Did the Windows Phone 8 presentation deliver?

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For the last month, the Windows Phone 8 hardware has been on show, but until today the second half of the experience - the software - was not. The strategic choice to build up some silence and mystique has been discussed and disected over countless posts and podcasts on All About Windows Phone and beyond. The Windows Phone 8 launch needed to make the case for Windows Phone 8 to the consumer, to the media, and to the world. Did it?

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Windows Phone needs to be magical 

Microsoft have been working on their new user interface style for many years - starting with Windows Media Center and the Zune HD, and evolved through the first versions of Windows Phone, a name change away from 'Metro', and then into the current look of Windows Phone 8.

It refines the interface from Windows Phone 7, and continues to put people at the centre of the smartphone, rather than applications. Joe Belfiore promises "the most personal smartphone you can get".

That's why the now familiar trope of a grid of icons to launch applications is not present in Windows Phone 8, it's all about the live tiles. This leads to a new relationship with your applications, because of the feedback provided through the live tile system.

We've heard all this before - but what's impressive is the energy that Belfiore brought to the presentation. Take the new tweaks to the lock screen that connect the screen to your Facebook photo album, bringing a cheer out of the crowd, but also turning something mundane (pulling information from web services and apps and placing them on your smart screen) into something emotional.

He talked about his family, surprise images about his children, moments from his own life. Belfiore's connection to his phone is a personal one built around emotion, not numbers, graphs and statistics. That makes a lot of difference when pitching the phone to people. Every introduction to a new area of Windows Phone 8 was punctured with personal examples and real-world problems. 

And then there was Belfiore's kids demonstrating Kids Corner - a moment that likely had the entire Microsoft PR team on edge, but showed the human side to Windows Phone and how it can help outside of the geekerati. Promptly followed by Jessica Alba addressing one of the psychological blocks in making the switch to Windows Phone 8... bringing iTunes playlists and media over to Windows Phone using the Mac Connector software in OS X.

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Windows Phone needs to be mainstream 

Right now, a phone is relevant if it has the applications that everyone in their office, university course, or high school class, are running. That's why Microsoft needs to sell Windows Phone 8 as a platform that has those apps. 46 out of 50 of the 'top applications' are (apparently) now on the platform, and while we'll need to dig a bit more to see where those numbers are coming from, the confident impression was of a phone which would have those apps.

It's also no coincidence that the three apps highlighted were some of the biggest names from iOS and Android, but each of them showed another aspect of Windows Phone 8 without hitting people with a big stick; Temple Run showed native code access and WP8 running the Unity engine; Urban Spoon integrates the speech recognition engine; and Pandora shows not only that Microsoft are working to bring the apps to the platform, but bringing them with improvements - bringing a year of ad-free music to everyone who buys a Windows Phone 8 smartphone.

One of the new features, the Rooms feature, is pitched as a way to keep in touch with a small group of people, and again an outward looking problem was brought up and 'solved' on stage by showing shared diary entries between Windows Phone 8 and an iPhone. 

The unspoken message that everyone took away? Windows Phone 8 is not an island in the world of competing phones and systems. Taking away barriers to people purchasing a Windows Phone was one of the goals of this presentation, and Belfiore managed that. How much of this will be picked up and relayed by the world's media will be interesting to watch over the next 48 hours, but Microsoft's presentation of Windows Phone 8 gave it the best possible chance.

Windows Phone needs to be romantic

This is the tricky bit. Will people want to buy a Windows Phone? It's all very well having wonderful features, a packed specification list, with all the abilities that were shown off today by Microsoft, and the hardware from their partners, but people need to want these phones. There needs to be people who want the advanced camera technology from Nokia, who want the fashionable status from Samsung, or who want the clean lines and style from HTC.

That's probably the hardest challenge for Microsoft, because Windows Phone does not sit alone here. It's part of Windows 8. It's part of Surface. It's part of Xbox. Microsoft have made all the right steps, now we'll see if it's enough.