Microsoft might not have used its BUILD 2013 event to showcase much in the way of updates and features coming to the next version of Windows Phone, but some conclusions on the mobile operating system can be drawn from what Microsoft did talk about in great detail: Windows 8.1. Of course, these aren’t hardcore feature sets, nor are they official but it’s clear that Microsoft is likely taking a unified stances on its products.
With the Metro design language coming of age, it’s now clear that Microsoft seems to have realized that some of its initial implementations of Metro lack a big bullet point with users: personalization. In Windows 8.1 the company has started over and is allowing users to change their Start Screen backgrounds and added an almost dizzying array of color options.
It’s almost inconceivable that Microsoft’s Windows Phone team wouldn’t add those features and take these lessons into consideration when creating their next major release. After all, even the company’s new television ads push the idea of Windows being available everywhere. If the company hopes to convince users of that, they’ll at least need to share fundamental design elements and customization features.
Testers of the Windows 8.1 Preview will find that Microsoft’s Bing search engine is built into the operating system’s Search Charm. With it, users can search Bing from almost anywhere in the operating system. Likewise, SkyDrive is now an operating system level feature. Instead of relying on applications that need to be installed, the cloud service’s syncing options are built into the control panel. In fact, users can even manage and view the amount of SkyDrive storage they have right out of the box.
Microsoft’s dedication to finally using technology and features across the company’s platforms isn’t necessarily new. However, it is something that is finally beginning to show results. Microsoft has already said that the next version of Windows Phone will enable users to share Internet Explorer tabs between Windows devices. It’s also known that the underlying operating system on Windows Phone 8 is actually Windows 8′s core.
There’s no reason to think that these same SkyDrive syncing features and large integration push won’t make it to the next version of Windows Phone. It’s actually the Windows Phone Team that started the trend first with integrated Bing searching and automatic photo backups to SkyDrive first.
Most will agree that Microsoft’s approach to Windows Phone telegraphed the coming of many of the new concepts that have now become staples of operating systems. Its People Hub and seamless integration with social networks in order to make the lives of users easier is now something that can be found almost on all mobile operating systems.
Unfortunately one of the things Windows Phone has gotten wrong since Day One is the way it approaches development of applications on the platform. With Windows, and again in Windows 8.1, Microsoft has decoupled the applications that are central to the user experience from the operating system. This approach allows teams inside Microsoft to release updates for their Windows apps independently of an operating system update. As Windows Phone and Windows 8 have a shared core, it’s likely that the next version of Windows Phone will do the same.
Microsoft isn’t yet acknowledging the existence of a significant Windows Phone 8 update beyond commenting that the Internet Explorer in Windows 8.1 will require a “future version.” Sources with knowledge of the company’s plans have indicated that the next version of Windows Phone — what’s know as Windows Phone “Blue” — will make its way to users early next year. When it does, it’s likely that many of the changes will look awfully familiar.