Even as Hurricane Sandy pounded the Eastern Seaboard, drowning out a lot of other news, Microsoft took the stage Monday afternoon in San Francisco to show off its Windows Phone 8 operating system, which it will release on new phones this month and next.
While Microsoft had previously detailed some of the new features in the software and Nokia, HTC and Samsung have announced new phones, Joe Belfiore, the manager of the Windows Phone Program, announced some unseen features -- and took shots at the competition -- during the hour-long presentation.
"Apple did announce a fifth row of icons, but we wanted to come at it from a different point of view. We decided not to use the tired old metaphor," Belfiore said. "We put people at the center of the experience. Not icons for apps, not focus on speeds and feeds like Android and the iPhone do, respectively."
Kids Corner, Data Sense, Lock Screen
Microsoft Windows Phone operating system has always been built on the idea of live tiles. The tiles or apps on the home screen refresh with new information on their own; you don't have to tap the app to see if the temperature outside has changed. You can also customize it with tiles of your favorite people and contacts.
Now, with Windows Phone 8, you can see some of that information on your Lock Screen. "It will automatically surface photos and notifications and content from your favorite apps," Belfiore said.
Microsoft has worked with Facebook to create a new app for Windows Phone 8 to surface Facebook updates on the lock screen. There will also be a new Twitter app that will function similarly.
Another new feature is focused on saving you money and data. It's called Data Sense, and Microsoft says it will compress data sent over the wireless network, so that you pay for fewer megabytes. The feature provides a snapshot of your data usage and also helps you find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots so you can switch off of the mobile network. Because of the feature, Belfiore said that you can get 40 percent more web browsing than other phones.
Then there's the Kids Corner, which lets you lock down parts of the phone when you hand the device over to a young one dying to play "Angry Birds" or "Fruit Ninja." You can determine what apps you'd like your child to have access to and configure it so they can't get into your email or Twitter account. Actress and model Jessica Alba, who also has a one-year-old daughter, spoke at the event about being a recent Windows Phone convert.
"I really like the Kids Corner. I can go right to the curated apps and videos that I want my daughter to have. That's really key. Prior to this phone, if my daughter was going to go on my phone, there was a strong chance she was going to be able to go on my Facebook or Twitter and post whatever she wanted," Alba told ABC News in a phone interview. Alba gave up her iPhone for Windows Phone two months ago.
But all the new features won't solve the major issue that's been facing Microsoft's phone platform: application selection. Many application developers first build for iPhone and the iPad, then Android and then Windows Phone.
Belfiore spent a good amount of time talking about the new and major apps coming to the platform, including UrbanSpoon, Temple Run, and Pandora. There are also new Facebook, Skype, and Twitter apps.
Even industry analysts were impressed by the showing. "Microsoft made a good case about how Windows Phone is different, a case they've made for two years but today is the first time they've articulated why different might be better," Michael Gartenberg, Gartner Research Director, told ABC News. "The lack of overall applications will still remain an issue but with many of the popular apps now or soon available Windows Phone 8 will appeal to many consumers if Microsoft can effectively tell them the story."
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who made an appearance at the end of the presentation, said that the momentum for the platform is at its strongest point ever.
"Our hardware partners are all in. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are all in, plus hundreds of mobile operators around the world are all in. Developers are all in, filling the Windows Phone Store with applications."
The first Windows 8 phones will go on sale as early as this coming weekend. Verizon will carry the HTC 8X, Lumia 922 and Samsung ATIV Odyssey phone. AT&T will carry the Lumia 920. T-Mobile will get the HTC 8X ($149.99) and Lumia 820 ($99.99) on Nov. 14. All the phones will be available at Microsoft's stores as well; there are 65 stores nationwide now.