New Windows Phone 8 OS packs in social, personalization features

Windows Phone logoMicrosoft formally introduced the next iteration of its mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, at an event Monday in San Francisco. The OS includes numerous refinements over the previous version, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, as well as a few new features that make it more competitive with rivals Android and iOS.

With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is introducing a feature named Data Sense intended to help monitor and regulate customers' usage of data plans. Data Sense will allow users to route their browsing experience through a "system in the cloud" created by Microsoft that will compress every web page loaded on the phone, and can automatically adjust network settings as users near their data limits. Data Sense will also visualize for customers how much data they've used and pop notifications if they're getting close to finishing off their allowance for the month. Data Sense also monitors WiFi availability, shows where nearby hotspots are, and switches to WiFi when it's available. Microsoft has not provided details on whether or how Data Sense will work with the shared data plans on family packages offered by carriers.

Among the most noticeable new elements are the resizable live tiles on Windows Phone 8's home screen. In our review of the Mango flagship Nokia Lumia 900 last year, we dinged the OS for its low home screen information density. In this new OS version, users can resize icons down to roughly one square centimeter and the icon still retains all of its live animations.

Windows Phone 8 will allow for more customization of the lock screen, too. Users can select an app to display certain information when the phone's screen is woken from sleep. If users select CNN, for example, the lock screen will be updated regularly with breaking news; if they select Facebook, the phone will display the users' Facebook photos in rotation (currently, Facebook doesn't allow the app to display status updates or similar info due to privacy concerns).

People в Windows Phone 8

One of Windows Phone's flagship features has been its "People" section, which works like a more holistic version of other OS's "Contacts." Now, in addition to creating "groups" of people, users can create "rooms," which allows the people you group together to have a shared Windows Live Messenger-powered chatroom, a shared calendar, and a shared photo stream. Microsoft noted to Ars that while the calendar and photos are accessible by non-Windows Phone users, the only messaging service that can power the shared chatroom is Microsoft's own Live Messenger.

Microsoft also placed emphasis on the availability of third-party apps. Windows Phone 8 will get its own official twitter app, and the platform has 46 of the top 50 most popular apps, according to Joe Belfiore, manager of the Windows Phone division at Microsoft. A Pandora app will be offered on the platform, and customers who buy a Windows Phone 8 handset will get a free year of service, beginning in early 2013.

To make the devices more kid-friendly, Microsoft has introduced a feature called Kid's Corner that allows parents to set up a controlled environment for children to use their phones. Kid's Corner is accessed by swiping the Lock Screen to one side, and users can place certain apps inside with restricted features to prevent children from wreaking financial and informational havoc (like sending unintended emails full of gibberish and charging hundreds of dollars of in-app purchases, for instance). The OS places some strict rules on what can and cannot go into Kid's Corner; for example, it's impossible to include Internet Explorer there.

Microsoft announced that Windows Phone 8's Photos app now works closely with SkyDrive, and users can store as many photos as they want, for as long as they want (though presumably not beyond the 7GB storage limit). Xbox Music will be present on Windows Phone 8 to compete with the free Pandora service, offering 30 million tracks for streaming and automatic cloud-syncing for playlists and purchases within the app.

Local Scout, a feature that recommends locations to eat, drink, and visit, has received a new panel in Windows Phone 8 titled "For You." For You is informed by information pulled from social networks like Facebook, and will suggest places or events to users that their friends have liked or mentioned in the past. For instance, if a user happens to be New York City and several of their friends liked the band "Of Monsters and Men," the For You panel will point out that the band is playing a show in NYC in the coming days.

Local Scout в Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8 includes a new Wallet app, which combines the functionality of Android's Google Wallet and iOS's Passbook. Users can store debit, credit, and loyalty card information in the app, and can use phones with NFC to tap and pay at compatible points of sale.

Microsoft has finally added the ability to make in-app purchases, a long-overdue feature that will help earn even more attention from app developers. Microsoft also points out that Windows Phone 8 can now thread VoIP calls through services like Skype directly through the phone's dialer, without having to use a separate app.

The Windows Phone 8 launch event is currently in progress, and you can follow our liveblog for up-to-the-minute information. We will update this article as more details become available.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Microsoft, OSes, Windows Phone

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