Microsoft has finally released Windows Phone 8, its long-awaited smartphone operating system, revealing some of the features that it had been holding back until its official launch.
Nokia – as expected – as well as Samsung and HTC have all released Windows Phone-based products to coincide with the launch.
Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's head of Windows Phone, said that the new devices would be "a phone made for you – the most personal smartphone operating system you can get; the perfect companion for your Windows PC and your Xbox".
Despite billing its Windows Phone 8 event in June as a "sneek preview", Microsoft unveiled few new features.
Among the most notable new features, though, were a "Kid's Corner", providing a "walled garden" of apps, games and settings to provide parents with control over their children's phones.
A "data sensor" will enable users to monitor their data usage to prevent inadvertently running up mobile data bills (especially when roaming on networks overseas). And a social network, called Rooms, will enable people to share content among small groups of people – who all presumably need to have Windows Phone 8-based phones, too, to be able to participate.
Addressing criticisms that Windows Phone lacks apps compared to the hundreds of thousands available to download for both Apple iOS and Google Android, the company claimed that 46 of the top-50 most popular apps would be available on its platform, including improved versions of Windows Phone apps from Facebook and Twitter.
Prices, though, may present a barrier to adoption. In the UK, Everything Everywhere – the merged network of Orange and T-Mobile – will be the sole network offering Nokia's flagship Lumia 920, asking about £30 per month on its 4G network and with a very limited data cap.
At the sneek preview in June, Microsoft revealed that Windows Phone would, at last, feature multi-tasking – something that comparatively venerable smartphone operating systems such as Symbian had been able to do for years – and support for multi-core CPUs. It also revealed support for near-field communications (NFC), native code support in C and C++ to aid porting of popular apps from Android, Symbian and iOS, and support for offline maps with turn-by-turn directions.
It also revealed remote device management features – aiming Windows Phone devices squarely at the corporate market.
However, persuading smartphone users to migrate from their current "ecosystem" of choice might be an uphill struggle. Foad Fadaghi, an analyst with Telsyte, an Australian analyst group, said that more than half of smartphone users do not want to switch operating systems when they upgrade their phone.
The market growth for Android, which has become the de facto smartphone operating system standard globally due to its open source – and therefore licence-free – nature has become almost unstoppable, he added. Android's market share is now pegged at 68.1 per cent, fuelled largely by demand in emerging markets as people trade up from feature phones to low-cost smartphones.
Microsoft, by contrast, is seeking licence payments for the right to use its smartphone operating system, which in most cases puts Windows Phones well beyond the budget end of the market.
Another analyst, Joseph Sweeney of IBRS, said that Microsoft's push to provide a similar interface across PC desktop, tablet and smartphone devices was a strategic error. "Microsoft continues to believe that you're going to have one user experience across all devices," he told Australia's The Age newspaper. "And that's a mistake."