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Hot on the heels of the announcement of its first tablet, Microsoft is keeping things moving right along with the announcement a big update to its smartphone platform, Windows Phone 8.

The next version of Windows Phone is based on the same core architecture as the PC version of Windows 8 and introduces support for multicore processors, external storage via SD cards and more. Also new to WP8 is support for hi-res graphics for displays up to 720p and built-in NFC support. The OS will have a native Wallet app for handling both mobile payments and Passbook-like digital tickets and loyalty cards.

But the most visible upgrade and the one users will notice first is the new Start page. Windows Phone 7's signature live tiles have gone fully customizable, so you can adjust the size and position of each individual tile, as well as the total number of tiles that appear on the screen at once.

There's one catch to all the sweet features of the new Windows Phone, and it's a pretty big one: No phones currently on the market will be able to upgrade to the new software. WP8 is for next-gen handsets only.

Microsoft made this decision because many of the improvements in WP8, like support for multicore processors and NFC, are hardware based and therefore would be meaningless on current-gen handsets. But current Windows Phone owners needn't fear— you'll still get many of the features in Windows 8, including the new Start screen and UI improvements, in an upcoming upgrade dubbed Windows 7.8.

"When you pull that Lumia out of your pocket after you've received that 7.8 update, it will look and feel the same as a Windows Phone 8 device," Microsoft's Greg Sullivan told The Verge.

So there you go: Good news all around.

[via The Verge, Gizmodo]