Microsoft Launches Windows Phone 8 in San Francisco

Microsoft's global launch of Windows Phone 8 has arrived following the company's event in San Francisco.

At an event held in San Francisco today, Microsoft officially launched Windows Phone 8. 

The global launch, presented by Windows Phone Program Manager Joe Belfiore, covered topics addressing all of the end user features built into WP8 on a shared core with Windows 8. 

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The primary focus of Microsoft's presentation today was the company's personalized approach to the user experience on WP8 smartphones. Befliore pointed out that since the inception of the smartphone 5 years ago, the user experience really has not evolved beyond the static grid of icons found on Apple's iOS and Google's Android mobile operating systems. 

With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has placed people at the center of the smartphone design and experience. In a promotional video, Microsoft emphasizes that WP8 phones are not for everybody, but rather for individuals. They are made not for all of us but for each of us. 

Replacing the static grid interface is the live tile display, with custom tiled screens updating live with information that can be viewed at a glance. This includes live apps that conveniently cycle through prioritized information as personalized on the home screen. Among the updated features is a lock screen powered by live apps, which surfaces photos, app information, and notifications when the phone is locked. 

Belfiore announced that the WP8 app catalog has grown to 120,000, with hundreds added every day and 46 of the top 50 apps already included. Microsoft has partnered directly with Facebook on an app optimized for WP8, with similar optimization for the Twitter app. 

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As we pointed out last week, the Skype app will be integrated with a user's Microsoft account and will be ready at all times to provide notifications without running in the background and draining battery life. Several of the most popular games, including Temple Run and Words With Friends, are now available on WP8, with more to come via the Unity game development engine. Notably, Pandora will be available for Windows Phone 8 in early 2013, offering a full year of free music without advertisements. 

For developers, Microsoft will host the Build conference beginning tomorrow and running through November 2nd in Redmond, Washington. Starting tomorrow, the SDK will be publicly available for free to developers. 

Other features highlighted at the event include the Data Sense app, which helps users manage their data plans while optimizing the phone's web browsing performance to minimize data though compressed pages, Wi-Fi hotspot location, and system adjustments to prevent exceeding data limits. 

Kids' Corner will allow parents to set up a section of their phone specifically devoted to apps for their kids, preventing anxiety about kids finding their way into business or personal information. Actress Jessica Alba was on hand, along with Belfiore's kids, to demonstrate this feature along with the Mac sync companion app for migrating music libraries (similar companions exist for previous versions of Windows as well). 

Included in Windows Phone 8 is a People hub to organize all contact information across various platforms. The new Rooms feature allows users to group contacts into categories for sharing calendars, photos, and other information. The feature is also semi-compatible with other mobile operating systems such as iOS. 

One of the key areas mentioned at the event was the nature of WP8 phones as companion devices to Windows 8 PCs and the Xbox console, via the Skydrive cloud surface. Belfiore likened the experience to a virtual office allowing automatic transfers of files, photos, music, and office documents across various Windows 8 devices. 

The event concluded with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recapping and discussing the full Windows ecosystem, while presenting some of the hardware offerings from Nokia, HTC, and Samsung, whose Ativ S will be available exclusively through Verizon beginning in December. Additionally, Microsoft stores around the world will carry all of the Windows Phone 8 models on offer as they become available. Pricing remains unconfirmed for several of the devices until further notice. 

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It would be hard to argue that WIndows Phone 8 doesn't add something different to the current smartphone market. The live tiles and highly customized displays give WP8 phones a far more interactive look and feel than most other smartphones, which is all the more compelling because activity occurs automatically in the ways users decide represent their needs and interests. Even without a rumored Microsoft-built phone, the hardware accompanying Windows Phone 8 should capture plenty of appeal in the coming months.