With the forthcoming launch of the Windows Phone 8 OS Microsoft’s mobile gaming format is about to receive a little shake-up of it’s interface. Nothing so drastic as was originally seen with the implementation of the metro interface with Windows Phone 7, but rather a tidying of existing features and their presentation.
The most striking difference is that of the Marketplace, finally doing away with the Zune branding altogether and instead mimicking the design of the front page tiles. Essentially repositioning that which already exists on Windows Phone 7 to offer greater visibility for free and non-Xbox LIVE enabled videogame titles, the Windows Phone 8 Marketplace will also feature a new suggestions tab which, should Microsoft Studios’ promises ring true, could actually become quite a useful service for those wishing to try something new. The new feature takes note of not only the software you’ve purchased, tried and kept on your phone, but also that which you’ve liked on Facebook and that which your friends enjoy, and then provides suggestions accordingly. Of course, there’s no way to tell just how effective this feature will be until it’s out in the wild, but it’s certainly an update worthy of note.
Also worth mentioning is the revamp of the Xbox LIVE hub on Windows Phone 8. A tidying up of the separated software collection, the hub now keeps apps separate from videogame titles (i.e. SmartGlass no longer gets added to your ‘games’ list and instead sits with your friends and messages on a separate page). Furthermore, the Friends List has been tidied considerably to allow for quicker access and more immediate updating; no longer will you have to wait longer than it takes to boot a videogame to discover which of your friends are available to play it.
Along with the separation of SmartGlass from the videogame titles it should be noted that the software comes pre-installed on all Windows Phone 8 devices. A small change but one that cements Microsoft Studios’ commitment to making the sideline attraction a regular feature; which is actually a monumental shift towards Xbox as an entertainment brand rather than a gaming one, given the intention to deliver SmartGlass content across movie and television content also.
Other revisions worthy of note come in the form of external applications of existing content. The integrated Internet Explorer will now be able to ‘jump’ from Windows Phone to Xbox 360 simply by using the built-in ‘share’ function, immediately pulling the page viewed on Windows Phone onto the television screen via Xbox 360 and launching into SmartGlass to enable users to navigate via the simple touchscreen interface. Additionally, the incredibly well devised Kids Corner software will allow for immediate access to any videogame titles installed on the Windows Phone 8 handset – whether they are Xbox LIVE enabled or not – either via the Kids Corner menu (located in the Settings menu) or by adding each title to the availability list immediately from the app’s tile. While Kids Corner may only appeal to a limited percentage of the Windows Phone audience, there’s little to suggest that those users will be disappointed with the presentation of this very unique software.
The Windows Phone 8 OS is bringing many changes to the Windows Phone platform aimed at all areas of the smartphone user’s routine, from social networking to taking photographs, listening to music to playing videogames. The areas highlighted above are the most significant changes set to hit the mobile gaming aspect of Windows Phone when the Windows Phone 8 devices arrive in the UK over the next few weeks, and Electronic Theatre will be sure to update you with more details on these new and revised features when a handset arrives in the office.