world, but it is a step in the right direction.
You may be wondering why we are reporting this on an what is purportedly an iOS site. As the mobile world adapts and matures, we think it's important to keep abreast of the major changes. We will continue to report on those changes from an informed iOS perspective.