Instead of moving to Windows Phone 10 which would be the most logical choice as far as Microsoft’s strange numbering choices go the next version of the mobile operating system will be called Windows 10 Mobile. As far as we know, that is. Here, we’ll look at every aspect of Windows 10 Mobile, including its new features, apps and user interface. Before we dive in, it’s important to note that no-one will be getting the update on 29 July when Windows 10 launches. Microsoft is still very much in the development phase and has only said that it needs “more time to deliver the optimal experience for mobile devices and you can expect Windows 10 Mobile to release broadly later this year”. It’s also crucial to point out that not a great deal is changing in terms of the interface. Windows 10 Mobile will look and work much the same as Windows Phone 8. There are lots of tweaks and improvements, but the biggest differences will be much tighter integration with Windows 10 on your PC. Part of that is Windows apps previously called universal apps which will be available in the new unified Windows Store and will work on all your devices running Windows 10. When you first use the OS, you’ll find that it introduces a number of new options compared to Windows Phone 8.1. These include full-size art for the Start screen, an improved Action Center, interactive notifications, better dictation (and a generally better Cortana) and an enhanced Photos app. The operating system will be a free upgrade for many Lumia smartphones of those included in the preview versions. Smartphones running Windows 10 out of the box will arrive later this year, and will include the Lumia 640 and 640 XL.
What happened to Windows Phone?
Windows 10 is the first version of Windows built to run on computers, tablets and phones (as well as servers and other devices you probably don’ t care about). This means that developers will be able to build an app which will run on everything from a huge TV or projector screen, down to the 4in display on a phone. They can submit the app once to the Windows Store and Microsoft will do the crunching to make it work on any device running Windows 10. Developers will have to decide how the interface should look on a given screen size, but this change should mean that we’ll see more apps than ever available on phones running Windows. However, just because it’s the same operating system as used by laptops and desktops, it doesn’t mean you can run x86 programs (old Windows software) on your phone. You can’t.
Outlook/Mail – Outlook is one of the first ‘universal apps’, meaning it will run across your PC, laptop, phone and tablet, with the same experience although with a different interface for the smaller screen of a phone. It will synchronise everything seamlessly. As long as you’re connected to the internet in one way or another all the information will be updated instantly. You could, for example, start replying to an email on your laptop, then finish it on your phone while you’re on the go. In general this is the same for any universal app. There’s full Gmail support, as well as other webmail services including iCioud. In fact, there’s much better support for all webmail services, so you don’t have to be an Outlook user with an Outlook address to benefit from the stock email app.
Outlook Calendar – Calendar will be a universal app and it will be integrated into Outlook, too. As you’d expect, the app will synchronise across all your Windows 10 devices. This means it doesn’t matter which one you enter an event on, it will show up everywhere. One view in the Calendar app will give you an overview of the week, indicating how busy each day is, with details of specific entries below in chronological order.
Office – There are new universal apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They are optimized for touch-based input and will include the Office Ribbon, which means it should be familiar to just about anyone using Office 2007 or later on their PC or laptop.
Photos – The updated Photos app will also work across all your devices, and has been improved with better editing and management tools. This makes it easier to find the image you’re looking for and give it a few tweaks before sharing it. The app automatically enhances photos and removes duplicates, too. On the video side of things, you can easily scrub through a clip if you’re trying to find a particular bit without having to simply guess how far in it is. Photos displays your shots in chronological order in the same tiled layout as that found in Windows Phone, 8 and you can choose whether or not to show photos and videos from your OneDrive. This means you won’t need to head to it as a separate app to access that content. One feature that’s set to be introduced is Albums. This will enable you to group photos into themes, edit them and then share them with friends without using Facebook or photo sharing sites such as Flickr.
Maps – The current situation for mapping on Windows Phone 8 is somewhat confusing, with both Maps and HERE Maps (developed by Nokia) onboard. Going forward things will be different in Windows 10 with a Maps universal app. The experience will be the same across all your Windows 10 devices. Bing Maps will be used for its search results, Streetside views will offer 3D imagery and there will be new navigation options.
Messaging and Skype – There’s a big change when it comes to messaging because Microsoft has decided to combine phone calls, text messages and Skype (both messages and calls). There’s a new dialler, but Messages is the focus for Windows 10 on phones. In a similar way to iMessage and Google Hangout, the Messages app will display all the content in one conversation thread view whether it’s a regular SMS message or from Skype. Users can also quickly exit the thread and call the person easily. Furthermore, the related People app (where you store all your contacts) will allow you to choose a preferred method of communications whether that ‘s email, text or internet messaging.
