Microsoft later today is expected to unveil at least some of the next version of its Windows Phone mobile operating system. But given the platform's miniscule market share, will anyone really care?
Apart from various new Windows Phone 8 features and tweaks -- including multi-core CPU support, higher screen resolutions, and microSD cards - the bigger issues might be around application development in light of Microsoft's Windows 8 platform, which is expected to power scores of new tablets and ultrabooks by year-end.
Microsoft is hosting the Windows Phone Summit today in San Francisco. Originally planned as a two-day event, it's now one day, and the official invitation describes it as a "sneak peek at the future of Windows Phone."
Registration is limited to "invited developers" though Microsoft will be offering a webcast via its Channel 9 site.
Microsoft has been tightlipped about today's news, which comes just days after Apple unveiled iOS 6, due to be released this fall. But there's no lack of speculation on what Windows Phone 8, code-named Apollo, will feature, including this list by TechTree.com, which cites a "source close to Microsoft":
+ Support for multi-core CPUs, with up to 1G byte of RAM;
+ MicroSD card slot;
+ Camera API and development kit for customizing the on-phone camera use and apps;
+ Integrated support for very short-range near-field communications (NFC) radio chips;
+ And, something with Skype, either deeply integrated as some believe or a greatly improved separate app (either of which would start to justify Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of the VoIP service last year).
TechTree also says that Microsoft's Windows Phone partner Nokia is creating an app to support Bluetooth file-sharing on Windows Phone devices.
Other rumors, summarized by ZDNet's Mary-Jo Foley, include:
+ Incorporating common elements of what Foley calls the evolved Windows "core" - the kernel, networking stacks, security, and multimedia support;
+ Data-tracking capabilities so users can see their data consumption on different networks;
+ Proxy server for improved Web browsing performance for Internet Explorer 10 Mobile;
+ Native BitLocker encryption and Secure Boot;
+ Scrapping the Zune PC application in favor of some kind of ActiveSync-like update mechanism
The new OS is likely to support a broad range of screen resolutions, apart from the current 480 x 800 pixels. WPCentral recently reported, based on "independent sources" and Google Analytics data that show site visits by 768 x 1280 resolution devices running Internet Explorer 10, that Windows Phone 8 will support three additional resolutions: 480 x 640, 720 x 1280, and 768 x 1280. By comparison, the iPhone 4S Retina Display is 640 x 960.
Several rumors say Windows Phone 8 will replace Bing Maps with Nokia's more fully developed 3D Nokia Maps software as the default for all Windows Phone devices, as noted by Boy Genius Report.
Microsoft has so far failed to gain traction with Windows Phone, and its global market share compared to iOS and Android remains in single digits. The bulk of current Windows Phone device sales are Nokia devices, and the Finnish phone maker, which bet its future on Windows Phone is suffering badly as sales of phones running its Symbian OS collapse but its new Windows Phone smartphones haven't turned into popular hits.
Yet Windows Phone is still attracting developer support. The Marketplace recently added the 100,000th app, with nearly half of the newest one added since the start of 2012, reaching that milestone faster than Android did. [AllAboutWindowsPhone.com has a detailed analysis of the Marketplace.)
And the developer backing seems to be growing. Flurry, which offers mobile application analytics and an advertising platform, recently blogged data that shows relative support for several mobile platforms between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012.
"Year-over-year, developer support has shifted, with Microsoft's dent becoming more [much more] visible, now representing 4% during Q2 2012," writes Peter Farago, Flurry's vice president of marketing. "IOS and Android share continue to oscillate mildly now clocking in 67% for iOS and 28% for Android. BlackBerry remains flat. What is important to note is that all four platforms are growing, just at different rates. Specifically, growth rates per platform for year-over-year growth are: iOS 66%, Android 82%, Windows Phone 521%, BlackBerry 13%. Whatever the reason, it's clear that Microsoft still knows how to attract third party developer support."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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