Microsoft has unveiled the latest version of its Windows Phone operating system, Windows Phone 8, at its developer conference in San Francisco, California.
Codenamed Apollo, the new operating system is based on what Microsoft calls a "shared core" technology with the Windows 8 RT desktop operating system. Both also share the Metro user interface, which was designed as a touch-screen interface to compete with Apple's iOS mobile operating system.
Metro debuted on Windows Phones 7 when it launched in October 2010. While applications built for Windows Phone 7 ought to run on Windows Phone 8, says Microsoft, applications built for Windows Phone 8 will not be backwards compatible, and existing users will not be offered upgrades.
The shared core, though, is intended to make it easier for developers to build applications that can be ported to both Windows 8 platforms, enabling the Windows Phone 8 software eco-system to be quickly populated.
Technically, the new operating system can support three screen sizes: legacy 800 by 480 screens, 1280 by 720, and 1280 by 768. Applications will automatically scale to fit the screen resolution. It also supports multicore microprocessors, such as the ARM Cortex-A9.
Other key features of Windows Phone 8 include built-in support for near-field communication (NFC), which will enable contactless mobile payments to be made. This will link with what Microsoft is calling "the complete wallet experience", which will support credit cards and debit cards on the phone hardware.
Nokia Maps is built in and supported offline as well as online. It also offers Siri-style speech recognition, and in-app purchases.
However, many mobile operators – through whom the majority of mobile phones are ultimately sold – will regard the tight integration of Skype with the operating system with circumspection, at best.
In addition, the launch further undermines the primary customer for Windows Phones, Finnish mobile phone specialist Nokia. Current Windows-based smartphones from Nokia will not be upgradeable, nor will applications built for Windows Phone 8 be compatible with current versions, which are based on ageing Windows CE code from the mid-1990s.
The pre-announcement may therefore kill the existing market for the current range of Windows phone stone dead, while Nokia will have to wait until the autumn before it can release new phones based on Windows Mobile 8, which may not be available in volume until early 2013.
Nokia's second quarter financial results revealed a catastrophic 29 per cent year-on-year decline in mobile phone sales after it failed to bring its new range of Microsoft-based smartphones to market quickly enough.
Its flagship – and now obsolete – Windows Phone 7.5-based Lumia 900 phone only started to appear in volume in April 2012, almost 15 months after new CEO Stephen Elop had described the company's existing technology as a "burning platform".