Hot on the heels of the Windows 8 and Surface launch events in New York City last week, Microsoft jumped to the other coast to celebrate release of its Windows Phone 8 in San Francisco today.
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone at Microsoft, took to the stage in San Francisco today to unveil the company's newest smartphone operating system. The mobile device leverages the company's new signature UI and cloud services to differentiate it from iOS and Android. And while it doesn't look too far removed from its predecessor at first glance, Belfiore stressed that it was the features under the pixels that set it apart from Windows Phone 7 and the competition.
Pointing out what he views as signs of stagnation in the mobile device market, Belfiore said that "the static grid of icons has sort of been the standard on smartphones." Windows Phone 8, with a colorful interface dominated with configurable Live Tiles, is one of the many ways his company "put people at the center of the experience," he said.
The mobile operating system's "focus on people" extends to a "lock screen that's powered by Live Apps," says Belfiore. Instead of a static backdrop and a handful of notifications, Windows Phone 8 handsets display "the ultimate glanceable UI," he added.
Today, a mobile OS is only as strong as its app ecosystem, and Microsoft signaled that it is willing to pour big some resources into growing the Windows Phone app marketplace.
Belfiore commented on the growth of the Windows Phone platform, which includes doubling language support and tripling the number of countries that can access the Windows Phone app marketplace to 191 nations. Currently, the Windows Phone Store has 120,000 apps, including 46 of the top 50 apps on competing app stores, according to Microsoft.
The company partnered with Facebook for an app that integrates with the aforementioned lock screen. In 2013, Pandora hits the platform with "a year of free music with no ads," informed Belfiore. Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011, is deeply integrated into Windows Phone 8, he added, stating that it operates "without running its code in the background and draining the battery."
Microsoft also debuted Data Sense, a feature that employs the cloud to compress Web pages and lower data consumption. Initially supported by Verizon, Data Sense can automatically hop onto Wi-Fi networks and provide data usage metrics -- for both apps and Web use -- to help users steer clear of data plan limits.
Steve Ballmer later provided a quick update on Windows 8, saying that in the short time the desktop operating system has been available, preliminary demand is outpacing that of Windows 7.
For the hundreds of millions of people that are expected to use Windows 8 in the next year, Ballmer said that "there's no better phone for you than a Windows phone" due to its similar UI and cloud-based, cross-device syncing features.
He further courted developers by describing the Windows Phone 8 platform as one the "enables software developers to easily develop applications for all of our diverse interests." Ballmer then showed off new Windows Phone 8 devices by Nokia, Samsung and HTC that are set to hit shelves during the next few weeks. Windows Phone 8 smartphones will be carried by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, he added.