Windows Phone 8 arrives with handsets this week
Microsoft launches Windows Phone 8, announcing a handful of new features and apps
Microsoft has unveiled its next-generation smartphone OS, Windows Phone 8 in San Francisco, announcing a clutch of new apps and features not previously announced.
Most of the details of the new smartphone OS had been unveiled by Microsoft at an event in New York in June, but a few features were held back for the main launch, in contrast to last week's Windows 8 and Surface events last week.
The standout new feature, for hard-pressed parents at least, is Kids Corner. This new feature allows mums and dads to create a walled garden accessed with a swipe to the left from the lock screen, with access only to selected apps and games.
It's a separate place on your phone, that's for your kids
"It's a separate place on your phone, that's for your kids," said Windows Phone manager Joe Belfiori, before wheeling his own children on to the stage to demonstrate the feature. The feature could see an end to accidental app purchases, he said, and even allows children to create their very own Live Tile-based home screen.
The other major new feature is the well-leaked Data Sense, a feature Microsoft said will allow users to eke more life out of their data plans. The feature monitors mobile data use, showing which apps are using the most data, and helps users find local Wi-Fi hotspots via Windows Phone 8's Maps feature.
The key to Data Sense, however, is its ability to compress web pages as they're requested on the phone. Microsoft claimed users will be able to browse "45% more web pages" on the same data plan than with the feature switched off, which sounds great for those on low data caps. The bad news for potential UK customers is that the feature is operator dependent, and at launch only US carrier Verizon will be supporting data compression.
The new Rooms feature, meanwhile, provides a place where family members, groups of friends or colleagues can communicate and share content with each other.
Out of the box Windows Phone 8 handsets will come with a Family "Room" ready to go. Members of these Rooms will be able to share notes (today's shopping list, for example), calendar entries, exchange private instant messages, and photos.
Belfiori added that at launch, Windows Phone 8 will have 46 out of the 50 most popular major apps available in the Windows Phone Store, name-dropping a selection of games including Temple Run, Urban Spoon, Angry Birds Star Wars, Where's My Water and Jetpack Joyride. You may have heard of some of these before.
UK users will be even less interested to discover that Microsoft's big showpiece offering - a year of free music streaming with Pandora - is another feature as yet only available to US customers.
Microsoft also revealed Windows Phone 8 handsets would go on sale on 2 November across a range of different UK operators. EE will have an exclusive on the new Nokia Lumia 920, which will cost from £49 on a £36 per month contract. EE will also carry the Nokia 820 free from £36 per month, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S.
The Samsung Ativ S, meanwhile, is a 4.8in-screened monster very similar in look and feel to the Samsung Galaxy S II, and will be available from O2 free from £36 per month. Three will carry both HTC handsets, and both Phones4U and Carphone Warehouse will carry a selection too.