Windows Phone joins the Windows 8 and corporate parties

A major change in Microsoft's smartphone platform provides core OS, graphics, and Web features across smartphones, tablets, and PCs

Today, Microsoft revealed Windows Phone 8, which has long been rumored under its "Apollo" code name. As expected -- and long hoped by both developers and IT -- Windows Phone 8 will share the same core OS as Windows 8, as well as graphics drivers and Direct3D. Developers will also be able to write apps using native C and C++ code, instead of being restricted to the HTML, Silverlight, and Xbox frameworks, though Microsoft continues to recommend use of XAML and its support of C# and Visual Basic via its Visual Studio 2012 IDE.

And -- finally! -- Windows Phone will support key enterprise security needs, including on-device encryption, corporate app distribution, IPv6, MDM (mobile device management) tools, and secure boot. Microsoft also promises a real version of Office for Windows Phone, based on the Windows RT Office version being developed for ARM-based Windows tablets.

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Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft vice president, said the use of a common core should make the user experience across Windows 8 smartphones, tablets, and desktops (in the Metro interface for the latter two; Windows Phone 8 is all-Metro) more of a crossover, not a jarring switch. He also says it should ease developers' ability to create apps for all Metro-based devices. Microsoft's approach to unifying Windows 8's core across devices matches what Apple had done with the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, all of which are based on the same core as OS X, and over the years Apple has converged more of the application functionality and user interfaces across iOS and OS X.

Windows Phone 8 devices will run existing Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" apps, and Microsoft will recompile them for Windows Phone 8 itself, so developers don't have to.

The revised Windows Phone 8 platform will allow for more variety in hardware implementations, easing some of the constraints that Microsoft put on device makers in previous versions. For example, there will be three supported aspect ratios of displays: 4:3, 15:9, and 16:9. Removable MicroSD cards will be supported; the previous version used a proprietary format for such cards that dissuaded device makers from adding removable storage.

Windows Phone 8 will support NFC (near-field communications), a technology that allows wireless transfer over very short distances, something that Research in Motion and Google support in their recent mobile OSes. It will also support peer-to-peer Wi-Fi (aka Wi-Fi Direct) connections.

Windows Phone 8 will ship with Internet Explorer 10, like Windows 8, and will use the same core JavaScript engine; Web pages designed for IE10 will render the same on all Metro devices, as well as on IE10 in Windows 7 and Windows 8's desktop mode. IE10's SmartScreen antiphishing technology will also be included in Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft said it would provide a mobile wallet capability to contain credit card, loyalty card, and third-party services like account information and tickets. It will also include mobile payment functions, supporting NFC and other conduits, such as carrier networks. (Apple's forthcoming iOS 6 has what appears to be the beginnings of a mobile wallet in its Passbook app.) Windows Phone will also support secure SIM cards, to help validate identity for purchases, but that technology won't be available when Windows Phone 8 is first available.

Windows Phone 8 also will include Nokia's maps service, allowing turn-by-turn directions as Android long has provided and that iOS 6 will add this fall to Apple devices.

Microsoft also demonstrated voice control technology from Audible; it's not like Apple's Siri in that it interacts with you as a personal assistant but is more of an order-taker to execute your requests.

The first Windows Phone 8 smartphones are due before the Christmas holiday shopping season, so likely in November -- around the time the first Windows 8 Surface tablet from Microsoft should ship.

This article, "Windows Phone joins the Windows 8 and corporate parties," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.