Feast your eyes on Windows Phone 8. Microsoft's next generation of mobile phone software has a new-look home screen and loads of new features. As well as a new look, Windows Phone 8 will bring with it new dual-core, high-definition phones with NFC, speech control and loads of new apps. But where does all this leave today's phones?

Despite looking the same from the front, behind the scenes Windows Phone 8 is actually very different to today's Windows Phone 7. The good news is that the new version shares its DNA with the next generation of desktop software, Windows 8 , which means apps will work across Windows-powered phones, tablets, laptops and computers. The currently third-tier Windows App Marketplace could shoot straight to the top of the app store tree at a stroke.

The bad news is that if you have a Windows Phone already, it's now a lame duck. With one exception, none of the cool new features will work on existing phones, and neither will new apps built for Windows Phone 8. Read on for all the details you need to know about Windows Phone 8, including when we can expect to see it.

New home screen

The most obvious change is the new home screen with resizable live tiles , which is also the only change coming to existing phones. In Windows Phone 8 you can choose from three sizes for the colourful, interactive squares that act as shortcuts to your apps and display the latest information.

Tiles can be resized to a quarter of the width of the screen, half the width or full width. You can mix and match, say by having two small tiles next to a medium tile, or four small tiles in a row. If the new look is too cluttered for you, simply stick to the current two-column layout.

Microsoft has also added new colours for the tiles. Check out our gallery of screenshots above for a look at the different combinations of tiles possible on the new start screen.

New phones

Phones running the new software will have new hardware too . Windows Phone 8 supports multi-core processors, so we'll see the first dual-core Windows Phones to catch up with the likes of the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S3.

The new phones will be built by Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC, and powered by Qualcomm chips. They'll also have microSD memory card slots for the first time too, so you're not restricted to the built-in storage of your phone -- which will come in handy with all the high-definition videos you'll be watching.

High-definition screens

Windows 8 Phones can have high-definition 720p screens, in 15:9 or 16:9 format. That'll be useful for cramming in extra detail for all those extra tiles on the new home screen.

NFC

Also included in new phones will be NFC options. You can use Windows Phone 8 Wallet Hub to pay for stuff by touching your phone to a till, or share files to and from another NFC phone with Tap + Share.

Wallet Hub

As well as storing your credit and debit card details to instantly pay for stuff with your phone, the Wallet Hub securely saves other account information, such as your loyalty cards, membership cards, air miles and so on, much like Apple's recently announced Passbook feature . A deals aspect lists discounts near you, which you can grab and redeem even if you're already in the restaurant, shop or establishment in question.

Improved maps

As Apple introduces its own maps app for the iPhone and Google boosts Google Maps for Android , Windows Phone 8 sees Nokia Maps coming to other phones instead of Bing Maps. That means improved global coverage and offline caching, so you can use a map even when not connected to the web.

Nokia's other location apps have been souped up too, with Transit adding a favourite location for instant access to up-to-the-minute public transport information, and Drive getting extra features that make your sat-nav useful even when you know where you're going.

Skype and VoIP

Having recently bought Skype, Microsoft is now adding tools to Windows Phone 8 for developers to make the most of VoIP. Skype will still be a standalone app, but apps that make calls over the web instead of over a phone network, such as Skype, will be able to integrate with your address book and even the phone dialler.

Conversations with your phone

Microsoft has set its sights on Siri with voice control that lets you have a conversation with apps. Where Apple's Siri lets you ask for information from the Internet or control core functions, Windows Phone 8 lets app builders add speech control. And apps will talk back, perhaps by vocally prompting you to carry out an action.

Camera improvements

Nokia has upgraded the camera software for the Lumia range of phones, including a self-timer, panorama function, and smart group shot to choose the best photo of a group. The new features will be available in July.

Draw Something and Words with Friends

Game developer Zynga has been recruited to the Windows Phone App Marketplace, which means smash hit games Draw Something and Words with Friends will make the leap from the iPhone, iPad and Android.

Business brain

Windows Phone 8 will make your phone friendlier to your IT department, improving security with encryption of the whole phone and app sandboxing, which stops apps from affecting the rest of the phone. Your IT department can access your phone remotely to fix it -- or wipe it if lost -- and companies can also create their own hub for custom employee apps.

Over the air

Windows Phone 8 updates will be delivered wirelessly over-the-air, so you don't have to bother plugging your phone into your computer to update any more. And if you register with Microsoft as an 'enthusiast' you could get updates early. Speaking of updates...

Windows Phone 7.8

If you already have a Windows Phone -- even the brand spanking new Nokia Lumia 900 -- you won't get many of the headline features of Windows Phone 8 because of the new hardware requirements. The Windows Phone 7.8 update does include the new home screen, which is some consolation, but Windows Phone 8 apps won't necessarily work on old phones either. Apps you've already bought will work on new phones, but newer apps won't be backwards compatible with older phones.

Release dates

Windows Phone 8 will launch this autumn -- the same time as Windows 8. You'll have to buy a new phone to get it though, as current phones can't update to Windows 8.

In the meantime, Windows 7.8 brings the consolation prize of a new home screen to current phones. Nokia has promised the update "in coming weeks", and with Nokia apps including the camera updating in July, fingers crossed Windows 7.8 will drop in July too.

Before that, the Nokia Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 are getting an update on 27 June that includes Internet sharing, media streaming and the option to silence your phone by turning it over.

What do you think of Windows Phone 8? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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