In what would have to be a first for Windows Phone, and Microsoft, in a couple of surprise announcements, complete details of the next update for Windows Phone, GDR3, or Windows Phone 8 Update 3 as it is officially being referred to.
Not stopping there, Microsoft also announced a developer preview program, allowing registered developers to get their hands on these updates early.
While a whole marketing culture seems to have been built around leaking details of upcoming software builds, not only Windows Phone, and Hardware, is this the long awaited enthusiast program that was talked about at the launch of WP8, … probably not. With the slow growth in uptake of Windows Phone, even though it’s market share is building, Microsoft still need to focus on apps for the platform, and getting as many developers on side, with programs such as this is still pertinent. Well, hmmm, it must be an enthusiast program of sorts then?
There’s a few things to be aware of, firstly you need to be a registered windows phone developer, and in the links above there are a few different options to become one. Secondly, your phone no matter what the OEM, has to already be updated to GDR2, so if you thought that this would be an easy way to update a HTC 8X from Telstra or VodafoneAU, sadly it is not. Thirdly, this is OS update only, there is no associated firmware from OEMs bundled with it.
Let’s think about what we know, but with current devices we cannot test as yet, GDR3 brings support for higher resolution screens, and quad core processors, but straight up after the update there are a lot of features that users have been asking for. So in no particular order
Now this is a feature that, well may be cosmetic, but it actually saves a step. It’s also a little neater than before, notice the logo as well as the title at the bottom. Before when you had to open the multitasking view by holding the back button down for an extended time, then choose the app that you want to close, which brings it to the fore ground, then hit the back button to close the app. The simple addition of this button saves a step, and the animation is somewhat reminiscent of swiping down an app in windows RT to close it.
Driving mode is something that has been a long time coming, it automates connecting to BT devices whilst in the car and allows you to choose how you deal with calls and text, from ignoring and texting an appropriate reply, to using speech to respond if your devices are supported. In the Bluetooth settings you can add the devices, and once the phone connects to the specific device, driving mode will engage.
Phone storage management has been made a lot simpler, with graphic pointers to help quantify what is where, notice the colours. Microsoft has obviously been working on managing temp files, and that dreaded “Other” category seems to have been removed.
Every category of files can now be managed from phone storage, except for system files, temporary files, well apparently we can get rid of some of them but how much space will be saved is still up for question, and whether it refers to the “Other” files is not obvious.
Probably one of the most requested features ever, you can now set a custom sound for text, calls notifications IM’s and for individual contacts
One big update is the ability to turn off background data with one setting
While it is not a huge update, it brings a lot of features that people have been wanting to see happen. It will be interesting to see if the program continues into what we think will be major updates, ie; Windows Phone 8.1 or 9 if the next update is that big. There is still no sound profile support, separation between ringtone, media and alarms like Android has.
The thing is that we can see Microsoft responding to user suggestions in this update, and I’m pretty sure that I haven’t covered everything at the moment. This is just a really quick look after installing today.
In terms of stability, I’m not noticing any difference in phone performance after the update, and again, consider that the update did not include any firmware. It is pretty satisfying to see some really cool features coming, and with Nokia World this week and the expected phablet form devices, I believe we will see this update come into its own.