Screenshots of the revamped OS were posted over the weekend to Reddit and other social media sites. Among visible tweaks, the inclusion of a Notification Center is the standout. Microsoft admitted last November that it considered including the feature when Windows Phone 8 launched in October but "ran out of time." The Notification Center has unsurprisingly figured in Windows Phone update rumors ever since.
The screenshots also depict new calendar views, additional ways to sort apps, and hints that Microsoft is readying not only improved multi-tasking capabilities, but perhaps even a Siri competitor called Cortana, after the artificially intelligent character from Halo.
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Microsoft has not officially acknowledged the leak, but The Verge, citing sources familiar with Microsoft's plans, reported that the images are legitimate. The site stated, however, that the Lumia 920 from which the screenshots were taken is an early prototype, and that Microsoft will not release an update until next year. Windows Phone Central, meanwhile, was told by "a trusted source" that some of the update's leaked features, including the Notification Center, have been removed from later builds.
Apple famously lost a prototype iPhone in a bar, and it appears Microsoft's phone infiltrated the wild through a similar mishap. The phone was allegedly purchased via Craigslist, according to The Verge, which contacted the user who posted screenshots to Reddit. The buyer said he noticed suspicious details right away, such as a "MSFT" etching, which doesn't appear on retail phones, on the back. He said Microsoft contacted him via personal information revealed in the screenshots, and that the company said the prototype had been lost on a bus. The buyer agreed to exchange the illicit phone for a replacement.
Although the leak does not provide any definitive insight into Microsoft's plans for Windows Phone 8, it's likely that official details will follow in coming months. The platform has fared relatively well since hitting the market late last year; according to IDC, the OS snared 3.2% of the smartphone market during the first quarter, tripling its year-over-year share. Thanks in part to the fledgling success of low-end models, research firm Canalys recently projected that Windows Phone 8 will claim 12.7% of the market by 2017, putting it within striking distance of Apple's iOS for second place.
Still, such long-term projections are ripe for disruption, and neither Apple nor Google, whose Android platform is expected to remain the top smartphone OS for the foreseeable future, is standing pat. To maintain its momentum, Microsoft will be pushing updates as well, and though the company has yet to reveal its timeline, it's likely only a matter of time until some of the recently-hinted features are officially confirmed.