Windows Phone Blue: Microsoft's next tablet OS?

Will the next major version of the Windows Phone OS work on 7- to 10-inch devices? The latest Windows Phone rumors indicate it might be possible.

Could the Windows Phone operating system become Microsoft's OS of choice for 7- to 10-inch tablets?

Based on new rumors, courtesy of Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott, this scenario isn't outside of the realm of possibility.

Windows Phone Blue, which may or may not ultimately be christened Windows Phone 8.1, is the first "major" update to the Windows Phone 8 OS since Microsoft launched it in the fall of 2012. We've known about the existence of WP Blue for months. The latest rumors I've heard continue to peg Windows Phone Blue's release-to-manufacturing date sometime around "spring 2014."

Thurrott's new rumors, from a single source who asked not to be named, include some new specifics around both the UI and guts of the Windows Phone (WP) Blue OS. We've known since February 2013 (courtesy of one of my unnamed sources) that WP Blue would be a stepping stone along the way to bringing Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8 into closer alignment around the NT core, programming interfaces, and UI look-and-feel. Thurrott's source cites an interesting statistic (which I've not seen Microsoft state publicly), namely, that Windows Phone 8 currently has "33 percent API unity" with Windows RT. Supposedly the goal is for WP Blue to reach (a very precise) 77 percent by the time it comes to market.

The ultimate goal, according to Thurrott's tipster, is to allow developers a single app that can run on both Windows RT and Windows Phone, thanks to universal binaries. That would fit nicely with the concept of a single Windows Store -- something to which Microsoft execs have committed privately to providing alongside the next major release of Windows (whatever that really means).

The same tipster told Thurrott that Microsoft is planning to do away with the Windows Phone back button in the WP Blue release. That's something I hadn't heard previously. It makes me wonder what Microsoft will do, backwards-compatibility-wise, for those of us who have Windows Phones that include back buttons as part of the actual handset. (I'd love to see Microsoft move the Bing search button to the left on Windows Phones, given it's currently far too easy to accidentally hit the search button on WP handsets.)

But none of these tidbits are as interesting to me as one other piece of information from Thurrott's source. Supposedly, Windows Phone Blue will work on devices with 7- to 10-inch screens. Right now, Microsoft prohibits OEMs from putting the Windows Phone OS on new devices with those screen sizes; their only choice, if they want Windows, is to go either Windows RT or Windows 8. As I've reported previously, the coming GDR3 update for Windows Phone 8 will support devices with 5- and 6-inch screens, like the expected Nokia "Bandit" Lumia 1520 phablet, for example.

Remember: Microsoft's own OS chief, Terry Myerson, recently said publicly that "as phones extend into tablets, expect us to see many more ARM tablets, Windows ARM tablets in the future."

I'm thinking this could mean Microsoft ends up dropping the Windows RT name and instead goes for a single unified OS brand across devices. Whether this ultimately is called "Windows Phone OS" or just "Windows" (or something else all together) will be interesting to see. Whatever it's called, this branded OS should, I'd think, work on ARM-based phones and ARM-based tablets.

It's funny to think of it this way, but after a number of us called for Microsoft to make Windows Phone OS the Microsoft solution for tablets, we just might get our wish, albeit two or three years later than we asked...

This story originally appeared as "Could Windows Phone Blue be Microsoft's next tablet OS?" on ZDNet.

About the author

    Mary Jo Foley has been a tech journalist for almost 30 years. She is editor of ZDNet's "All About Microsoft" blog. She authored "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era" and co-hosts the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT Network.

     

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