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Windows Phone 8 details leak: Huge changes ahead (Updated)

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We’ve been speculating about the next versions of Windows Phone since 7.5 (Mango) came out in late 2011, and it looks like it might be worth the wait. PocketNow claims to have intercepted an official Microsoft video intended for Windows Phone partners like Nokia. In it, Windows Phone Manager Joe Belfiore goes over a lot of new features of the upcoming “Apollo” update, which appears to somewhat merge the Windows Phone OS with the core of Windows 8. Details below. 

(Update 5:30pm: Windows expert Paul Thurrott has posted more details about the new features in Windows 8. I’ve updated our story accordingly.)

New Features

  • Multicore processors: Dual-core and, presumably, quad-core processors will be supported.
  • microSD: Finally, Windows Phone will add support for SD storage devices.
  • Higher screen resolutions: 4 new resolutions will be offered outside of 480×800 (current standard). We don’t know what they are yet, unfortunately.
  • NFC: Near-field communication will be supported, allowing users to make mobile payments or connect to other devices by simply tapping their phone. He made special mention of the mobile “Wallet experience,” which will replace credit cards with a phone app. 
  • Skype integration: Finally, Windows Phone will get deep Skype integration that lets it act more like an extension of the phone than an actual app. This makes sense since Microsoft now owns Skype
  • SkyDrive Cloud backup: More of your data will be automatically (or voluntarily) backed up to Microsoft’s SkyDrive system, allowing it to sync up with other devices. 
  • DataSmart: Like Android 4.0, WP8 will have a feature that lets you view how much data you are using in a given day or month. WP8 will be able to scan and join Wi-Fi networks much faster than before, thanks to some technology originally developed for Windows 8. You’ll even be able to join Wi-Fi hotspots offered by wireless carriers or other safe entities, which could extend your data plan. 
  • Local Scout: The Local Scout will have personalized recommendations and the ability to search out nearby hotspots.
  • Web page compression: Like Amazon’s Silk browser or Opera Mini, Microsoft will use its servers to help compress Web sites to help them load “30 percent” faster on mobile.
  • Camera improvements: There will be new “lens apps” and an improved camera experience. 

Bigger Changes

  • Using the core of Windows 8: This has been hinted at for a while now, but it looks like Microsoft will swap out a good portion of the core Windows Phone OS for a modified version of the Windows 8 kernel. Windows 8 developers will be able to “reuse, by far, most of their code” when porting an application to Windows Phone 8 and all of the 50,000 (100,000 by release, Microsoft projects) apps will still be compatible with the new core operating system. This is good news for developers who have already released apps. It looks like the robust coding language support of Windows 8 will also be present, to some degree, in WP8. 
  • zune-pc-client-software-music No more Zune PC software: The Zune software is going away and will be replaced by a new application. What that is, we don’t know. Hopefully users don’t lose all of their song data or playlists they’ve made on Zune. The new app will sync up cloud services across all Microsoft device types, from PC to Xbox to phone. 
  • Xbox Companion App for Windows 8: The Xbox Companion app for Windows Phone will get its own companion that will work for Windows 8 PCs. What exactly it will do, we don’t know, but Belfiore mentioned the ability to instantly have access to your music collection on your PC without the need for syncing.
  • BitLocker encryption: That 128-bit full-disk, hardware-accelerated encryption in Windows 8 will now be in the phone OS as well.
  • Business additions: Better Exchange ActiveSync and System Center support. Businesses will be able to distribute their own Windows Phone 8 apps, much like they will be able to deploy their own Windows 8 apps. 

Plenty of questions remain

These new features sound great, but they raise more questions than they answer. For example, if Microsoft is ridding itself of Zune and syncing, does it plan to completely revamp its music services? Will it still offer a subscription-based Zune Pass-like service or will it move to a cloud downloading service like Google Music or AmazonMP3? The way users consume movies, podcasts, and other media will be greatly impacted by how Microsoft handles its new software. Will the PC client still deliver updates to Windows Phone users? We just don’t know. The Skype integration is also a big question since wireless carriers do not like the idea of letting users make phone calls without using minutes on  a $40+ calling plan. Finally, Microsoft is essentially rewriting a good portion of the Windows Phone OS now. This will likely have many broad implications for developers and possibly users, as Windows Phone 7.5 devices might not be eligible for an upgrade to Windows Phone 8. 

We’ll let you know when we find out more. The next version of Windows is rumored to arrive sometime later this year.