Windows Phone 8 gets Toronto demo

Microsoft Corp. didn’t give a release date for Windows Phone 8 but it did give the world a sneak peek at the device on day two of its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto.

The 16,000 people at the event Tuesday were given a demo tour of the device, which Microsoft conceded has an uphill battle to fight when it comes to grabbing the attention of consumers.

“Smartphone users today don’t know about Windows Phone and that’s a problem we intend to fix,” said Thom Gruhler, just 90 days into his new position as corporate vice-president of Windows Phone marketing, during a keynote address.

“Windows Phone 8 is business ready,” Gruhler said. “Our push (is) to make Windows Phone the best enterprise class mobile interface.”
Though no release time frame was provided, Gruhler did show off some of the phone’s key features, many of which are shared by the new Windows 8 OS that will hit the consumer market in late October. The highlight of the demo showcased the live tiles that appear on the start screen of the phone. Gruhler demonstrated how they their size and view can be customized by each user to reduce the need for scrolling.

“It’s the most personal smartphone experience ever,” Gruhler said. “No other phone has them (live tiles).”

Outlook Mobile and always-on data encryption are also built into the Windows Phone 8. There’s also flexible app distribution, meaning developers can sell their Windows Phone 8 apps directly to customers without having to publish them first in Microsoft’s app marketplace.

“We have surpassed over 100,000 apps in our marketplace,” Gruhler said.

Windows Phone 8 will feature near field communication (NFC) so users can tap and send information and also use Microsoft’s upcoming virtual wallet function, which will include mobile banking, payment transaction and receipt management capabilities.

Windows Phone 8 will be available in 50 languages, “25 more than Apple announced in June,” Gruhler said.

An industry analyst said Windows Phone 8 could be a competitive threat to Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

“I’ve heard some very, very strong things about Windows Phone. It’s altogether possible these (phones) could be poised for one of these massive upswings,” said analyst Darren Bibby, program vice-president of software channels and alliances research at IDC in Toronto.

Bibby was referring to the fact that within just the past five years alone, Apple managed to revolutionize the mobile space with the iPhone and Research in Motion lost its pedestal as king of the enterprise device space.

“Are they (Microsoft) the ones to take RIM’s place?” Bibby mused about whether Windows Phone 8 can pick up some of the enterprise phone market share lost by RIM.

The key opportunity for channel partners with Windows Phone 8 is the fact that it will be so well integrated with the rest of Microsoft’s [Nasdaq: MSFT] growing stable of offerings, including Azure cloud, the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, and the new Surface tablet, Bibby said.

“The thing I like is if I can get Windows 8 on my laptop, tablet and phone then I can start using Microsoft PowerPoint slides across all three,” Bibby said as an example. “You can’t go very easily between a laptop to an iPad and back to your laptop. It’s just very difficult. But if I can work on my PowerPoint document ….keeping the file format intact throughout…that is very powerful.”

“If it’s all integrated, that’s been (Microsoft’s) success story,” Bibby added.


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