Microsoft reveals Spring update for Windows Phone 8

The next version of Windows Phone will add support for lower-end hardware, as Microsoft looks to target emerging markets.

Microsoft reveals Spring update for Windows Phone 8

Microsoft isn’t announcing any new handsets at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, but it still had plenty to say in its keynote address, unveiling details of the next version of the OS and new hardware partners.

The next version of Windows Phone – widely referred to as Windows Phone 8.1, though Microsoft hasn’t confirmed the name – will be backwards compatible, meaning the update will work on all existing Windows Phone devices.

That’s a change from Windows Phone 7, where handsets could be updated to Windows 7.5, but not Windows Phone 8.

One nice benefit of these additions is that many hardware vendors will be able to use the same hardware for both Android and Windows Phone devices

The update will add support for Qualcomm’s lower-end Snapdragon 200 chipsets, making it easier for Microsoft’s partners to create budget handsets for emerging markets.

The next version of Windows Phone will also support dual SIM cards and soft keys, no longer requiring the trio of physical buttons on the front of phones.

Microsoft has cut the amount of internal memory required for handsets running Windows Phone to 512MB of memory and 4GB of storage, and will allow apps to run directly from SD cards.

“One nice benefit of these additions is that many hardware vendors will be able to use the same hardware for both Android and Windows Phone devices,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft didn’t reveal exactly when the update would arrive, but said it would be this Spring – like the forthcoming update to Windows 8.1.

New partners

Microsoft also claimed nine new manufacturers: Foxconn, Gionee, JSR, Karbonn, Lava (Xolo), Lenovo, LG, Longcheer and ZTE.

However, those with long memories will realise that LG isn’t actually new to the Windows Phone family: four years ago, it released the Optimus 7 running Windows Phone 7.

“Some of these partners are names that might not be familiar to you,” admitted Belfiore. “But they’re leading the global expansion in the smartphone category.”

“They bring competitive products to market because of their knowledge of the local markets, channels and consumers. They are important partners that will help broaden availability of Windows Phones to new and emerging markets.”

Meanwhile, Nokia, a long-running Windows Phone partner that was recently bought by Microsoft, has turned to a forked version of Android for its low-cost handsets for emerging markets.

Marketing support

IHS Analyst Ian Fogg said that Microsoft needs to ensure its partners create Windows Phone devices “in volume and with good marketing support, unlike the past half-hearted efforts of Samsung and Huawei with Windows Phone 8.”

“The new cheaper hardware support for the Windows Phone is critical to increase the addressable market for the system,” he added. “But Android will continue to undercut its pricing, so Microsoft must continue to communicate how Windows Phone delivers a superior user experience, and head off questions of the more limited app support on Windows Phone versus Android.”

He said Microsoft would need to be “more radical to turn around the fortunes” of its mobile OS, saying it needs “more apps, to drive home the fact that it is not a third-rate platform that has only recently surpassed BlackBerry in the market.”

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