A lot has been said and written about Windows Phone 8 before and since its launch in October. While some believe that the new smartphone OS might just be the best thing Microsoft has ever come up with, others believe that Windows Phone 8 doesn’t stand a chance against Apple iOS and Android.

It might be too early to confirm all that because WP8 devices have just begun to hit the shelves in the Indian market. While I’ve had some hands-on experience with a few WP8 devices, all of us at Smartbuy have been eagerly waiting for these devices for more extensive usage and reviews.

But before we do that, I want to talk about what we can and cannot expect from Windows Phone 8, and how is it similar to or different from the other two smartphone operating systems.

Ecosystem

A smartphone ecosystem is one where devices such as smartphones, tablets, desktops and laptops run on a common platform and share data and content seamlessly between each other.

So far, Apple has had the most successful ecosystem around, with both hardware and software being a part of it. Now, if you are an Apple user, you will know what I am talking about. Photos clicked on the iPhone can be accessed instantly on your iPad, iMac or MacBook. Browsing tabs can be shared between devices via iCloud Tabs.

Since Android OS runs both in its raw and customised avatars on Nexus and other devices respectively, the Android ecosystem is mostly about your Google account. All your files, contacts, media, passwords, settings and almost everything you can think of gets saved in your Google Drive.

Theoretically, Windows shouldn’t have any problem setting up its own ecosystem, at least in India, considering that 95 per cent of all computing devices (across desktops, laptops and handhelds) in India run on Windows. Out of this, nearly 50 per cent run on Windows 7. So if you have a Windows PC at work or at home, it would make sense to have a Windows Phone device. Because the documents you create and use on MS Office can be accessed on your Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 device on the move, and other content like photos and videos can be shared by SkyDrive.

Personalisation

Microsoft claims that a Windows Phone 8-based smartphone is going to be the most personal smartphone anyone can ever have. I agree to an extent, for the Live Tiles on the Metro UI (user interface) are one of the best kinds of ‘widgets’ I have ever seen on a smartphone.

Apart from app-specific tiles, Windows Phone 8 now has ‘Rooms’ and people-specific tiles that let you see updates from the people you select. For instance, I can create a room called ‘Smartbuy’ to interact with just the team. Users in the ‘Room’ needn’t necessarily be on a Windows Phone – they can be using an iPhone too.

The ‘Me’ tile, as I discovered while reviewing the Nokia Lumia 610, can have all my notifications. And if I put a tile for a contact named Ritika, the tile will notify me of every tweet and Facebook status that Ritika updates, or every text or photo or IM she sends me.

On the downside, this customisation options aren’t many. I can resize and move the tiles around and change the accent colours, but that’s all I can do. Seasoned Android or iPhone users are accustomed to multiple home screens with choice of apps and customisable (in size and position) widgets and live or static wallpapers of choice.

Android and iOS widgets can be quite interactive too. The Timescape widgets on Sony Xperia smartphones, for instance, show live Twitter and FB feeds (although I can’t filter them by specific people). The weather widget was something I loved on the TouchWiz UI of Samsung Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II. Android OEMs also have the choice of applying their own UI skins.

App Support

The Windows Phone Store has around 1.2 lakh apps available, and the iOS App Store and Google Play each have at least 7 lakh apps each. The number of Windows apps is definitely less but one has to consider that the Windows Phone Store (previously Windows Marketplace) is quite young, and only with Windows Phone 8, Windows Phone devices have started supporting better hardware.

Microsoft is in the process of getting more app developers for Windows Phones, but for now, users will have to make do with what they have.

Update cycles

Nobody launches updates as frequently as Google (Android) does. In a little more than year, there have been four major updates of the Android OS. With each update, the interface has been made smoother and great new features such as Google Now and SWYPE-typing on keyboard have been introduced. Even Apple took an enite year to update its operating system from iOS 5 to iOS 6.

It took two years for Windows to move from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8. And phones running on Windows Phone 7 will not be able to update to Windows Phone 8, because the hardware requirements are very different for the two versions. So that’s not the kind of pace that’d get you all excited about a Windows Phone OS.

We say

There are a lot of good features integrated in Windows Phone 8 devices, and we will explore them in detail when the devices land up on Smartbuy’s test benches. There are of course, many reasons why one wouldn’t want to opt for the WP8, but as I said, it’s too early to pass a verdict. And once the devices are here, we will be able to tell you whether the Windows Phone 8 is the next big thing.

For now, we wait.

sabyasachi.b@thenindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 5, 2012)
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