Microsoft launches Windows Phone 8, hardware not far behind

Fresh off the launch of Windows 8 and Surface, and loathe to cede the spotlight to Google, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8. Redmond spent time highlighting new features, apps and device availability regarding their latest assault on the mobile marketplace.

We've previously highlighted the major additions that Windows Phone 8 makes to the ecosystem. Today's event focused on the end-user experience. In that vein, Microsoft's showed off Rooms, the Kid's Corner, a redesigned Skype app, and a redesigned lock screen with hugely improved functionality.

Rooms is perhaps the most exciting addition. An addendum to the familiar People hub, Rooms allows a user defined group of people to share to-do lists, calendars and photos in one place. Group messaging makes an appearance as well. Rooms is also somewhat cross-platform, iOS users can be added to and can access content from Rooms. But they must have a Microsoft account to access the Calendar functionality.

Kid's Corner, accessed by swiping sideways from the lock screen acts as a safe place for the kiddies to play with your phone. From the Settings menu, users can define exactly what apps will run in the Kid's Corner. The phone will be almost totally locked down when in the Kid's Corner. Only the ascribed apps will run, and new messages and emails will not appear until the phone is returned to its normal state. Calls will still come through. Those of us without children can imagine using Kid's Corner as a prescribed demo space for when friends and family want to take a look at the operating system.

Skype is now integrated throughout Windows Phone. Skype for now has Live Tile and Live App (more on that in a moment) functionality. Contact integration in the People hub is a go, as well. Most interesting is a new dormant state, where Skype will deliver messages and calls, but only minimally drain the battery.

Microsoft also showed off a new lock screen. Apps can now integrate notifications, among other things, into the lock screen. When demoing the feature, Microsoft showed off Faceboook's new Live App functionality. There were separate notifications for messages and alerts, and the rotating stock of photos was supplied by the ubiquitous social networking service. Microsoft was sure to mention that fine grain control could be granted. Want Facebook notifications on the lock screen, but not photos? Have it your way.

Regarding availability, there was good news to share. On AT&T, the Nokia Lumia 920, 820 and HTC 8X will be available in November. Verizon has the Lumia 822 (an 820 variant), the HTC 8x, again available in November. Big Red will also have a so-far-unseen Samsung device called the ATIV Odyssey in December. T-Mobile is much clearer cut: on November 14 it will offer the Nokia Lumia 810 (another 820 variant), and the HTC 8X for $99 and $149, respectively. Sprint will not offer Windows Phone 8 devices this Winter.

Microsoft via Windows Phone Central and The Verge

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