Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 update opens platform up to phablets

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is making several advancements to its Windows Phone 8 platform, including the ability to support larger screen sizes, which will open the door to new Windows Phone "phablet devices" of between 5 and 7 inches.

The company is launching Windows Phone 8 Update 3, a software update for all Windows Phone 8 devices that will bring several tweaks to the platform and allow it to support new hardware, such as 1080p displays and the Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor.

Microsoft is also adding a third column of Live Tiles to the Windows Phone 8 Start Screen on 1080p displays, allowing up to six small tiles across the width of the screen. The company will also make its Hubs Tiles, such Photos, People, and Music/Videos "carefully scaled" to take advantage of 6-inch displays, allowing more content to be displayed. "We want to use that increased screen real estate wisely," Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for the Windows Phone division, said in an interview with The Verge. These built-in apps won't just be "bigger versions, but you get more content," he said.

One of the first devices to take advantage of the new software is expected to come from partner Nokia (NYSE:NOK), whose handset business Microsoft is swallowing in a $7.2 billion deal. Nokia will reportedly use its Oct. 22 Nokia World event in Abu Dhabi to announce at least six new devices, including a 6-inch phablet that has been dubbed the Lumia 1520.

In addition to the hardware improvements, the new software release includes a driving mode that users can automatically set to respond to calls and incoming texts with a preset message. The update also includes the ability to use custom tones for notifications such as instant messages, emails, voicemails and reminders, notes The Verge.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone program management, said all of the updates Microsoft has made to Windows Phone 8 may have been minor in scale but they have key to letting Microsoft and its partners target new markets and market segments.

"The work we are doing is valuable, and a lot of people aren't aware of it," he told AllThingsD. Belfiore declined to say when the next major Windows Phone update will be released, but he did acknowledge that the company is working on one.  

Microsoft's Windows Phone platform seems positioned to be the strongest platform to challenge Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, but its global market share is still in the low single-digits--Microsoft captured 3.3 percent of the global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to research firm Gartner; that was up from 2.6 percent in the year-ago quarter. However, Windows Phone posted its highest market share to date of 9.2 percent across the five major European markets of the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and is now within one percentage point of iOS in Germany, according to a recent from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. Windows Phone has hit double-digit sales share figures in France and the UK with 10.8 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

In conjunction with the update, Microsoft also announced "Windows Phone Preview for Developers." The program gives registered application developers early access to our operating system updates so they can verify that their apps work as expected on the new software code. As The Verge notes, this program will help developers bypass the complex and lengthy carrier testing process.

For more:
- see this Microsoft blog post
- see this separate Microsoft blog post
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this CNET article
- see this The Verge article
- see this separate The Verge article

Related articles:
Microsoft, Ballmer point to future of Windows converged hardware and software
Huawei commits to Windows Phone in wake of Microsoft/Nokia deal
Analysts: Microsoft's gamble on Nokia leaves it isolated for Windows Phone push
Microsoft's Ballmer acknowledges that Nokia's Elop is a candidate to succeed him
Microsoft to acquire Nokia's phone business for $7.2B
Analysis: Ballmer's departure from Microsoft puts Windows smartphones, tablets in question