Cortana – Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana is more powerful and has with more skills and language support in Windows 10 Mobile. As we hoped, dictation has been opened up to more uses, such as sending emails. The feature lets you use natural language so you can tell Cortana to send an email to multiple people, a subject line and the body text. You can then use your voice to make corrections if there are any errors. The blue circle that represents Cortana on the screen will also change, depending on what you ask and different situations the aim being to give it ‘personality’. As with many features in Windows 10, the idea is to have consistency across devices.
So if you set a reminder on your phone, it will pop up on your desktop at the right moment. That means you can use your phone while you’re in the car to remind yourself of something when you get to the office or back home and you’ll see it right on your desktop minimizing the chance that you’ll miss the reminder. The more you use Cortana, the better it gets to know you, and the more accurate its responses will be. At least, that’s what Microsoft tells us.
Edge browser – Just as in the desktop version, Edge is Microsoft’s new web browser for Windows 10 Mobile. It has an interface much like the desktop version, but doesn’t have the same support for annotation, drawing and clipping not yet at least. What it does have it a customization reading mode that supports PDFs and a reading list, which will show up on all your Windows devices. There will also be support for background downloading in the final version, and you’ll be able to check the status of files being downloaded in the Action Center.
User interface changes
Many of the changes in Windows 10 Mobile relate to the user interface. As we’ve mentioned already, it’s not a massive departure compared to Windows Phone 8, so existing users will have no problems finding their way around, but will benefit from the tweaks and improvements listed below.
Recently installed apps – The usual apps menu sits to the right of the Start Screen and still shows all of your apps in alphabetical order. However, a new section will appear at the top called ‘Recently Installed’ showing newly installed apps.
New tile art – Since smartphones are personal, Microsoft has made various improvements to the Start Screen on handsets to make it more customisable. For example, you can select an image that will appear full-screen behind the tiles and the apps menu. Tiles that don’t have a solid colour are semi-transparent. so you can see the image behind.
One-handed mode – For phones with 5in screens and larger, you can now hold on the Windows button and the screen will slide down to bring things at the top into reach. Sound familiar? It’s the same as ‘Reachability’ in iOS 8.
Improved Action Center and Interactive Notifications – We were glad of the arrival of the Action Center on Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft has made some nice improvements in Windows 10 for phones. More Quick Actions are available, so when you pull the bar down from the top of the screen you’ll see the usual set of four. There’s also a new expand button, which shows eight additional Actions when clicked, or when you drag down from the top a second time. Previously there was a simple link to all settings and you can still select which four you wish to be the primary ones. Brand new is a much-requested Quick Action for turning on the LED flash so you can use it as a torch without needing a separate app. Action Center is also where you pick up all your notifications and while they are displayed in the same manner, they are now interactive. This means you can do various things straightaway. For example, you can dismiss an alarm, and when it comes to things such as text messages, you can reply inline via the keyboard or voice. Another new features is that you won’t
need to dismiss notifications twice. If you get rid of one on your phone, then you shouldn’t have to deal with it again if you switch to Windows 10 on another device. That’s a real boon and something that we’ve been wanting on iOS and Android for some time.
New Settings menu – Long suffering Windows Phone users will be pleased to hear that the Settings menu has received a much needed overhaul. The existing one has been split into ‘system’ and ‘applications’, which is no bad thing as the massive list of options was extremely difficult to navigate with no apparent order or method. The new Settings menu is divided into 10 sections for things such as system, personalisation, accounts and privacy. It makes much more sense, and under each heading you can see what type of things you’ll find there. A search bar at the top lets you type in the first few letters to quickly find what you’re looking for.
New keyboard with joystick – The keyboard is largely the same in Windows 10 compared to Windows Phone 8, but there’s a new feature that you might not even spot at first. If you remember the way old IBM laptops had a tiny joystick in the middle of the keyboard for moving the cursor, well that’s exactly what Microsoft had added to Windows 10 for phones in a virtual way. Rather than sitting in the middle of the keyboard, it’s on the left-hand side between Shift, Z, the 123 button and semicolon. If you tap and hold it a little D-pad pops up and you can slide your finger around to move the cursor it’s pretty neat.