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Microsoft extends Windows Phone 8 support through 2015

More enterprise features coming next year

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Microsoft has extended the support life cycle of Windows Phone 8, and has promised to ship a new feature-update pack next year, in a bid to win more enterprise customers for its struggling smartphone OS.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Windows Phone project manager Robert Hoover wrote that Redmond has decided to push the end-of-life date for Windows Phone 8 to January 12, 2016.

Previously, Microsoft had said it would stop providing support and updates for the OS on July 8, 2014, which meant that every Windows Phone 8 device sold today would be effectively obsolete one year from now.

With Wednesday's policy change, the useful life of Windows Phone 8 handsets has been doubled from 18 months to 36 months.

That's actually generous where the mobile industry is concerned. Back in 2011, Google tried to convince Android device makers to commit to providing updates for their products for 18 months, and while many signed on, the pledge proved to be mostly lip service.

Still, Microsoft can use every advantage it can get, given the overwhelming dominance of iOS and Android. Windows Phone may have crept into third place in the smartphone race, but according to the latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Microsoft held onto just 4.6 per cent of US smartphone sales market share in the three months ending May 2013, compared to the 94.9 per cent divided between the Big Two platforms.

But just because Microsoft has promised to deliver Windows Phone 8 updates through 2016 doesn't mean every customer will get them. Redmond says the updates will be incremental, meaning you'll need to have installed earlier updates before you can install the new ones. Update availability may vary depending on country, region, and device capabilities. And phone makers and carriers still have the option of controlling distribution of Microsoft's updates to their devices.

In addition to extending the Windows Phone 8 support lifecycle, Hoover said Microsoft will also provide an update pack in the first half of 2014 that adds various enterprise-centric features to the platform.

Among the capabilities provided by the update will be support for digitally signing and encrypting email with S/MIME, the ability for apps to automatically trigger VPN connections, support for Wi-Fi authentication with EAP-TLS, improved mobile device management policy options, and the ability to remotely manage user authentication certificates.

According to Hoover, the message for enterprises is that Microsoft remains committed to Windows Phone, even if its chances of overtaking Android or iOS seem slim.

"This gives business customers the confidence to invest in Windows Phone today, with the knowledge that their investments are secure, and the platform is evolving to be an even better choice for business," Hoover wrote. ®

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