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Windows Phone 8: Microsoft Previews Features Of Updated Mobile Operating System

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Riding a wave of momentum following its successful Microsoft Surface event on Monday, Microsoft previewed new features of its upcoming Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The most notable change will come to the start screen: the Live Tiles remain but will be resizable. Users can set their tiles to large, medium or small, "based on the level of importance to you," as Brad Molen of Engadget puts it.

Near-Field Communication (NFC) will also be supported in Windows 8, including a mobile wallet feature, which will let you pay for items using your smartphone. Credit and debit cards, loyalty and membership cards, deals, tap-to-pay -- all will be supported in this mobile wallet feature, which Microsoft calls "the most complete wallet experience," according to Engadget. Per Ars Technica, every future Windows Phone will get the mobile wallet feature, as Microsoft is working very closely with the carriers to ensure that all of them allow it.

With NFC, Windows 8 devices will also be able to share content with each other simply by tapping devices.

Mobile maps have been on our minds a lot lately, and Microsoft announced that Windows 8 will omit Bing Maps in favor of Nokia Maps. (Nokia Maps are generally considered to be superior to Bing Maps.) This feature will include turn-by-turn directions and the option to save maps for offline use. In addition, all upcoming Windows Phones -- not just ones made by Nokia -- will use Nokia's maps with WP8.

Internet Explorer 10 will become the stock browser on WP8 devices, featuring anti-phishing support, faster JavaScript performance and enhanced support for webpages built with HTML5.

Other changes unveiled concerned the guts of Windows Phone, though these changes will nonetheless affect future Windows Phone devices. For instance, Microsoft announced that Windows 8 (for the desktop) and Windows Phone 8 (for your smartphone) will have a "shared core," which means, among other things, that it will be incredibly easy for developers to write apps for Windows 8 on the desktop and port them to Windows Phone 8. Windows Phone has long been criticized for its relative lack of apps, and this will presumably enhance its app marketplace greatly, given the prevalence of Windows on PCs.

Windows Phone will also add support for multi-core processors. Currently, all Windows Phone smartphones run on single-core processors; the addition of multi-core support means we'll finally be seeing Windows phones with dual-core (and perhaps quad-core) processors. What does this mean for you? Faster app processing and multitasking.

Microsoft even upped the screen resolutions that we'll be seeing on upcoming Windows Phones: the options are 800x480 pixels (with a 15:9 aspect ratio); 1,280x768 (15:9); and 1,280x720 (16:9), per The Verge. Microsoft will also feature MicroSD support, so that users can expand their memory via microSD card.

Windows Phone 8 will apparently be available for new devices this fall. Though no current Windows Phone devices will be getting a WP8 upgrade, Windows Phone 7 users can look forward to new features via an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8, which should also be rolling out later this year, according to Tom Warren at The Verge. Some (but not all) WP8 features -- including the new start screen -- will be available in the 7.8 update.

UPDATE

The news keeps on coming. Microsoft has announced -- without specifics on models or timeframe -- that the first Windows Phone 8 manufacturers are Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC. It also revealed that from now on, all updates to the Windows Phone OS will be over-the-air, so that it will no longer be necessary to plug in your Windows Phone to your computer to upgrade. It is also launching a pilot program that users can register for that will allow certain Windows Phone owners to receive OS updates earlier than others.

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