Microsoft's Ballmer acknowledges 'big challenge' for Windows Phone 8 launch

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that the company still has a "big challenge" ahead of it in smartphones, two years after it launched its Windows Phone platform. 

The software giant and its handset partners are gearing up for the fall launch of Windows Phone 8 smartphones. Ballmer said he is confident the unique features of Windows Phone will shine through.

"We've got a big challenge in front of us. We're a very small player, but we have a different point of view in terms of user experience. We've got great cloud integration with the rest of the Microsoft world, which a lot of people participate in," he said in an interview with the Seattle Times, during which he brandished a Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Lumia 920, one of the flagship Windows Phone 8 phones. "So I think our point of view on user interface, the great work that our hardware vendors are doing and the integration with Windows should help ratchet us up."

Microsoft first previewed Windows Phone 8 during its Windows Phone Summit event in June. The revamped platform touts multi-core chipsets to bolster smartphone performance and optimize battery life, a reformatted home screen to change the size of Microsoft's live tiles, integration of VoIP and video chat, a customizable start screen and Wallet Hub, which combines support for Near Field Communications-enabled m-commerce services including contactless payments, deals and loyalty cards, in addition to in-app purchase mechanisms. Microsoft also will integrate remote access features from its forthcoming Office 13 productivity suite. The Verge recently reported that Microsoft's unannounced Rooms feature will allow Windows Phone 8 device users to designate invitation-only groups for sharing conversations as well as photos, notes and calendar items.

Microsoft and its handset partners will need strong carrier support to increase Windows Phone adoption; Microsoft captured 2.7 percent of the global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to Gartner. Executives from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile USA and U.S. Cellular have voiced their support for the platform.

Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl about the commercial availability of Windows Phone 8 devices. Multiple reports, including from ZDNet and The Verge, indicated that Microsoft has released finalized Windows Phone 8 software to manufacturers, with commercial availability of devices coming in early November. A Microsoft Windows Phone spokesperson told ZDNet that Microsoft "had nothing to share at this time."

A November release date would get the phones into the market for the holiday shopping period but it will come weeks after the rush for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5, which tallied 2 million pre-orders in 24 hours. Microsoft will also need to contend with new smartphones running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android as it competes for holiday sales.

For more:
- see this Seattle Times article
- see this ZDNet article
- see this The Verge article

Related Articles:
Report: Microsoft struggling to keep Windows Phone 8 release on schedule
Nokia vows updated UI, new apps for legacy Lumia smartphones
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile execs rally behind Microsoft's Windows Phone 8
Verizon to launch 'multiple' Windows Phones in Q4, commits to Nokia
Report: Microsoft to unfurl Windows Phone 8 on Oct. 29