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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Windows Phone 8 Debuts

Microsoft reveals a raft of new features designed to make its smartphones more secure, easy-to-use, and yes, stylish.

  • October 30, 2012

The actress Jessica Alba’s young daughter enjoys messing with her Facebook account, the tech press has reported. This was among the many revelations to emerge at and following an event on Monday in San Francisco touting the Windows Phone 8 operating system. Alba is a convert, she told ABC News, because of a feature on Windows Phone 8 called “Kids Corner,” which lets you easily cordon off inappropriate content for youngsters when handing your phone off to them for a round of “Angry Birds.”

Joe Belfiore, Steve Ballmer and Jessica Alba at the launch of Windows Phone 8.

That was one of the more colorful revelations, but hardly the most significant. Microsoft presented a suite of features that, as Joe Belfiore, the manager of the Windows Phone Program, put it, “put people at the center of the experience.” And in a press release, the company touted the phone as the “most personal smartphone.”

Let’s take a closer look at Kids Corner, for instance. It’s a fairly simple innovation that observes the fact that we often hand our smartphone to another person–not always, but often, a kid–and that we don’t want that person to have all the same powers over our phone that we do. By setting up Kids Corner, you effectively make a guest user account for a smartphone, observes Engadget, saying that it’s a feature that has “strangely eluded the other major platforms.”

Another feature is called Rooms, and represents another technological stab at the notion that we want to discriminate among our social groups online–we have close friends, acquaintances, work buddies, and so forth. “Rooms allow you to create private groups of people who have Windows Phone 8–like your family members best friends or fantasy football league–and easily connect with just them,” says Microsoft. The Rooms feature makes it easy to share selected data with selected acquaintances–but it’s unclear that the feature will catch on more strongly than Google+ Circles, for instance.

Windows Phone 8 also boasts tight integration with Skype (no surprise there–see “What Does Microsoft Want With Skype?”) as well as novel digital wallet tech, like payments with NFC. But one of my favorite features, from the look of it, is something called “Data Sense.” It’s something that’s both designed to let you keep an eye on how much data you’re using, and help you to get more out of the data you do use. For instance, it helps you take advantage of free Wi-Fi when possible, and compresses Web images so you don’t blow through data faster than you like. When you near your data limit, Data Sense alerts you. But Data Sense isn’t available just yet, and will debut with only “select mobile operators this holiday,” says Microsoft. Verizon gets it first in the U.S.

Bloomberg Businessweek points out that some of the features Microsoft is touting aren’t wholly new–third-party apps can enable them on other platforms. But Microsoft’s insight here was to make these features native, integrated directly into the platform.

Phones using Windows Phone 8 will go on sale as soon as this week, it’s been reported. Verizon will have the HTC 8X, Lumia 922, and Samsung ATIV Odyssey phone, while AT&T will have the Lumia 920. T-Mobile will have the HTC 8X and and Lumia 820 by mid November.

I haven’t gone hands-on with Windows Phone 8 yet, but first reviews appear to be good. The Verge gives it a score of 7.9, for instance, calling the home screen “the best on any mobile platform,” among other praise.

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