Ina Fried

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Windows Phone “Apollo” Comes in for a Landing

After its tablet event earlier this week, Microsoft is turning its attention to the smaller screen, with a Windows Phone “summit” in San Francisco.

As previously reported, the company is set to discuss the next version of Windows Phone, code-named Apollo. The software, expected to be named Windows Phone 8, shares a common design with Windows Phone 7, but has at its core the Windows NT kernel that powers desktop and laptop versions of Windows.

Microsoft’s event is set to start at 9 am PT, and AllThingsD will have live coverage, naturally.

9:00 am: Well, they just opened the doors, so things are probably running a bit late.

Here’s the deal. I’m hearing the keynote will run anywhere from two and a half to three hours. So, while we will have live coverage, I’ll refrain from the blow-by-blow and update as interesting things get said.

In between, I’ll throw in some fun history and random musings to keep me entertained. I mean, to keep you entertained.

9:07 am: We just got a five minute warning.

9:13 am: And we’re off, with a video showing some quotes from various media about Windows Phone 7.

Terry Myerson, the head of the Windows Phone business, is kicking things off.

“We are here to preview the next chapter in our Windows Phone story, Windows Phone 8,” Myerson said.

But, of course, first we have to take a step back. Myerson is talking about the big reset three and a half years ago, when Microsoft decided to change course.

Before that point, Microsoft’s phone efforts had been much more about competing with the BlackBerry than offering a real rival to the iPhone.

9:18 am: Myerson is talking a bit about the customer approval for Windows Phone.

Seven of Amazon’s top nine highest-rated phones were Windows Phones, Myerson said.

Officially, today is being dubbed as a “platform preview” of Windows Phone 8, offering developers the information they will need to start planning.

That’s Microsoft-speak for “don’t expect all the details today.”

Onstage now is Joe Belfiore, another VP in the Windows Phone business, who notes that Windows Phone 8 is coming this fall.

The future of Windows Phone is about a shared core with Windows, Belfiore said, confirming what has been widely assumed and reported.

It’s not just the kernel, Belfiore said, but also things like Windows’ networking plumbing and other innards of the operating system.

9:21 am: For consumers, the shared core will mean more hardware options, Belfiore said, adding that the move will allow Windows Phone to scale both up and down in terms of price and performance.

Developers working on Windows 8 will have an incredibly easy transition to working with Windows Phone, Belfiore said.

9:23 am: Belfiore promises he is going to talk about eight key announcements at the core of Windows Phone 8.

“What we are not doing today is disclosing all of the end-user features,” Belfiore said.

Also, this part of the keynote will take 45 minutes.

9:24 am: First up on Belfiore’s list is the fact that Windows Phone will now support multi-core processors. He notes that the same core has powered machines with 64 cores, though Microsoft is focused primarily on dual-core support at the moment.

Windows Phone 8 will now support multiple screen resolutions. In addition to Windows Phone’s 800×480 resolution screens, it will also support two higher-definition screens, including 720p (1280×720 pixels) and WXGA (1280×768).

It will also support microSD cards for installing apps, storing music and photos as well as sharing data with a PC or another phone. Windows Phone 7 had very limited support for such cards.

9:28 am: No. 2 on his list is Internet Explorer 10, the same browser engine built into Windows 8. That means twice as much HTML5 feature support, faster JavaScript and anti-phishing features.

9:30 am: No. 3 on the list is the fact that Microsoft will allow developers to write code natively for Windows Phone 8. That’s particularly important for game developers because they like to write as closely to the hardware as possible in order to get maximum performance.

“We’re going to see some freaking killer games this year,” Belfiore said.

It should also make it easier for developers to bring apps from other platforms — especially Windows — to Windows Phone.

9:32 am: No. 4, Windows Phone 8 will natively support near field communications, or NFC, a key technology for digital payments.

9:33 am: No. 5 is a new “wallet” experience in Windows Phone 8 that Belfiore said will support storing credit and debit cards, coupons, saved deals, loyalty and membership cards and tap-to-pay secure NFC payments.

Developers will be able to plug into the Wallet hub.

“You have one place to go,” he said.

France’s Orange is the lead mobile operator partner for the wallet feature, Belfiore said, cutting to a video with Yves Maitre of Orange.

All Windows Phone 8 devices will include the Wallet hub, whether or not one’s carrier supports secure SIMs. Orange will be first.

It remains to be seen when it will come to the U.S. Microsoft says it expects to work with ISIS — a partnership of several U.S. mobile carriers, but not at launch. Support should come next year, Belfiore said.

