While Google and Apple control the smartphone market with their Android and iPhones, there might be room for another competitor thanks in large part to RIM seemingly dropping off the face of the planet. That competitor could be especially strong if they come from a well-known tech company offering something relatively new. Microsoft is hoping that they can elbow their way into the Smartphone market with their Windows Phone 8 announcement, after falling short with the Windows Phone 7. Microsoft returned to the drawing board when it came to their newest Smartphone offering, and if early reviews can be believed, they just might be able to put up a fight.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Windows Phone 8 is just how different it is from Windows Phone 7. Most companies that roll out new editions of an existing phone will make slight upgrades here and there. Windows Phone 8 is such a different experience from its predecessor that Microsoft included an announcement that seems to be a bit of an oddity.

The UI and features of the Windows Phone 8 are so different that current Windows Phone 7 users will not be able to upgrade to the new operating system. This is a definite step in a different direction from what Google does with its Android OS. Google has granted the ability for their higher end phones to actually upgrade, so users don’t need to buy a whole new handset. Microsoft’s move means that anyone who might like the Windows Phone will have no reason to buy one until this hits the market.

Among the changes, Windows Phone 8 will have a completely new home screen and will look and feel remarkably similar to the Windows 8 operating system that will be launching for the home computer and their own tablet later this year. The reason behind this is actually two-fold, as this interface is by all accounts better, and it will parlay Microsoft’s die-hard fans’ love for the OS into them possibly purchasing two new devices in 2012. The phone also comes with a higher resolution display screen, though there isn’t any news on just how high resolution this will be.

The smart money is on this not approaching Apple’s Retina display, but it doesn’t need to. If it’s better than Windows Phone 7, plenty of people will be happy. The new interface will feature 3 tile sizes, available to developers (the previous ‘large’ tile was only available to major software partners) and removes the ‘gutter’ on the right side of the phone, making use of the entire screen real-estate.

The phone is also said to be featuring multi-core processors, removable and interchangeable memory cards, and IPv6. There are expectations that there will be a much better selection of applications in the Microsoft app store as well. Developers who were forced to code using Microsoft Silverlight will now be able to write in HTML5, XNA, .NET, and C#. Google Wallet fans who hate Android should be excited because there will also be a Microsoft wallet function that will allow users to store their bank and credit card information on the phone. There is also NFC functionality for tap-to-pay usage.

This leaves Windows Phone 7 users somewhat out in the cold, as no WP8 upgrade will be made available to WP7.5 devices (all current hardware). However Microsoft can be given a little latitude here, Windows Phone 8 is bringing a host of new features that have hardware dependencies like NFC and higher resolutions screens that were not part of the hardware spec for original Windows Phone handsets. Its a bit like not including Vodeo Calling functionality on phones with no front facing camera.

To ease the pain a little, Microsoft has promised a Windows Phone 7.8 update for existing users, which will bring the new tile interface to existing handsets, but this is about all unfortunately.

When the smoke clears, it seems as though Microsoft has taken a shot across the bow at both Google and Apple, and if the functionality of the Windows Phone 8 is all its cracked up to be, there could be a new player in the Smartphone market.

Sources:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2406178,00.asp

http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/20/tech/mobile/windows-phone-8-microsoft/index.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/windows-phone-8-speech-wallet-and-more-games-on-the-way/2012/06/20/gJQApsvgqV_story.html