It was Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system for notebooks and desktops that got most of the attention at yesterday’s media briefing, but woven into the presentation were also brief glimpses at what users can expect from Windows 10 on smartphones and tablets that compete with the iPhone and iPad.
Microsoft gave journalists and industry watchers a detailed look at what they can expect when their Lumia smartphones and anything else running Windows Phone 8.1 is updated to Windows Phone. To be clear, Windows 10 for phones isn’t actually the name of Microsoft’s coming mobile software, it’s actually simply called Windows 10, but for the purposes of clarity it’s what everyone else is calling it. Microsoft says Windows 10 for phones will run on devices with screen sizes smaller than 8-inches.
The presentation began with an look at updated Cortana, the digital personal assistant that’s now built-into all versions of Windows 10. Other than some upgrades to match the version from the newer operating there does seem to be much new here.
Eventually, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore started showing off the things that users who aren’t lovers of Cortana will care about. The Start Screen in Windows 10 for phones is something completely different, yet familiar. Today we’re used to Live Tiles set in a sea of black with a picture or a color filing out each tile. That wasn’t what we saw yesterday. Windows 10 for phones during the presentation had Live Tiles, but they are transparent so that users could see a full-bleed background behind them.
Later Belfiore moved on to focus on the apps that Microsoft thinks set Windows 10 apart from what they’ve done before. In Windows 10, the apps Microsoft makes will all become Universal Apps. Like today, when you purchase one from the Windows Store on your Windows 10 phone it’ll also be available on your notebook, desktop or tablet. The big difference is that Microsoft has worked hard to make its compatible across all its platforms. Xbox Music is now a Universal App, for example. Outlook Mail, Outlook Calendar, Maps, People, News, and Camera, Settings and Photos are universal apps too.
Some of these apps have seen huge future upgrades. The new Messenger app pulls in messages from Skype and text messages. Users can switch between different methods of testing. Outlook Calendar and Outlook Mail appear to have many of the same options from the Desktop version, finally. There are other extras scattered throughout Windows 10 for phones too. Microsoft didn’t show off completely integrated calling and texting during the briefing, but did note that users will be able to dismiss a notification from the Action Center in all versions of Windows 10 and matching notifications from other devices disappear too.
If there’s one major upgrade that’s easy to spot in Windows 10 for phones it’s how the built-in apps look and behave. Today, the Windows Phone 8.1 apps that come installed are mostly black and rely heavily on a nondescript menu bar that sits at the bottom of the screen. Every Windows 10 for phones app shown yesterday had a bright background, an accent color and a navigation menu. PowerPoint, one of the apps Microsoft showed off on stage, has a bright orange ribbon that sits below the notification area at the top of the screen. This might sound like a small change, but it has big consequences, Microsoft’s decision to overuse black in previous versions always felt cold and a bit too minimalist. The moved app bar could make it harder for users to navigate some apps with a single hand too.
It’s unlikely that Windows 10 for phones will alter Microsoft’s snail-like pacing as the third-largest mobile ecosystem behind iOS and Android. Still, it’s a worth update and Microsoft seems intent on making Windows phones the companions and extension of the PC they should have always been. Microsoft says smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 should get the Windows 10 update.