Microsoft cuts WP7 owners adrift with Windows Phone 8

Microsoft has unveiled details of Windows Phone 8 – but existing Windows Phone owners will not be getting the upgrade.

Windows Phone 8, which will be available from this autumn, will feature a “Shared Windows Core” based on Windows NT with Windows 8 tablets, laptops and PCs.

But in news that could alienate existing handset owners, Windows Phone 8 will not be available as an upgrade. Instead, Microsoft will cut existing users adrift, offering them a smaller upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8 with a subset of Windows Phone 8’s new features.

Worse still for existing handset owners, apps developed for the new operating system won’t be backwards compatible with Windows 7.x devices, although Microsoft insists that much of the code for Windows 8 apps will be “reusable” on Windows Phone 7 handsets. It’s better news for developers, though: existing Windows Phone apps will work on the new platform.

The new shared code means Windows Phone 8 smartphone OS will have Internet Explorer 10 on board, with all the same features and functions as the PC, tablet and laptop version. It will share the same kernel, driver model and file system support, making it theoretically easier for developers to code for the OS and port existing apps and games.

Microsoft also showed off several major new features it will introduce with Windows Phone 8, starting with a dramatically overhauled Start screen. The familiar live tiles will be resizable and users will be able to range four across the screen, instead of just the two on the current Windows Phone 7.5.

Elsewhere, the OS will support two new screen resolutions – 720 x 1,280 and 768 x 1,280 – multicore processors (with a focus on dual-core CPUs at the start), and Microsoft is also set to abandon Bing maps in the new version of the OS. In its place Microsoft said it would be introducing Nokia Maps, bringing the same offline and turn-by-turn satnav capabilities that only Nokia handset owners have so far benefited from.

Windows Phone 8 devices will also finally support expandable storage, via microSD cards.

Finally, in a move designed to make life easier for IT professionals, the new Windows Phone OS will support a number of business-critical functions currently missing from Windows Phone 7.5. There’s device encryption via Bitlocker, and secure boot. Businesses will be able to deploy their own apps without having to go through the Windows Phone Marketplace. And the new OS will also allow IT departments to manage Windows Phone 9 devices remotely, as they used to be able to with Windows Mobile handsets.

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