AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile throw support behind Windows Phone 8

Wireless carriers and handset makers alike threw their support behind Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) revamped Windows Phone 8 operating system, giving the company crucial backing as it looks to make a bigger dent in the market.

Microsoft Windows Phone 8

Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 promises a more flexible home screen.

AT&T  Mobility (NYSE:T), T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) all voiced support for the platform Wednesday after Microsoft unveiled the new software at an event in San Francisco, according to a PC Magazine report.

Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) which said in May it was in final discussions with Microsoft and unnamed device vendors to sell prepaid Windows Phone 8 devices sometime later this year or early next year, was more equivocal and said "we have said that we want to offer customers a range of choices regarding phones, plans and operating systems." Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) also seemed to be taking a wait-and-see approach and did not tip their hands.

For Microsoft, getting strong and sustained carrier support  (and marketing) for the new version of the platform will be crucial to generating interest among consumers. So far AT&T and T-Mobile have been the biggest U.S. supporters of Windows Phone, though Verizon has said it wants to do for Windows Phone what it did for Android several years earlier in terms of sparking consumer desire.

According to data from research firm comScore, Microsoft's U.S. smartphone share stood at 4 percent in April, a fraction of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android (50.8 percent) Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS (31.4 percent) and Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry (11.6 percent).

Several handset makers also said they would release new Windows Phone 8 hardware later this year, including Microsoft partner Nokia (NYSE:NOK), as well as HTC, Huawei and Samsung. Nokia's mapping technology is going to be standard across all Windows Phone 8 devices, which could remove a point of differentiation for Nokia. However, Nokia executives said they would add new features to the company's Lumia line, including a way to send content to televisions and other devices, an update to its unique music and maps apps, and a way for consumers to monitor data usage, according to AllThingsD

Microsoft's software presentation, which was run largely by Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone program management at Microsoft, focused on several key improvements to the platform. These included changes to the start screen, which will allow users to customize the size and quantity of the live titles that appear on devices' home screens; support multi-core chipsets from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) to bolster smartphone performance and optimize battery life; integration of VoIP and video chat into the platform; microSD support for removable storage; and Near-Field Communications for mobile wallet and data transfer applications, among others.

However one sticking point is that older phones, including those running Windows Phone 7.5, or Mango, will not be fully upgraded to the new software because of hardware restrictions. That restriction impacts flagship devices such as Nokia's Lumia 900, which went on sale in April. Instead, Microsoft will bring the new start screen feature to existing devices through a Windows Phone 7.8 software update.

Customers upset by the news vented their frustration online. According to the blog Engadget, Nokia's Stephen Elop responded that there are many new elements coming to existing Lumia phones. "This includes some of the most significant visual elements of WP8--for example, the new start screen," Elop wrote. "As we have always been, Nokia is committed to delivering a long term experience to any purchasers of our products."

For more:
- see this PC Magazine article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this The Verge article
- see this FierceDeveloper article
- see this separate AllThingsD article
- see this separate The Verge article
- see this Engadget article

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