Windows Phone 8 may only be less than a year old, but that hasn’t stopped talk of the next iteration, Windows Phone 9.
Expected to be with us by the end of the year it looks like Microsoft may be adopting the annual software cycle made popular by Apple in an attempt to keep its mobile OS fresh and, more importantly, relevant.
We’re scouring the web everyday to bring you all the latest on Windows Phone 9 and we’ll be constantly updating the information below to give you the best picture of what’s to come.
Windows Phone 9 release date
Rumours have already surfaced that the Windows Phone 9 release date will be sometime in 2013, with reports suggesting it’ll arrive just in time for Christmas.
The update is also being referred to as Windows Phone Blue, a development name which mirrors an update to Microsoft’s new Windows 8 desktop platform – although there’s a chance it may appear as Windows Phone 8.5 at launch.
Other reports reckon Microsoft will kill off Windows Phone 8 by September 2014, giving another indication that version 9 could well be on its way very soon.
Windows Phone 9 or just Windows 9?
We seeing reports that suggest Microsoft may look to ditch the divide between its smartphone platform and the one it uses for tablets and PCs – rolling them all into one tidy bundle called Windows 9.
One suggestion is that the Windows Blue upgrade will see Windows 8 merged with Windows Phone in an attempt to tackle Google’s Android/Chrome combination which is growing ever stronger.
Alternatively we could instead get the aforementioned Windows 9 all-in-one system after a Microsoft employee stated “currently testing Windows 9 OS on Nokia, HTC and Qualcomm device” on their LinkedIn profile.
Windows Phone 9 devices
One of the big issues with Windows Phone 8 was that you couldn’t get it on your Windows Phone 7 handset, instead you were lumped with Windows Phone 7.8.
It’s thought that Windows Phone 9 won’t be so restrictive, with Windows Phone 8 users in line to get the upgrade which means you shouldn’t have to worry about picking up a Nokia Lumia 925 or HTC 8X.
Windows Phone 9: what we want to see
Here are nine things we think are missing from Windows Phone 8 that we’d like to see in Windows Phone 9.
1. Upgrade from Windows Phone 8
Windows Phone 8 is a big change from Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 7.5, using all new kernels. WP7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8, but you can’t run Windows Phone 8 apps on Windows Phone 7 handsets.
That’s understandable, because it’s such a big change, but there’s no reason for Windows Phone 9 to be as fundamental a change. With the promise of 18 months of updates, we expect to be able to upgrade Windows Phone 8 handsets to version 9.
2. Choice over SkyDrive sync
Unlike the PC, the SkyDrive app for Windows Phone doesn’t sync files, it just enables you to access them when you’re online. Even with an SD card in your phone, we don’t necessarily want everything we have on SkyDrive syncing to the phone in the future.
We’d like to pick exactly what syncs to the phone (something the SkyDrive team recently promised to consider), and maybe even choose which sections of a OneNote notebook sync.
3. Less developer access to SkyDrive
Windows Phone 8 apps can use your SkyDrive account to store files and back up app data. That’s OK as long as that data goes in a separate, clearly marked area (how about Program Files?) so it doesn’t clutter up your SkyDrive, won’t get deleted because you don’t recognise it and doesn’t get synced to all your PCs.
We’d also like better security for what apps can do on your SkyDrive; once you give them access they can read, write and even delete files.
They need to do that with the files that the app creates, but nothing (apart from the Windows Marketplace approvals process) is stopping an app from changing or deleting other files. Keeping the files you create with one app in a sandbox so you can’t see them in another app is proving inconvenient in iCloud, but a developer doesn’t have to be malicious for a programming error to accidentally delete files.
4. Better backup
Nine things we want to see in Windows Phone 9
We’re delighted to see that Windows Phone 8 will bring back the option to back up text messages, photos, videos, ‘most’ settings and installed apps. We hope that means full resolution photo backup as in the latest SkyDrive update, not the downsized versions in Windows Phone today.
We also hope it means you can easily reinstall all your apps on a new phone (or your reset handset) rather than having to select them one by one in a third-party app such as Reinstaller.
If not, those are must-haves for Windows Phone 9. But we also want to see the ability to do a full backup and restore of your phone, using your PC, the cloud, a spare SD card or anything else.
5. Smaller and larger screens
The rumoured BlackBerry-style form factor for Windows Phone 8 isn’t happening. It’s not surprising, given that it would be hard to scale apps to fit into the 4:3 aspect ratio needed compared to the 15:9 used today (the shift to 16:9 for some Windows Phone 8 handsets is less of a problem).
But the rumoured form factor we really miss is the 1-inch square screen you could have used as a watch.
We’d also like a 7-inch tablet to compete with the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 (something else the MALI GPU might be good at). Microsoft sees Windows 8 as right for tablets, but for something smaller we think Windows Phone is a better choice; anything below 10 inches and even Windows RT will be cramped.
6. More CPUs, more modems
Windows Phone 8 has dual-core CPUs, but they’re all Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chips. When Windows Phone’s Joe Belfiore said the Windows 8 core means “we’re ready for whatever hardware makers dream up” we thought we’d finally see handsets with ST-Ericsson NovaThor chips, seen in Android devices such as the Xperia Play.
We’d like to see what their more powerful multi-core MALI-400 GPU and integrated modem could do for Windows Phone handsets in terms of better graphics and more efficient functionality.
Keeping to a single specification makes it easier for Microsoft to deliver a consistent Windows Phone experience on different handsets, but one of the reasons to switch to the Windows 8 core is to make it easier to develop drivers for a wider range of devices.
If Microsoft really wants to attract more OEMs to Windows Phone, more hardware options would help.
7. Wi-Fi Sync that works
Nine things we want to see in Windows Phone 9
Being able to sync music and photos to your phone over Wi-Fi when it’s plugged in overnight is a great feature.
If only you could set it up reliably without worrying about whether your PC is on a public or private network or whether it’s your access point or a server handing out IP addresses.
Maybe the switch to the Windows 8 kernel will fix this as well, but it’s too useful a tool to be this unreliable.
8. A screenshot tool
Imagine if enthusiastic users of your product could show their friends pictures of their favourite apps. Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a way to capture what was on screen and use that to promote your product; let alone making it easy for bloggers to show off tips and shortcuts or for users with problems to show what was going wrong?
Again, maybe the Windows underpinnings will make this happen in Windows Phone 8 (it’s in Windows 8 as Windows-Printscreen) but if it is, Microsoft is keeping it very quiet.
Windows Phone 8 has had to be developed at top speed, and we might not officially see the SDK for developers to start work on WP8 apps until the end of September (Microsoft only says “by the end of the summer”).
The problem is that Windows Phone 8 is based on technology from Windows 8, and Windows 8 is only just finished. The secrecy is understandable in the circumstances – but those won’t be the same next time around.
To keep developer momentum and get apps that show off what Windows Phone can really do, Microsoft needs to give a lot more concrete information a lot earlier on next time.
Microsoft isn’t Apple, and secrecy that works for Apple won”t work when it’s time to get app developers onboard. If Windows Phone 9 is going to keep the excitement of Windows Phone 8 going, get that started sooner – because there won’t be the hoopla of Surface and Windows 8 launching next year.