Microsoft hasn't exactly been what anyone would call "relevant" when it comes to smart phones. Windows Phone has been one of the biggest flops in MS history. On Wednesday, June 20, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8 and it's a huge play of catch up in an attempt to finally become a relevant player in the smart phone operating system game.
Two big inclusions in this iteration of the mobile OS are huge leaps forward into on par technology for the Redmond company while a third is an utter destruction of the Windows Phone operating system's only separating factor.
=== In-App Payments
Both Apple and Android products have had in-app payment systems in place for a long time. This encourages app makers to create software that's useful for the user and that can be purchased in a freemium model (i.e. you get a limited version free and pay for a premium one). It's a very popular way to make, distribute, and sell apps and has caught on big time with iOS and Android phones. Now it's finally available in MS Windows Phone too.
Big names like Zynga have jumped on board thanks to this with two of its more popular games, Draw Something and Words With Friends, being ported to the Windows Phone 8 platform. Of course, by the time Phone 8 releases to the public and there are phones to support it, those games will be old news. Still, it shows that big players in the game are willing to come on board, so getting smaller mobile developers to join in shouldn't be difficult.
=== Native Code
One way to get developers on board is to support more than just a proprietary (and clunky) code base. With Windows Phone 8, developers will have, for the first time, access to just about any major language for coding to mobiles. This means that rather than the old, clunky way of requiring code be written in a weird version of the C language that didn't even run natively on the phone anyway (thus producing unpredictable outcomes), this new Windows Phone will allow developers to port existing games on other platforms to Windows Phone 8 with only a few tweaks necessary.
This combines with in-app payments to make it much easier (and thus more likely) that phone developers will bring their products to Win Phone 8.
=== The Bad News - Start Screen Jumble
One thing that set Windows Phone apart from other phone operating systems was the Start Screen. When it loaded, it showed you your most-used apps in nice, big, friendly blocks with icons in them. This made it easy to use the phone everyday, though it made finding neglected apps or services a little more difficult.
Now, Windows Phone 8 will feature a cluttered Start Screen with a host of tiny icon buttons that are put there by the OS and are largely non-configurable by the user. So much for originality.
On the whole, though, Windows Phone 8 is mostly a catch-up attempt by Microsoft. The company seems to be hoping that this latest version will be at least as good as what's already on the market. That might be good, but a year from now, it will be behind again.