Darren Laybourn, Corporate Vice President of Windows Phone, confirmed on Monday that the company is launching General Distribution Release 3 (GDR3), aka Windows Phone 8 Update 3, to existing phones over the next several months. This will reportedly be the largest update to the platform yet, introducing 5- and 6-inch screen sizes, support for Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chip, a new Driving Mode, and more.
Laybourn reports that the new larger sizes will allow the 1080p screens to provide enough room for six Live Tiles across instead of four. Built-in apps and Hubs like Email, Photos, People, and Music and Videos will also be "carefully scaled" to take full advantage of the additional real estate on 6-inch screens. Users will be able to pin even more of their friends, info and apps, he says.
"A new feature called Driving Mode helps you get from point A to point B with fewer distractions," he writes. "Working with a connected Bluetooth device, Driving Mode is designed to limit notifications on the lock screen—including texts, calls, and quick status alerts—until you're safely parked. You can even configure Driving Mode to send automatic replies to people who call or text when you're behind the wheel, to let them know you'll get back to them."
The update also brings a suite of accessibility features to make Windows Phone easier to see, hear and use. These include a screen reader so that blind and visually impaired users can manage calls and contacts, send texts and emails, browse the web, make Skype and Lync calls, and hear notifications like alarms, calendar events, and low-battery warnings.
Update 3 supposedly provides better hotspot connectivity between Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 PCs and tablets via Bluetooth. Windows Phone owners can also use custom ringtones for more apps and notifications including instant messages, emails, voicemails, reminders and individual contacts. There's also a new rotation lock, new storage settings for freeing up space and managing temporary files, an App switcher to quickly close Apps, improvements to Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity out of the box.
"As you can see, there's some fun and handy stuff in Windows Phone 8 Update 3," Laybourn writes. "If you have suggestions for future updates, submit them to our Windows Phone Suggestion Box site. We always appreciate the feedback and take it into account as we prioritize new work."
Windows Phone 8 Update 3 will begin rolling out in the coming weeks, and will continue over the next several months. Naturally, when this update actually arrives depends on a number of factors including carrier and phone model.
In addition to confirming Release 3, Laybourn also said that a preview version is now available for developers so that they can verify that their apps work as expected on the new code. To participate in this preview program, developers need to make sure their phone is "developer-unlocked," they're a registered Windows Phone Store developer, and a registered Windows Phone App Studio developer.
The next update for Windows Phone 8 is expected to be the "Blue" v8.1 release in the spring, enabling 10 inch screen sizes, thus paving the way for a possible Windows Phone / Windows RT merger. A new unified storefront is also expected to launch in the spring, possibly supporting Windows Phone 8.1, Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1.