Microsoft Windows Phone 8 offers fancy features but leaves existing devices behind

Microsoft Windows Phone 8


SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) at its Windows Phone Summit today presented a formal "preview" of the Windows Phone 8 operating system that will become the new heart of its smartphone strategy and, it hopes, the basis for increasing influence and clout in the smartphone market.

The company did not say when the OS and devices based on the new platform will be available, but it did indicate that HTC, Huawei, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Samsung will offer devices when the OS launches. All of the devices will be built using silicon technologies supplied by Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).

For developers that want to get started working with the technology, the company will have software developer kits available later this summer. Microsoft is banking on this new OS to push its influence into the smartphone market. Its existing Windows Phone products, which came to market in late 2010, have been well received in general, but the company still has less than 4 percent of smartphone market share in the U.S., its main market so far.

Various analyst firms such as IDC have been bullish about its potential to become a leading smartphone OS. Its fortunes have been tied so far to its partnership with its main manufacturer, Nokia, and as Nokia's business has continued to suffer, the pressure on Microsoft to deliver a winning strategy with this OS has increased.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone program management at Microsoft, emphasized that Windows Phone 8 takes the company's smartphone strategy into new territory by sharing the core technology with Windows 8, which will run its tablets and PCs, including the Microsoft-branded "Surface" tablets announced earlier this week.The shared technology will give consumers ability to share many features and applications across devices that use these OSes.

Additional key pillars of the Windows Phone 8 platform include use of multi-core chipsets to bolster smartphone performance and optimize battery life; a choice of three screen resolutions to support legacy Windows Phone apps as well as higher-resolution apps written for Windows Phone 8; integration of VoIP and video chat into the OS; microSD support for removable storage; near-field communications for mobile wallet and data transfer applications; and use of Nokia Maps technology; among others.

For consumers, the highlights include a customizable start screen that allows them to configure their "live tiles" that are displayed on the screen and better gaming capabilities. The company announced a partnership with Havok, a gaming technology vendor, which will make its technology suite available to developers. Microsoft also announced that Gameloft and several other game developers have committed to Windows Phone 8.

The company also emphasized that Windows Phone 8 will be suitable for adoption by enterprises. The platform offers encryption and device management capabilities that it says enterprises need, and it introduced a new service for enterprises, called "The Company Hub," which gives enterprises the capability to create a company portal for applications.  

Microsoft is also touting its NFC solution for mobile wallet applications, including its use of secure SIM technology to protect user transactions. It has one operator, Orange, signed on to become the first mobile operator to offer the mobile wallet feature. While mobile applications that developers have written for existing Windows Phone devices will be able to run on the new Windows Phone 8 products, future apps written for Windows Phone 8 will not be backward compatible with today's products, which use Windows Phone 7.5.

But Microsoft did appear concerned about the implications this could have on devices that will soon be considered legacy products. It asserted a strong commitment to supporting customers of these current devices with software updates and new apps in the Windows Marketplace.

Microsoft is creating an update, called Windows Phone 7.8, which will give current Windows Phone customers the ability to jazz up the start screen on their devices to behave more like the start screen that will be offered with Windows Phone 8.

Nokia appeared at the event to tout an assortment of new utilities and mapping, photography, music and other features for its existing Lumia customers--available beginning next week--to illustrate its commitment to innovating the existing product line.

The innovations driven by new OS "will accrue to current customers," said Kevin Shields, senior vice president of Lumia products and program management at Nokia.