Disclaimer: These are my personal top 5 features and have been chosen based on my personal usage situation. Feel free to chime in on what makes your list.
In no particular order.
1) Conversations with Apps
This is one of those things where Apple’s marketing of Siri proves just how important marketing is and Microsoft needs to market this feature like crazy. instead of Style over substance like is the case for Siri the new Conversations with Apps is Style AND Substance. Being able to have hands free conversation within a specific app is awesome. Microsoft showed off this feature with a video showcasing Audible. No need to keep pushing te voice button to issue commands instead have a natural conversation with the app. For third party developers this is an important branding distinction too. Apple makes their user become intimate with Siri but on Windows Phone 8 the developer’s app is what is at the forefront of the conversation.
2) New Start Screen
Coming in Windows Phone 8 users will have the ability to scale tiles from small, medium and large sizes. This gives live tiles the scalability of Widgets. As the user changes the size of the live tile the information overlayed changes with it. For example, if you change a small tile to large in Nokia Drive instead of getting a text overlay on the backside of the tile you would get a full view of your route. Nice! Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore showed off how you could create your own little favorite Games Hub section on the Start Screen by having the Games Hub tile be medium size while your 4 other favorite games could be on each side of the Games Hub tile as small tiles.
For me this means I can line up all my email folders in a row using small tiles (linked still of course) and take over very little room on the Start Screen leaving me with another opportunity to place more information on the Start Screen. Also means you can have Groups assigned as small or medium tiles to get even faster access to info and contacts.
3) Skype and 3rd Party VOIP Integration
For the millions of users that use Skype or other VOIP services this is a huge boost to their using it on the Windows Phone platform. Skype will not be integrated like Facebook and Twitter is in the OS but it will be deeply integrated in the sense that you can make and accept Skype calls using the same phone screen as regular calls. All contacts that have Skype information in their profile will be automatically added to the separate Skype app too and in your People Hub. The best part is that this type of deep integration isn’t just available to Skype but to all developers.
My mother-in-law gets confused using her Windows Phone People Hub so to be able to just receive and make Skype calls like any other phone call is a big, elegant deal. For me its great because that means with the improved background multitasking that calls will be able to be received without the need to have the app running in the foreground. I can now feel free to have people call me or chat with me through Skype to their hearts content.
4) Improved Multitasking
As an entrepreneur who is constantly driving around to meet with clients and running errands for my wife I fnd I spend an insane amount of time in the car. The improved background multitasking will now allow me to listen to books I’m interested in using the Audible app and also can have the directions alert me when I need to be alerted. This brings me to..
5) Nokia Taking Over Mapping
As we had previously heard, Nokia Maps is taking over for Bing Maps. This is an example how every user phone user benefits from the Microsoft/Nokia partnership. This brings native support for turn-by-turn navigation and brings it on par with iOS6 and Android in that respect. Owners of coming Nokia phones will also get the fast improving Nokia Drive and Nokia Transit apps to further utilize Nokia’s features.
There is also a Map control for developers coming so that 3rd party devs can utilize Nokia Maps in their apps. As someone who is driving around a lot the off line turn by turn directions will be great. Because of my calculative nature I like to plan out my day and trips to the most minute detail. Being able to make my upcoming 1,000+ mile road trip to Texas would have been great to have offline maps stored on a micro-SD card thus saving tons of data.
Although not announced we all know that Nokia Maps also include 3D mapping technology. This means that each of what I consider big smartphone players (iOS, Android, Windows Phone) have 3D mapping and turn-by-turn native options. As of right now I’d consider Nokia maps to be a close second to Google Maps especially when considering international coverage.
So there you have it. My personal favorite top 5 features. Things that I think are awesome but didn’t make the list are NFC Support, the Wallet Hub and MicroSD removable storage support. The fact that WP8 has removable SD support means we can expect to see high end phones coming this fall with lower (8 to 16gb) of onboard memory so the price will be lower to customers and for users who desire more storage they can buy MicroSD cards to fll their needs. Sine we know the iPhone won’t have removable storage Windows Phone users will get the ability to have far more capacity on their phones then their iPhone counterparts especially considering the difference in pricing as you increase memor on iPhones. For example, you can pick up a 32GB microSD card today for $20, but to upgrade from a 16gb to 32gb iPhone costs you an additional $100. That’s an extra $80 tacked on. SkyDrive synching can now be done with removable storage so the microSD cards can be used to house all the SkyDrive synched files which is a big deal.