The next version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Phone operating system, Windows Phone 8.0 (aka Apollo), will be a major upgrade this year that integrates many features of the Windows 8 desktop OS and highlights a growing trend toward merging capabilities of desktop and mobile operating systems.
At an invitation-only event on February 29 during the Mobile World Congress conference and exhibition in Barcelona, Microsoft will present the "consumer preview" (i.e., beta version) of the Windows 8 desktop OS. Microsoft hasn't announced any specific event for Apollo, but I'm sure the company will be buttonholing mobile executives in Barcelona to promote that OS, too. After all, it's the Mobile -- not Desktop -- World Congress.
Though Microsoft is keeping mostly silent about Apollo, details are leaking out. Pocketnow.com published specifications based on information in a leaked Microsoft video in which Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president and director of Windows Phone Program Management, discussed Apollo. After Pocketnow published its article, Paul Thurrott of the Supersite for Windows blog felt he could publish additional information about some of the specs he knew.
Some of Apollo's features will simply catch up to other cellular operating systems. For example, it will support multicore microprocessors, four screen resolutions, a removable microSD card slot, and near-field communications -- all useful additions that are already available in Android.
What's more interesting is how Apollo will adapt features from the Windows 8 desktop OS. The mobile browser will be Internet Explorer 10, the same as in Windows 8 for desktops. When loading Web pages, the browser will employ data compression and a proxy server to reduce the amount of data by 30 percent, Microsoft says. These techniques seem similar to those used by the Opera and Skyfire browsers, which are popular on cellular phones because they often load Web pages faster than stock browsers bundled with smartphone operating systems.
Enterprises will like the availability of BitLocker Drive Encryption on Apollo, which will allow users to deploy encryption similar to that available on the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Microsoft Vista and Windows 7. Since two security flaws were exposed in Google Wallet last week, BitLocker might become popular with consumers, too.
Managing Internet connections will be better in both the Windows 8 desktop OS and Apollo. In a detailed blog post, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, explained that Windows 8 will feature software that helps provide more reliable Internet connections and fewer conflicts.
For example, my laptops have at least three networking programs -- from Windows, the laptop maker, and a cellular operator -- that are "fighting" to manage wired and wireless connections. Microsoft is working with network operators to reduce such problems across all platforms.
Also, the Windows 8 desktop OS will include settings for "metered" and "unmetered" connections, so that Internet access could default first to a free and fast WiFi connection, rather than a slower and more expensive cellular connection. In addition, the main Windows 8 screen can display SMS notifications sent by cellular operators to inform users that they have reached or are close to reaching their data cap. Other settings will display the amount of data used in real-time for different services. These types of features also will be integrated into Apollo for cellular phones.
All this merging of features across devices is facilitated because Microsoft has designed the new Windows as a single "core" operating system, rather than creating a distinct OS for each platform, such as Windows Vista for desktops/laptops and Windows Mobile for phones. It's not a unique concept. Google's Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) is specifically designed so the same application (more or less) can run on phones and tablets. Research in Motion says applications written for its new BB 10 operating system will run with relatively few modifications on both BlackBerry phones and the PlayBook tablet.
This cross-device integration is great in theory. But Microsoft wants its OS and user interface to work with traditional computers, cellular phones, and two flavors of tablets (Intel and ARM). This is devilishly difficult to accomplish, and it could become an unmanageable disaster.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing