Windows Phone 8: Beginning of the End for Apps?
BY John Brandon
Microsoft fans, rejoice: Your new phone is here. And though it might be late to the party, this device could usher in big changes for apps.
Say goodbye to the app model. Well, at least start giving apps the cold shoulder.
Microsoft officially announced the new Windows Phone 8 operating system at an event Monday. Fresh off the recent release of the Windows 8 operating system for laptops and desktops, and the official launch for the Surface RT tablet, the new phone OS is a major update to Windows Phone 7.
The new OS now supports 120,000 apps, supports 50 languages, and has a new "live app" lock screen that shows you information like photos and news at a glance without having to unlock your phone.
But the most important news is just a hint of the future. I first heard about the concept of a smartphone not running apps at Frog Design during a series of meetings several months ago. The designers there suggested a framework where the phone thinks for you--you don't have to run apps at all, but the phone finds music or games or movies on its own. This level of customization means you don't have to manage dozens of apps, but let the phone find what you really want.
The tile interface in Windows Phone 8 hints at this. You still see boxes that take you to apps, but the live tiles feed info to you automatically. No one has quite figured out how to make a phone find the data you really want yet. For a business trip, you can't tell the phone you like bands that sound like Coldplay, and then find sources for those bands as cheaply as possible and just get a stream. You can't enter the world of Rovio and play their latest games all in one, you still have to download Angry Birds.
Yet, for business contacts, Windows Phone 8 is a step in the right direction. Contact management has changed over the past few years and is less about you managing one person at a time and more about your phone or app tracking people and knowing what they are doing. You can search for a name and see Twitter updates or Facebook statuses without having to "manage" that contact.
The personalization options take this further. You can curate the content and select what shows up on the home screen--say, only books you are reading or travel apps. The coolest feature on Windows Phone 8 is that you can customize the live tiles according to your needs for the day, seeing a business schedule during a hectic day or setting the view to being more music-centric on a day off. The tiles on the main screen can now be expanded or shrunk down in size depending on their importance to you.
Another important new feature has to do with managing your data. This is important for businesses that provide phones to employees and do not want to keep paying for overage charges. The phone can compress Web pages, switch to a Wi-Fi network automatically, and even shows you which apps are using the most data so you can stop using them. Microsoft says you can see 40% more Web pages for the same data plan using the new management features on Windows Phone 8. The feature is only available, initially, on Verizon phones this fall. More carriers will follow suit.
I like the new design, and Microsoft is making headway in making apps and icons less of a focus. Of course, the real problem is that Windows Phone 8 has a major uphill climb to catch up with iPhone and Android market share, and there's a distinct impression (especially with Nokia phones) that the OS is too late to the party to really make a difference. For now, it is the new kid on a busy block.