On Wednesday, a revolving cast of Microsoft execs took the stage in San Francisco to showcase Windows Phone 8, the eagerly awaited update to their mobile operating system. It's been a busy week for the crew from Redmond: The company made waves on Monday when it unveiled a snappy new line of keyboard-equipped tablets called Surface, which some consider the toughest challenge yet to Apple's market-dominating iPad. Does Windows Phone 8 resonate with the technorati, too? Here, five talking points about the new OS:
1. You have to buy a new phone to get it
Current Windows Phone owners are out of luck, says Lynn La at CNET. No phones currently on the market will be able to update to Windows 8, and fans "can't help feel a bit disappointed and frustrated by Microsoft." The company "tirelessly pushed" the Nokia Lumia 900, promising that it would be the next big thing in smartphones. Now it's already outdated and consumers have every right to fume.
2. It turns your phone into a wallet
Microsoft — which sees near-field payment technology (NFC) as the next big battleground in mobile — has created a new Windows Phone 8 application called Wallet that stores credit card information, membership cards, and frequent flier miles all in one place, effectively using NFC to let your phone replace all the cards that fill your old-fashioned wallet. "Google has the NFC payment part [Google Wallet], Apple has the Passbook thing, we'll have both," said Microsoft's Greg Sullivan.
3. The new software includes new maps
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is dropping Bing Maps, says Ricardo Bilton at VentureBeat. Instead, the company is turning to Nokia's mapping software, which will offer turn-by-turn directions (like Apple) and make maps available offline (like Google). One thing is abundantly clear, says Hayley Tsukayama at The Washington Post: "Microsoft is gunning for iOS and Android."
4. It boasts a hot new browser
Windows Phone 8 users will get the best mobile web browser on the market, says Alexandra Chang at Wired. Internet Explorer 10 comes with Smart Screen, an anti-spam and malware filter that uses data from Windows PCs to block malicious websites in real-time. It's also four times faster than the browser in Windows Phone 7.5, and has twice as much support for HTML 5. All this means that IE 10 will be really "fluid," says Ben Kersey at Slashgear, "even when presented with complicated animations and graphics."
5. A customizable start screen
The new start screen is "the sexiest thing in Windows Phone 8," said Microsoft program manager Joe Belfiore. Tiles can be individually resized and linked to whatever app you want. Are you a power user who likes having all your productivity apps on one screen? Use lots of little tiles. "These live tiles are the heart and soul of the Windows Phone," said Belfiore. "We know that our users really love their phones, and we think the biggest reason is because live tiles makes the phones so special and so personal."
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