The Windows Phone Summit in June shed some light on what to expect from the upcoming Windows Phone 8 platform, especially on the hardware side of things including the introduction of multi-core support, NFC technology, microSD card support and new screen resolutions. Aside from the newly-introduced Smart Screen and inclusion of the new IE10, the new software was virtually a mystery to tech pundits and publications alike. Nonetheless, major manufacturers, notably HTC, Nokia and Samsung, have taken the interim to introduce major WP8 devices without taking the veil off the elusive operating system.
With the recently concluded affair of the Windows 8 launch event (check out our Windows 8 Tech Guide here), Microsoft has decided that it is a good enough time for its accompanying mobile OS to take center stage. Well, we can't agree more. In no order of preference, here's what we think are the top eight new features on the new Windows Phone 8 platform:
The lock screen gets a slight revamp with users having the options to put app notifications on the forefront of things; after all, it is designed to give you, the user, important information at a glance. Let's start off with the phone's background photo - while you can still select the photos from your album to appear on the lock screen, you have the choice of displaying images or information from selected apps and services. One such example would be the Bing photo of the day app and others include, say, a wallpaper slideshow from Angry Birds. And notifications, yes - there are options for you to choose display detailed status updates from one app, like your upcoming appointments for the day or your latest email messages.
Quick status notifications are available as well and you can now choose and customize the selection of five and the order in which they will be displayed. Options include missed calls and voice mails, new text messages or IMs, game alerts, and new emails for up to three accounts and even displaying data from a third-party app.
To configure all of the above, simply navigate and go to Settings > System > Lock screen.
First seen in June during Windows Phone Summit, the Live Tiles on the start screen can be resized - small, medium and large. The rationale behind the new Smart Screen is to allow Window Phone users to customize the start screen based on what's important to them - music, communication or productivity. However, not all Live Tiles can be resized to small, medium or large. The extent of this allowance really depends on how the apps have been designed.
Backup and restore finally arrived on Windows Phone 8. Using Microsoft's SkyDrive, you can easily set up or restore your Windows Phone 8 device. Backup includes settings for apps, photos + camera, sound, messaging, theme, wallpaper/background, configured accounts, and Internet Explorer favorites.
Do note that the backup and restore feature does not store any personal information such as password or pin codes, hence you will be prompted for these information when you choose to restore a backup account.
While photos and app list + settings are backed up to SkyDrive, text messages are backed up to the phone's memory. Currently, video backups are disabled in Singapore.
Think of Rooms as WhatsApp group chats but with more integration. Or a more full-fledged version of Groups. In these invite-only Rooms, you can chat with members freely in a group conversation, share media such as photos and videos, own a common calendar and share notes, all of which are automatically synced across all Room members' phones. This is a great way for family and other groups of people to stay in touch with each other.
Microsoft has also designed it such that the shared calendar feature works with iOS and Windows Phone 7.5 devices too. If you send a Room invitation to someone using an iOS device or Windows Phone 7.5, he or she will get a link to a webpage that provides directions on how to configure that device’s calendar for calendar sharing. Now if only Android devices were supported too...
Microsoft has made it easy to make your Windows Phone 8 device child-proof. Simply click on the Kid's Corner Tile on your Start screen (it's provided by default), turn the mode on and start selecting the apps and content you want your kids to be able to use. In this way, you are creating a small space where they can access content you think is suitable under your pre-selected guidance. After completing the set-up process, your child will be able to enter Kid's Corner from a separate Lock screen by simply flicking left from your own Lock screen and then flicking up. To leave Kid’s Corner, press the power button. When you press it another time, you’ll be back at your own Lock screen. It's quite intuitive once you try it a couple of times.
To keep your information away from prying hands, your notifications will not be visible once your child is in his or her Kid's Corner. Touch screen buttons are locked as well; Windows Phone Store and in-game purchases and web browsing are blocked too, ensuring that your account will not be tampered with and that your kids stay safe from undesirable content. To make things feel more at home and personal, your child can customize his or her Kid's Corner experience in small ways - wallpaper, theme colors, name and resizing/placing the different apps as they see fit.
OneNote Mobile is now separate from Office Hub and functions as an individual app and tile. This is to help Windows Phone users find their documents easier. You can pin the OneNote Mobile as a Live Tile on the Start Screen.
As part of Microsoft's strategy to assist users to find the documents they want, the Office Hub has a "Recent" panel which provides faster access to documents stored on SkyDrive, SharePoint, and on Office 365. The "Recent" panel also helps differentiate the files according to how you receive them - as email attachments and the locations where they are downloaded from.
Replacing the "Locations" panel in Office Hub of Windows Phone 7.5 is the new "Places" panel, where you can browse the documents by the locations they are stored. They are also sorted by the latest documents you have accessed.
Another cool feature of Windows Phone 8 is its seamless integration with Office 2013. Documents will sync across your various Windows 8 devices such as a Windows Phone 8 device, a Windows RT tablet or a desktop running on Windows 8. For example, you make some changes to a Word document, save it and close the file on your desktop. Upon accessing the same file on your Windows Phone 8 device, the file will open to the same page or point as where you left off. This applies for Excel and PowerPoint documents too.
Jumping onto the NFC bandwagon, Microsoft introduces Wallet in Windows Phone 8. As a digital wallet, you can store your debit, credit, loyalty and membership card information on your phone. In addition, Wallet can help you find apps that can link to the cards in it to provide more information such as card balance and transaction history. Wallet also features a "Deals" panel where you can add a new deal or find local deals. If a deal interests you, all you need to do is to tap it to find out more. You can then decide whether to save it to the Wallet and pin it to the start screen.
As amazing as it sounds, Wallet is currently not available in Singapore. Of course, local availability is still in the works; a Microsoft spokesperson has previously informed us that they are currently working with several companies to implement this in the near future.
With Lenses integrated in the camera settings on your Windows Phone 8 device, users can easily access apps that are fundamental to your photo-taking process. Think of Lenses as a selection of photo apps that make it easy for users to improve your photos or provide extra information via photos taken. These include traditional photography tools like stitching several shots together into a panorama, applying color or tone filters or capturing several shots in rapid succession. Other less traditional apps include, for example, the Bing Vision Lens which will help you explore your surroundings by using your phone’s camera to scan a barcode and lookup product information or translate text from one language to another.
Finding and downloading new lenses to your collection is very simple as well. Simply tap "Find More Lenses" after entering Lenses to explore Microsoft and third-party lenses in the Windows Phone Store. The selection is small for now but dont' fret as popular apps like Instagram will soon make its appearance here.