Today’s Windows Phone 8 event in San Francisco brought a lot of attention to the upcoming mobile operating system from Microsoft. There is no doubt that the Microsoft design language present in the previous Windows Phone 7 has been updated and expanded upon in the new release (and with Windows 8 and Xbox as well), but there are many new features beyond the interface that make Windows Phone 8 truly innovative in the mobile space. Microsoft put four of their core innovations at the very start of their press event today: live tiles, live applications, the start screen, and Microsoft’s new Data Sense application. Additionally, Microsoft mentioned a new Kid’s Corner feature, Rooms, and Windows 8 (and Xbox) integration.
Forget Apple’s popular icon-based menus, Microsoft claims that those are a “tired old metaphor.” Instead of merely displaying an app’s icon in the operating system’s user interface, Microsoft went a step further and expanded upon their live tile concept. Live tiles not only enable a user to access an application, like an icon, but also show application information in real time on the start screen without requiring the whole program to be loaded into memory. Email previews, Facebook updates, new pictures, sports scores, and the like are all now presented on resizable square tiles on the main screen.
Extending the “live” branding doesn’t stop with tiles. In order to have live tiles, some application has to be supplying the desired information, or at least to tell the phone what information to get and display when the full application isn’t running. Applications that do this, instead of simply launch by pressing a static tile, are called Live Applications. Many mobile users are familiar with a basic form of live application no matter their operating system. Take a picture with your mobile phone and then select the “Share” option. You’ll probably be surprised how many apps you have installed that will receive the app and do something with it, maybe apply a filter or submit it to a social network. This same concept is expanded into a framework for Microsoft to allow applications to provide useful information to mobile users in real time without having to clog memory and drain battery by running in the background.
Customizable Lock Screens
We all look at our mobile lock screens countless times a day, as was mentioned by Joe Belfiore, Microsoft’s Windows Phone Program manager, at the Windows Phone 8 event. In order to make this action less meaningless and repetitive, Microsoft built out the Live Application concept of Windows Phone 8 into the lock screen. Not only are message indicators present to indicate the number of accrued calls, voicemails, text messages, and emails, but custom lock screens can be used that integrate with applications and provide important, but not private, information at a glance on the lock screen.
Microsoft’s arguably most practical innovation announced was Data Sense, an application designed to monitor mobile data usage, compress data for web browsing, automatically toggle to available Wi-Fi networks, and literally shut off data transmission if necessary. The goal? To protect mobile users from overage charges that stem from limited bandwidth Internet service as offered currently by mobile operators. Microsoft claims that a Windows Phone 8 user with Data Sense enabled will be able to browse approximately 45% more with the same data plan than possible if using Apple’s iPhone or an Android device.
Many parents are more than willing to hand over their mobile devices to get a brief respite from actively entertaining young children. Mobile games can be great tools to capture the attention of youngsters, and educate them all the while. The possible pitfalls of handing over an often work-related device to a child are self apparent, so Microsoft has a built in Kid’s Corner feature that allows a child to access a special start screen with parent-approved applications and permissions. This way children are unable to accidentally, or intentionally, rack up expensive in-game purchases, send a nasty reply-all email, or perform any other “oops” activity.
Microsoft has OneNote as a way to keep track of thoughts, ideas, projects, and even lists. Anything you need to note, you can use OneNote for. But what if you need to keep track in a more collaborative way, and if that collaboration includes actual communication instead of just note taking? Rooms addresses that issue by being able to group individuals using Windows Phone 8 (and to a limited degree, users of other smartphones) into virtual rooms where information can be shared. Examples of Room uses were given for a family were given during today’s Windows Phone 8 event that ranged from keeping grocery lists to keeping aware of where all family members were.
Windows 8 and Xbox Integration
“You should think about your phone, tablet and PC together as a virtual office.” That is what was said during the Windows Phone 8 press event. Microsoft’s plan for accomplishing this is unifying the user experience across all devices, from desktops and laptops to tablets and phones… and of course, in your living room with the Xbox. Microsoft isn’t just integrating it’s own devices through SkyDrive and SmartGlass, however, they’re working to integrate all devices. Even mobile devices from competitors can work with SkyDrive and SmartGlass. The reasoning behind this is that integration removes any excuse an individual, or business, may have about adopting Microsoft technologies.