Microsoft: Windows Phone 8 to launch with top hardware, most popular apps

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is convinced it now has the high-end hardware and a rising number of the top applications to make a convincing push into the smartphone market with Windows Phone 8, according to a senior Microsoft executive.

In an interview with The Verge, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone program management at Microsoft, noted that Windows Phone now has 46 of the top 50 applications found on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android. "The four I would say that are missing that count as the top 50 are Instagram, Viber, Pinterest and Wells Fargo," he said. "If you look broadly at download numbers and usage and engagement those are the ones for us are top priority."

Windows Phone counts 120,00 apps now, a fraction of the 700,000 now found on both iOS and Android, and a dearth of the top apps has hindered consumer adoption of the platform. Microsoft captured just 2.7 of the global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to Gartner. Belfiore said that Microsoft would be relentless in going after top developers. "We are going to keep coming back. You might get one answer today, you might get another answer later," he said. "We're not done until we've checked all the boxes."

Belfiore also said Microsoft's Windows Phone licensees are launching phones with top-of-the-line specs. He said the combination of top hardware and top apps was previously missing from the platform.

"We did it initially but it was completely brand new, we didn't have the hardware support that we do today, we didn't have the apps that we have today," he said. Belfiore also told The Verge that Microsoft is going to market the platform more heavily, as opposed to leaving that to its hardware partners, like Nokia (NYSE:NOK), HTC and Samsung Electronics (Microsoft is launching a joint marketing effort with HTC).

None needs more of a boost than Nokia, which reported shipping 2.9 million Lumia smartphones worldwide during its third quarter, down significantly from the 4 million the company shipped during the second quarter.

Nokia said its newest Windows Phone 8 devices, the high-end Lumia 920 and mid-range Lumia 820, will go on sale in Europe later this week, starting in France and the United Kingdom. In November, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will launch the Lumia 920 and 820; Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will launch its first Lumia phone, the mid-range 822; and T-Mobile USA will launch the mid-range Lumia 810. 

Chris Weber, Nokia's executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the new Lumias will highlight Nokia-specific enhancements like its PureView camera technology and City Lens augmented reality service. "In the Lumia 920 there are five distinct areas [of differentiation]: Imaging, wireless charging, screen, location and music," he told PC Magazine. "These are the first phones where we've been able to add the Nokia secret sauce."

For more:
- see this The Verge article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this PC Magazine article

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