What is Windows Phone?

A guide to Microsoft's Windows Phone mobile operating system

Windows Phone is Microsoft's mobile operating system and was previously known as Windows Mobile. Windows Phone is a completely new mobile operating system that was launched in 2010 and was built from the ground up to compete with Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms.

The user interface of Microsoft Windows Phone is completely different to anything currently on the market. It's made up of large tiles that can be "pinned" to the home screen. The default tiles can be removed: you can simply press and hold a tile to move it around the screen. The Windows Phone utilises a panorama-style view for its core applications. Users slide left and right to browse through the panorama.

The Windows Phone OS is widely regarded as slick, smooth and user friendly, but it is not as popular as Apple and Google alternatives.

What is a Windows Phone?

A Windows Phone is any smartphone that runs Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system. Multiple manufacturers produce Windows phones, including the likes of Nokia, HTC, Samsung and LG.

Windows Phones can come in various shapes and sizes, but due to the strict hardware requirements set by Microsoft, all Windows phones operate the same. All have large touchscreens; most are at least 3.5 inches in size (when measured diagonally) and above, and are operated by simply tapping your finger on the screen. Some Windows phones may have a combination of both a physical keyboard and a touch screen, though these are rare.

All Windows Phone devices include a camera and come with basic features like Wi-Fi, for the ability to connect to a wireless network, Bluetooth, GPS, a standard headphone jack and a standard micro-USB port for charging and connecting the phone to a computer.

Current Windows phones include the Nokia Lumia 900 and the HTC Titan 4G. Windows phones are sold in Australia through all major mobile operators including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.

What is included on a Windows Phone?

As its developed by Microsoft, every Windows Phone comes with a range of Microsoft services including the Bing search engine, the Xbox Live gaming portal along with the Microsoft account suite of services including mail, calendar, people, photos, music and video.

Unlike Google, Microsoft does not allow manufacturers to make changes to the look and feel of the Windows Phone user interface. This means that the interface of a Windows Phone from HTC will look and feel almost identical to a Nokia Windows Phone, with the exception of any manufacturer specific apps.

A Windows Phone requires the use of a Microsoft Account (formerly known as a Windows Live account) and this provides a way of automatically backing up your contacts. However, text messages, call logs, app data and settings aren't backed up.

What is the Marketplace?

The Marketplace is Microsoft's application distribution platform for Windows Phone. The Marketplace is pre-loaded on every Windows Phone and both free and paid apps are available. Paid apps can be purchased with a credit card and in some cases can be added to your carrier bill at the end of the month.

Unlike the Android platform, developers who create applications for Windows Phone device have less flexibility and must adhere to strict guidelines. Every Windows Phone application goes through an approval process before it is made available for distribution through the Marketplace. Microsoft uses the same revenue strategy as Apple — for paid applications, 30 per cent of revenue goes to Microsoft and 70 per cent goes to the app developer.

Windows Phone software updates

Microsoft constantly improves the Windows Phone platform in what is called a software update. On average, the Windows Phone platform is updated once a year, though there may be additional, minor updates throughout the year. Each software update provides new features, enhancements and improvements.

These updates are free but are released on a staggered schedule throughout the world. Many factors influence when you'll receive an update, including which Windows Phone you have and which carrier provides your mobile service. When a Windows Phone software update is available a notice will appear on the phone, telling you to connect your phone to your computer to download the update.

The latest version of Microsoft's Windows Phone software is Windows Phone 7.5, known as Mango. New features include custom ringtones, linked message inboxes, improved live tiles and the ability to save and edit music playlists on the phone.

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
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