Windows Phone 8 launches with new features, Skype and new apps

Most of you have probably already seen the full Windows Phone 8 event that was live streamed earlier today so I won’t write an essay about everything that was shown. Instead let’s do a quick recap on what was new or simply not yet officially unveiled since Windows Phone 8′s initial announcement a few months ago.

First of all Microsoft announced the newest version of Skype for Windows Phone 8. This new version of the app will fully integrate into the OS and allow seamless VOIP calling through the phone dialer and more features like background notifications and lock-screen integration. What’s new here (for Windows Phone) is that the Skype service will constantly be running in the background even if the app wasn’t triggered by the user. this means that calls or other notifications like messages will arrive as if they were regular phone calls or SMS. Most of the functionality of the UI and People/contact integration of the WP8 app are similar to the windows 8 version that was released just 2 days ago. Checkout the video below for a quick demo:

Microsoft has also announced that Windows Phone 8 will receive new version of the Facebook and Twitter application that should take advantage of the new Live Lock-screen functionality. Any third-party application can also be coded to take advantage of the lock screen so you probably expect a whole lot of weather or sports application to start offering this in the coming months.

A couple of other high-profile application and games have also been announced:

Temple Run (Unity3D powered game), Jetpack Joyride, Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Space, Draw Something, Words with Friends, Urban Spoon, Fairway Solitaire, Asphalt 7: Heat, Living Social, Cut the Rope, and Disney’s Where’s My Water and Where’s My Perry.

Last but not least: Pandora is finally making its debut on the Windows Phone platform with a WP8 application. Doesn’t really sound that exciting when compared to the extremely nice offering that is Xbox Music. The catch here is that Windows Phone 8 user will get one year of free streaming music with no ads. Now you know why the Xbox Music free streaming offer available to all Windows 8 users (PC/Tablets) didn’t make its way to Windows Phone 8..

DataSense which I showed you a few months ago when the SDK leaked will apparently only work on Verizon in the US right now according to Microsoft who claims that this feature requires carrier support. From what I’ve seen in the SDK this is apparently not entirely true because the user can manually set his max usage limits and get the only thing to work perfectly (don’t know if this has changed in later version of the OS though) similar to how Nokia Counters works right now on Windows Phone 7.X. The main difference here is that DataSense can automatically triggered the use of server side compression when browsing through IE10 if the user is get close to blowing his data cap. One thing is for sure though is that from what I have seen on the handset I played with today, DataSense only shows up in Windows Phone 8 if the device’s region is set to the US.

One more thing I want to talk about is the new native Bing Maps app which now uses Nokia Maps. Let’s start by the good news: Maps are now vectorized so the data-set is extremely small and shared between apps (like Nokia Drive on Lumia handset for example). The bad news is that it wasn’t smooth at all on the HTC 8X handsets I ran it on (forget to try it on the Lumia’s sorry). The other thing I’m not really sure about is if theWP8 version of Nokia Maps (for Lumias) will also use the vector maps or not because the latest version I tried wen I got my first hands on with the Nokia Lumia 920 was still using the old data-set.

If you want to have a look at most of these feature just watch the video below featuring Joe Belfiore:

Windows phone 8 handset availability should start as soon as tomorrow in France who is AFAIK the first country to have the Nokia Lumia 920 on sale. The HTC Windows Phone 8X should also be available later this week in France (both carrier free). Carriers across the glob will start offering their handset around mid-November and Microsoft has already announced that every singly model will be available unlocked at Microsoft’s Stores in the US and Online (US only?).

Got more questions? Simply fire them in the comments below or on Twitter!