("Smoked by Windows Phone" is a clever marketing campaign where Microsoft employees at the company's retail stores or trade shows such as Consumer Electronics Show or Mobile World Congress challenge users of other phone brands to compete against a Windows Phone handset in a variety of common smartphone tasks.)
Landry, who's one of the developers who have been working with Microsoft on features for the Windows Phone 8 SDK, thinks the storage card support will have big implications.
"I've been very vocal about the fact that 16-Gbyte devices was not enough for power users or heavy media consumers," he says. "Storage cards…make it affordable for users to buy a lower-end device, and allow them to add storage as their needs grow." By contrast, he says, Apple "forces you to dish-out $300 for a 32-Gbyte iPhone even when subsidized, but a lot of buyers don't yet know if they'll even need it."
But it's the extension of the Windows Phone software infrastructure – new APIs, apps, and services -- that has Caughey and Landry most excited.
"Windows Phone 8 will allow me to build more powerful and useful apps than ever before," Caughey says. "One example might be using the new Speech API for voice recognition/dictation [integrated with an app], instead of relying only on a virtual keyboard for data entry."
"Windows Phone has always had a good voice system in the Tellme service [based on Microsoft's $800 million 2007 acquisition of Tellme Networks]," Caughey says. "What's new in WP8 is that 3rd party developers will be able to leverage it too. I suspect they are also making enhancements on the Tellme service side, but I don't recall any announcements about that.
Landry knows, but isn't telling (much of what's in Windows Phone 8, especially for end users, is still under wraps).
"I cannot comment too much on voice recognition [and text-to-speech] yet, but you can expect to see voice become a lot more pervasive as more and more apps use it," he says. "[Apple's] Siri is an app, it's not a platform. Microsoft Research has been working for decades on voice recognition and speech synthesis and we're seeing the fruit of that research in Windows Phone."
In Windows Phone 8, developers could write a Twitter client app that reads tweets to you while driving and accepts commands like "Read my latest mentions," Landry says. Or when playing a game, voice commands like "switch to rocket launcher" can replace the clutter of onscreen buttons. "If you want examples of how voice can be integrated with computers, just watch ‘Star Trek,'" he says.
Similarly, the integration of Nokia Maps, based on the map, traffic and location data of Nokia's Navteq subsidiary, and a new API to access them, is a major step forward for both consumers and developers in Windows Phone 8, Landry says. "It's now iOS that is in catch-up mode compared to the depth and breadth of Navteq/Nokia," he says.
Existing Windows Phone 7.5 apps will be able to run unchanged on Windows Phone 8, thought without exploiting the new features, Caughey notes. At the same, the new version will let developers write Windows Phone apps, including games, or libraries with C++ for the first time. "This is a major change and should really please developers on other platforms that have C++ code and/or skills already," she says. Microsoft is also porting the SQLite. The public domain, embedded SQLite database widely used on other platforms, now will be included with Windows Phone 8, "so that would make porting apps to Windows Phone a lot easier," Caughey says.