Windows Phone 8: Microsoft’s 4 Big Challenges

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The tech world is abuzz with new details on Windows Phone 8, the next major upgrade for Microsoft’s mobile operating system.

According to reports from PocketNow and Paul Thurrott, Windows Phone 8 will support a wider range of specs, including multi-core processors, four different screen resolutions, microSD storage and digital wallet services that use near-field communications. It’ll also have deep integration with Windows 8, allowing developers to easily port their apps from the desktop to the phone, and allowing users to sync data across all their devices.

(MORE: How Nokia’s Lumia 900 Windows Phone Won CES Before It Even Started)

In other words, this is the big upgrade everyone’s been waiting for, the one that merges Windows Phone with Windows PCs — or starts to, anyway — and allows for more powerful phones to compete with the iPhone and Android. It’s exciting in theory, but it’ll only work if Microsoft has solutions for the following challenges:

Making the Convergence Dead-Simple

The allure of having one ecosystem across phones, tablets and PCs is that you could easily share content — apps, music, photos, documents, and so on — between devices with minimal effort. But this type of sharing can get complicated in a hurry. Different devices may serve different purposes, which means you might not want to share every photo, song and app between your phone and your PC. And with varying amounts of storage space on each device, sharing everything could cause you to run out of room for the things you actually need. The trick for Microsoft will be to provide a simple way to sync apps and media between Windows Phones and Windows 8 PCs, while also allowing lots of control.

Meaningful App-to-App Communication

With Windows 8, apps will be able to talk with one another. So if one app has photos to share, and another app is designed to edit photos, those two apps can pass data back and forth with just a few button presses. Microsoft is reportedly bringing that same app-to-app communication system, called “Contracts,” to Windows Phone. This is exciting, but only if developers embrace the concept en masse, making it a central part of their apps. We may get a glimpse of how well this is going when the Windows 8 beta launches this month.

Getting More Apps While Preserving Metro-Style

According to PocketNow, app makers will have an easier time porting their code from iOS or Android to Windows Phone 8, thanks to the addition of native code support. If true, that addresses one of Windows Phone’s biggest issues to date — that it’s often ignored when a hot new app comes around. But it also introduces a new issue: Many Windows Phone apps use the “Metro” design language that Microsoft is weaving into many of its products. Quick and dirty ports from Android and iOS might not preserve this aesthetic, so Microsoft could end up sacrificing the unique look and feel of its products just to get more apps.

Preventing Wireless Carriers from Screwing Up the Digital Wallet

I don’t trust wireless carriers for much except being dumb pipes for my voice, text and data. So when PocketNow says Windows Phone 8 will allow for “carrier-branded” mobile wallet services, allowing people to use their phones in place of credit cards at stores, I get nervous. It’s no secret that carriers are working on their own mobile payment platform, called Isis, which is probably what PocketNow is referring to. But because Isis hasn’t launched yet, it’s not clear how the service will work. I’m worried that carriers will use the platform to create their own competing or proprietary services that won’t work with other devices. That could become a problem if you’ve got several Windows-based machines, and not all of them are tied to the same wireless carrier.

MORE: Windows 8: What You Need to Know