In this screenshot from Microsoft's live-streamed event, Microsoft executive Terry Myerson discusses Windows Phone 8.
San Francisco, CA (written by Zach C. Cohen/USA Today) -- Extending the rash of new smartphone and tablet releases and announcements this summer, Microsoft offered its first look at Windows Phone 8 at an event for developers on Wednesday, showcasing the newest version of its smartphone software. Microsoft representatives focused on a few new features including enhanced gaming functionality, a digital wallet, improved multitasking and more.
But not all of the news was good news to previous Windows Phone users, who will have to buy a new phone to use Windows 8. The newest rendition of Windows smartphone software, codenamed "Apollo," will not be available on previous Windows phones. That includes the Nokia Lumia 900, the most recent phone to host Windows Phone software.
Those who do upgrade to newer phones will get a host of new features to the Windows Phone experience when it launches in the fall on phones from Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC:
Windows Phone 8 will eventually have its version of a "digital wallet," the ability to make payments between a Windows Phone and another nearby device. You'll be able to use credit and debit cards and a bunch of other options to pay for stuff, similar to offerings from Google and Apple. The Windows Phone 8 will come equipped with "near-field communication" (NFC), so you'll be ready when Microsoft has worked out all of the details with Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile in about a year.
Windows is also scrambling to catch up on screen resolution. Windows Phone 8's new display is not as sharp as the screen on the newest MacBook Pro or iPhone 4S, but it is an improvement on previous Windows phones.
Anyone looking at the start screen of a Windows Phone 8 will find comfort to know the tile organization is still there. But unlike Android or iPhone, Windows Phone 8 allows users to change the size of those start screen icons to customize the interface experience. This is one of the few functions we know of that Microsoft will offer to those with older phones in the next software update, 7.8.
Got photos on your camera you want to load onto your phone? Now that's possible with a new microSD card slot on the Windows Phone 8 that will allow users to upload photos and apps.
The integration of video calls into the phone's normal operation is particularly interesting. Now, phone calls and video calls will all look the same at first, and they will use a similar interface. One button to answer voice calls, Skype calls, and any other video chat service out there.
The new phone also specializes in multi-tasking, making it easier to continue text message conversations while also calling somebody completely different.
Windows Phone 8's speech-activation function has also improved in this latest rendition. One example at Microsoft's keynote showed the phone's ability to alert the user of traffic on a planned route home, rerouting the commute and then notifying the user's friend about the delay. All by voice. How the voice function will match up with Apple's Siri or Android's Voice Actions remains to be seen.
For those Windows Phone users who have missed out on the fun that is "Draw Something" and "Words with Friends," Microsoft also announced that Zynga will begin offering both games on Windows Phone 8.
Rather than syncing with a hard wire, Windows Phone 8 updates solely through wireless connection to users' computers or tablets.
Ever wanted to get that perfect group shot, but somebody blinked or sneezed every time? Smart Group Shot on Windows Phone 8 allows you to combine the faces from multiple pictures to compile the best of each person into one shot. The camera also offers self-timer, action and panorama shots.
Microsoft is appealing to app developers by offering increased processing power and security. Windows Phone 8 also makes it easier for developers to more easily make apps and use them on desktops, laptops, phones and tablets. All apps previously in Microsoft's Marketplace are also available on Windows Phone 8, but newer apps on Windows Phone 8 may not be available on older phones.