Ina Fried

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What We Just Learned About Windows Phone 8

Microsoft on Wednesday took the wraps off Windows Phone 8, the next major version of its phone operating system.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

Features:
The biggest change, at least under the hood, is the move to use the same operating system kernel and components as Windows 8.

Other features announced on Wednesday include support for multicore chips, a built-in digital wallet hub and improved multitasking to support things like background video calling and navigation. Nokia’s Navteq map technology will be built in, adding support for offline maps and turn-by-turn navigatoin.

A modest revamp of the home screen will allow users to scale any app’s live tile to one of three sizes.

Timing:
Microsoft said to expect the new software to show up on new phones starting this fall.

What We Still Don’t Know:
Microsoft shared some details, but left key things unanswered including many of the consumer-oriented features of the operating system, not to mention which chips will be supported and just what the other hardware requirements will be.

And, of course, we don’t know what the devices using the software will look like. VP Joe Belfiore held up a Nokia-built Windows Phone 8 prototype but stressed it was not indicative of what shipping phones will look like.

Compatibility:

Although programs written for Windows Phone 7 will run on Windows Phone 8 devices, current phones can’t be upgraded to the new operating system. That said, many of Windows Phone 8′s features are hardware-dependent.

Microsoft will bring one key feature, the new start screen, to existing devices via a separate update–Windows Phone 7.8.


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