Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile get ready for Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 push

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) formally unveiled its new Windows Phone 8 software, demonstrating several new features, and also emphasized the carrier support the platform is receiving from AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), T-Mobile USA and, perhaps most importantly, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ).

Windows phone 8

Click here to watch Microsoft's introduction for Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emphasized the commitment Microsoft is getting from its partners. "Our hardware partners are all in," he said. "Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile here in the U.S. are all in."

For Microsoft, the Windows Phone 8 platform represents a major opportunity to grab market share and position itself as the third alternative for carriers looking beyond Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android. The launch window also comes about a quarter ahead of Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) planned unveiling of BlackBerry 10, its last-ditch effort to gain back share in the smartphone market. So far Windows Phone has received praise from analysts and reviewers, but has yet to catch on with consumers, with Microsoft capturing 2.7 percent of the global smartphone market in the second quarter, according to Gartner.

Microsoft is hoping that the new software--which could get a boost from the simultaneous launch of Windows 8--will help it gain traction. Having strong carrier commitments will certainly help. Ballmer said AT&T will launch the Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Lumia 920, Lumia 820 and HTC Windows Phone 8X in November. T-Mobile will release the $99 Lumia 810 and $149 8X. And Verizon will launch the Lumia 822, 8X and in December the Samsung Electronics Ativ Odyssey, presumably a variant of the Ativ S that Samsung announced in late August.

Getting more support from Verizon, the nation's largest carrier, is critical. Until now Verizon's only Windows Phone was the HTC Trophy, which it launched in June 2011. Verizon in September committed to launching multiple Windows Phones in the fourth quarter, and its executives have said they want to build a groundswell for Windows Phone the way they did with Android and the original Motorola Droid. Ballmer did not give a specific figure, but indicated that Microsoft will be spending heavily on advertising for Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 and its Surface tablet, saying, "you won't be able to turn on a TV or open a magazine without seeing a Microsoft Windows ad."

During its launch event, Microsoft detailed a number of new Windows Phone 8 software features, though many had been leaked in the past few months.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone program management at Microsoft, touted new features including Rooms, a new service enabling users to create virtual spaces for chatting and sharing content with family and friends. All data is private in a Room and users can customize Rooms so that certain people who join can only see certain kinds of content. 

Belfiore also unveiled a new feature called Data Sense, a solution that is both cloud-based and on the device itself. The solution compresses every Web page, which Belfiore said will give users 45 percent more Web browsing than they would get if they were on the same data plan on another smartphone platform. Data Sense helps users find nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and takes advantage of them automatically, and can also adjust how a user's phone behaves to avoid going over a data cap. Importantly, the service shows how much data each app is using and will pop up with a notification when a user is close to going over their limit. Verizon will be the first U.S. carrier to support the solution.

Belfiore also highlighted Kids Corner, which creates a segregated playground of sorts for kids to use on the phone that keeps them away from important documents, or, say sending a tweet out to millions of Twitter followers. Belfiore brought actress Jessica Alba onstage to drive that point home. Users can curate what kinds of games or apps kids can access in the Kids' Corner, and the feature can be turned off altogether if a user wants.

Belfiore also talked about how Windows Phone 8 offers an updated lock screen that allows users to see live apps updating. He noted that Microsoft has partnered with Facebook to create a new Facebook app for Windows Phone and have live updating Facebook photos appear on a user's lock screen. The Microsoft executive noted that there are now 120,000 apps for the platform, including 46 of the top 50 most popular apps from iOS and Android. Windows Phone 8 also will run a new version of the Skype app, which will always be on to receive calls and messages but does so without running its code in the background and draining battery life (Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011). Microsoft is also launching Pandora service in early 2013 and will offer one year of free music without advertising to its users.

Finally, Belfiore talked about how Windows Phone 8 syncs with Windows 8. He noted that "you can move your documents, photos and music effortlessly" across Windows Phones, Windows 8 PCs and the Xbox gaming console. He said that if users create a Microsoft Office document on Windows Phone 8 they can save it to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service and that document will be available on the PC as well.

Microsoft first previewed Windows Phone 8 during its Windows Phone Summit event in June. The revamped platform touts multi-core Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) chipsets to bolster smartphone performance and optimize battery life, a choice of three screen resolutions and three different sizes of the live tiles on the home screen, 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.

For more:
- see this The Verge article
- see this The Verge live blog
- see this AllThingsD live blog
- see this CNET live blog

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