9:38 am: No. 6 is the fact Windows Phone 8 will include Nokia’s Navteq map technology built in, which Belfiore said will add better global coverage and offline map support as well as turn-by-turn directions.

Nokia had been offering those in its phones, but now all Windows Phones will get it. (Turn-by-turn navigation will be in many but not all countries.)

9:40 am: No. 7 on the list is better support for business features, such as encryption and secure booting as well as more options for companies to distribute their own apps to their workers.

“Windows Phone 8 is ready for business,” Belfiore said.

9:43 am: No. 8 is a new Start screen. It’s similar to the start screen in Windows Phone 7 but lets you scale the size of the live tiles among three sizes.

Users will be able to choose the size of any tile, including those installed by default.

Belfiore said it will allow people to make their phones even more personal.

“No other phone can do anything like this,” he said.

9:47 am: Belfiore is now holding up a Nokia-built Windows Phone 8 hardware prototype.

He’s showing how to resize tiles. At all three sizes, including the small size, the tiles are still “live,” meaning they can show real-time information, such as the number of incoming messages.

9:56 am: Belfiore is showing a Windows 8 tablet alongside the Windows Phone 8 prototype to show similarities, not just in design, but also in how code can work across devices.

With just a few changes, Belfiore shows how a game sample “marble maze” that ships with Windows development kit can be made to run on Windows Phone 8.

That’s because the same DirectX graphics technology is now supported on Windows Phone 8.

9:59 am: Belfiore shows an ad from Wired magazine that has an NFC tag in it being scanned by the phone.

10:01 am: Here’s a summary of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 news:

10:08 am: Belfiore is showing various Windows Phone 8 apps coming, including a Chase bank app and Words With Friends.

One key detail, while current apps will run on Windows Phone devices, current phones won’t be able to run Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft will offer the new Start screen to current devices via Windows Phone 7.8, a more modest update.

10:14 am: Belfiore shows how the Wallet app will work with the new in-app purchases feature.

10:16 am: Belfiore wraps up his keynote with a video of an app being written for Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

10:19 am: Belfiore said Microsoft is about to get more tech-y. Kevin Gallo from Microsoft’s developer platform efforts is coming onstage.

I’ll be updating less and just bringing you the highlights. Why should you have to deal with coding demos, too?

10:21 am: Gallo promises Windows Phone 8 apps are sandboxed so one will never regret installing an app.

Well, he says, you might regret buying it because it sucks or cost too much, but not because it harmed the phone.

10:23 am: Gallo is talking about a few things developers will get, including native code support for developing apps in C and C++ — languages programmers like to use, especially when writing games.

Also, he will talk about improved multitasking for two kinds of apps not well supported in Windows Phone 7: Navigation apps and video-calling apps. Video calling apps — including but not limited to Skype — will work with the main dialer app.

10:30 am: Early partners for Windows Phone include Gameloft and Big Fish, which has ported its Fairway Solitaire app.

10:39 am: Speech support is being improved, Gallo notes. App developers will now be able to use Microsoft’s speech technology within their apps.

Gallo gets in a dig at Apple, noting that Windows Phone 7 has always supported speech for launching apps, something he said Siri is just learning to do.

He demos an Audible app using in-app speech support for playing and pausing audiobooks.

“Audible, Play ‘Game of Thrones,'” Gallo said.

“Searching for St. Louis, Missouri,” the phone responds. Um, not quite.

He tries again and it works. It works better at pausing and skipping ahead a chapter.

Also, Gallo notes, Audible for Windows Phone 7.5 is now available in the Windows Phone Marketplace. (For those not familiar, Audible is an Amazon-owned audiobook app.)

10:45 am: Things are gettin’ nerdy. I’m resting the fingers.

10:47 am: Some features for businesses — support for device management software, encryption and a new “company hub” app that IT departments can use to deliver different apps and content to their workers.

11:00 am: First Windows 8 Phone devices will come from Nokia, HTC, Samsung and China’s Huawei, using chips from Qualcomm.

While existing phones won’t get the new software (but will get Windows Phone 7.8 and new Start screen), Nokia announced several software updates coming soon for its existing phoens.

Nokia will update its camera, mapping and music apps, add a tool for monitoring data use and a new way to send content to TVs and other devices.

11:05 am: Microsoft is also pledging that, going forward, new Windows Phones will get updates for at least 18 months.

11:06 am: Myerson is back onstage, noting there are now 100,000 Windows Phone apps and that Microsoft is pleased with the pace of app development.

In particular, Myerson notes Zynga’s Draw Something and Words With Friends coming to Windows Phone later this year.

11:08 am: Sounds like he might be wrapping up. Yep, that’s it folks!

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus