Windows Phone 8 Update 3 official, is now available for download

Get ready, Windows Phone fans, because your next major update is nearly here. Microsoft today officially announced Windows Phone Update 3, a new version of its mobile software that brings with it a number of major improvements. The 8.0.10512 update is slated to begin rolling out in the coming weeks, but folks that don't feel like waiting that long can access it early through the newly-announced Windows Phone Developer Program, which I'll dive into shortly.

So what's new in Windows Phone 8 Update 3? Quite a bit, actually. As previously rumored, the update adds support for 5 and 6-inch displays as well as screen resolutions up to 1080p, paving the way for the first Windows Phone phablet devices. Those phone/tablet hybrids will be able to take advantage of their extra screen real estate by displaying up to six Live Tiles in a row rather than the four that can be shown now. Update 3 also brings support for Qualcomm's quad-core MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 processor.

On the software side of things, Windows Phone 8 Update 3 packs a new Driving Mode that can work with a connected Bluetooth device to cut down on the number of notifications that pop up on a phone's lock screen. The feature can be set to automatically reply to calls and text messages so that users don't lose focus of the road while trying to respond to incoming messages. Other new software goodies that can be found in Windows Phone 8 Update 3 include:

   1.Mobile Accessibility for Windows Phone 8: Suite of apps that make it easier for blind and visually impaired users to handle communications, alerts and more
   2.Improved Internet Sharing: Mobile hotspot can easily be paired with a Windows 8.1 device over Bluetooth
   3.Ringtones: Custom ringtones can be set for IMs, voicemails, reminders, text messages and more
   4.Rotation lock: Option to lock the screen orientation
   5.Better storage management: Easier to manage temporary files, see what's taking up storage and free up space
   6.Close apps: Ability to close running apps while in the multitasking view
   7.Wi-Fi access out of the box: Support for Wi-Fi connectivity during phone setup
   8.Bluetooth improvements: Better connectivity with Bluetooth accessories

Alongside Windows Phone 8 Update 3, Microsoft has officially announced its new Windows Phone Preview for Developers. The program allows anyone to gain access to prerelease builds of Windows Phone updates before they're made available to the public in order to test out their apps.

Users that opt in to the program will only receive the Microsoft portions of updates, meaning that they'll need to wait for the official versions for device-specific firmware and drivers. Microsoft also says that installing the prerelease software may void any warranties that a user has with a manufacturer and that once a user is installs new preview software, there's no going back to a previous build.

In order to become part of the Windows Phone Preview for Developers program, a person must either have a developer-unlocked device, be a registered Windows Phone Store developer or be a registered Windows Phone App Studio developer. Registering to become a Windows Phone Store dev costs $19 per year, but anyone can sign up for the Windows Phone App Studio free of charge. The Windows Phone Preview for Developers program will officially launch later today.

Overall the new Windows Phone 8 Update 3 looks like a pretty significant update for Microsoft's mobile platform. We've seen gigantic phones explode in popularity recently in the Android world, and so it's good that Microsoft has recognized that and baked in support for huge, high-res screens on Windows Phone 8. There are also a number of small but still important tweaks in Update 3, like a screen rotation lock and the ability to close running apps. Tweaks like those won't necessarily help to push a ton of new hardware into the pockets of consumers, but they could go a long way toward keeping existing users happy. So now that it's officially official, which new Windows Phone 8 Update 3 feature is your favorite?