Microsoft previews Windows Phone 8: bright, colourful and like the desktop OS

Microsoft’s next generation of Windows isn’t all about making the notebook and desktop more touch-friendly; the company plans to unify the Windows experience and bring everything together, making the Windows Phone experience more connected.

The latest from Microsoft’s mobile division changes the very core of Windows Phone, bringing it closer to Windows than it ever has before.

Set to be available in devices later this year, Windows Phone 8 will be built on the same platform that Microsoft is using to make the computer counterpart for the next generation of Windows. In essence, this means apps built for each of the platforms should be close to cross platform, or at the very least, easier to tweak for release on each device.

This design makes it closer to iOS than most mobile platforms, as the operating system powering the iPhone and iPad was based on an old Mac OS version that has developed by itself.

Microsoft Wallet will allow you to pay for things using your phone.

A better platform for Windows isn’t all Microsoft is adding to the next generation of Windows Phone, with support for multiple processor cores offering faster app and games performance, Internet Explorer 10, Nokia Maps as the native mapping and navigation application, payments using Near-Field Communication technology, high-resolution 720p screens, and one of the most needed and requested features – support for expandable storage with microSD cards.

The homescreen has also been changed to accomodate more tiles, more colours, and more lively and animated icons, effectively pushing the Android widget concept into one screen and making it easier to see multiple updates of news, calendars, social networks, and more on the main screen.

Manufacturers are jumping on-board, ready to produce handsets in an amount we haven’t seen since the launch of Windows Phone 7 in 2010. Already, Microsoft is talking up products on the way from Nokia, Samsung, HTC, and budget handset maker Huawei.

But users of current Windows Phone 7 devices may feel a little left in the cold with this upcoming release.

The look of Windows Phone 8 is pretty cool, but that's all current Windows Phone users will receive, with Microsoft saying current phones will not have a full update path.

According to Microsoft, currently released Windows phones will not support the upgrade to Windows 8, with one update occurring – Windows Phone 7.8 – offering merely the updated home screen, but leaving the major improvements from available devices.

“Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware,” said Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore on the Windows Phone Blog. “But we care deeply about our existing customers and want to keep their phones fresh, so we’re providing the new Start screen in this new update.”

This move is unlikely to go down well with current and future Windows phone owners, with Microsoft essentially fragmenting the upgrade path before Windows Phone 8 is even made available. Even models of the handset that we’re actively reviewing now are affected by this, with a more or less dead-end upgrade path when Windows Phone 8 arrives.

Considering the Nokia Lumia 900? It won’t be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8. Just grabbed a 4G HTC Titan? Same deal applies.

At the moment, if Windows Phone looks like a viable option, then make sure you’re aware that the phone you’re purchasing will not have the same features as one released by the end of the year.