Windows Phone 8 announced, leaves WP7 users largely in the dark

Mike Wehner, Tecca

At Microsoft's Windows Phone Summit today, the company announced that the next version of its mobile operating system — Windows Phone 8 — is on its way to a planned release this fall. Although the keynote focused largely on changes that software and hardware developers will find most interesting, several enticing details were revealed that will eventually change the end-user experience as well.

Two platforms, one heart
Firstly, Windows Phone 8 will use utilize what Microsoft is calling Shared Core technology, which means that Windows 8 on the desktop will work a lot like Windows Phone 8 on your mobile device. This eases the burden on app developers and will hopefully allow many more apps to appear on both the desktop and handheld version of Windows 8.

The company also revealed that Windows Phone 8 will support removable storage options including microSD cards. Being able to remove and replace cards allows for essentially unlimited storage space, which is something any mobile movie or app lover will surely find exciting.

Windows Phone 8 will support near-field communication immediately, and Microsoft is betting big that mobile payments are going to be mighty popular. The company is introducing what it calls "the complete wallet experience," which includes built-in support for credit cards, debit cards, and even various memberships like library cards.

Navigation upgrades thanks to Nokia Maps
Microsoft's continued partnership with Nokia is paying off with the inclusion of Nokia maps technology in Windows Phone 8, including turn-by-turn directions. And to keep up with the updates to iOS 6, the new map application will also support offline maps for those times when you are without a phone signal. You'll even be able to upload your own photos of each location to give others a look from different angles.

The guts of the platform isn't the only thing that was tweaked — Windows Phone 8 is also a big aesthetic improvement over its predecessor. Greatly enhancing WP7's start screen customization options, WP8 allows users to change, move, and even resize each icon to fit your exact desires.

A few other cool features were previewed as well, including a Siri-esque speech recognition platform, in-app purchases, and over-the-air software updates. All of these, of course, have already been done by either iOS, Android, or both, but it's nice to see Windows Phone fleshing out its features a bit more regardless.

Windows Phone 7 users left wanting more
Unfortunately, Windows Phone 7 users won't get treated to the lion's share of these cool new features, and you'll have to sample from a new cast of handsets if you want in on the action. To soften this blow, WP7 users will get a new update to their phones in the form of Windows Phone 7.8, which includes the new smart screen features, but not much else.

There's a lot more to still be revealed about Windows Phone 8, and Microsoft still has work to do on the new operating system before it's ready for consumers. Still, what we saw today looks interesting and is definitely a step up from WP7; it's just unfortunate that current adopters to the Windows Phone platform will be left out of the party unless they're willing to throw money down for an all-new device.

This article originally appeared on Tecca

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