Microsoft to unveil Windows Phone 8 tonight

The company is hosting its Windows Phone Developer summit today in San Francisco, and is expected to unveil the newest version of its smartphone operating system, previously codenamed ‘Apollo’.

The company has sent out invites to journalists inviting them to take ‘a sneak peek at the future of Windows Phone’.

Microsoft is making the most of the week between Apple’s WWDC conference last week – which saw Apple’s iOS 6 unveiled – and Google’s I/O conference next week, where the long rumoured Google Nexus tablet is expected to be unveiled.

Microsoft has already shown off its own tablet, the ‘Surface’, which is the company’s first foray into PC manufacturing since the 1980s. It will be released in an ARM version (Windows RT) and an Intel x86 version which runs on Windows 8 Pro and is intended to be a high end, Ultrabook-competitive device.

Both Microsoft’s OS’ now share the number 8, and much speculation has risen over how the tablet OS, the new Phone OS and the Xbox 360 OS will interact.

Microsoft previously unveiled its ‘Smartglass’ technology at the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the beginning of the month, which allows users to ‘throw’ content between devices, such as putting a TV show running on a tablet instantly onto Xbox 360 connected television.

Windows Phone 8 is also expected to unveil Microsoft’s long awaited smartphone announcements concerning Skype, which it purchased in May 2011 for $8.6bn. It has yet to appear on any Microsoft device in any meaningful fashion, and is expected to be integrated to the heart of Apollo.

Microsoft is treading on eggshells with both its mobile announcements this week; Surface has antagonised its OEM hardware producers, which it relies on to sell its desktop versions of Windows.

Direct Skype integration also infuriates the mobile telcos, who are seeing their data infrastructure costs rise, and traditional SMS and voice calling revenue streams eroded by Over the Top (OTT) applications.

Other products, such as its mobile Office offering, deeper Xbox Live and Skydrive cloud integration should be de rigueur announcements tonight for Microsoft. Other technologies, such as NFC alongside a mobile wallet may also be unveiled, if only to match Apple and Google’s offerings.

Maps are rapidly becoming a contentious part of the mobile industry. Google has already updated its maps function for Android devices, and Apple announced last week that it is releasing its own mapping application – ditching Google Maps after 5 years of service. Nokia has announced that it is focusing its Lumia range on Nokia Maps, with an eye to booting out Microsoft’s near useless Bing Maps. Whether Microsoft announces some response to these trends will be interesting.

Other factors of interest will be the upgrade path to Windows Phone 8. Will Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 users be upgraded? Or will they be left out in the cold like earlier Windows mobile phone products? Microsoft’s hardware partners have already struggled to produce low end phones that have enough power to run 7.5 (the Nokia Lumia 610 in particular), while recent buyers of the higher end Lumia 800 and 900 series would be infuriated, given their devices only launched before Christmas.

Windows Phone 8, to remain competitive, will need to support dual core and quad core phones at the least – which 7 cannot do. Expect much higher res screens, broaching HD resolutions. An announcement concerning hardware would probably be left to Nokia however, unless Microsoft decides to get into the smartphone business too – not unfeasible given yesterday’s tablet announcement.

Microsoft may also announce a new (or renewed) hardware partnership to supplement Nokia as the only (real) Windows Phone hardware manufacturer.

Much of the problem lies with the coding; the Phone 7 series is based upon the earlier Windows CE. Windows Phone 8, which has long been in development, is said to be coded on a Windows 8 variant.

Given the failure of the Lumia launch, it may be a good reboot for Microsoft, but cutting off those loyal early adopters is a PR nightmare, that will surely paint Microsoft as cold and mercenary – and make any potential new adopters wary.

 

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