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Microsoft courts mobe-makers, tweaks Windows 8 for WIMPs

Windows Phone rules eased to allow cheaper phones by folks other than Nokia

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MWC 2014 In a pre-show presentation in Barcelona, where Mobile World Congress starts this week, Microsoft has confirmed some new features coming in Windows Phone 8.1 and the Windows 8.1 update coming this (northern) spring and assured phone makers it won't hang them out to dry.

Redmond has let it be know that Windows desktop/tablet and Windows Phone will target lower-specced hardware, while the requirement for Windows Phone hard keys has been dropped - so phone makers can make cheaper devices. Dual SIM devices will be supported and a range of home grown Chinese radio standards (eg, TD LTE) will be supported in WP 8.1.

But phone makers concerned that Microsoft doesn't love them any more - an understandable concern with Redmond currently swallowing Nokia's phone division - are getting renewed attention. Microsoft is making it easier for OEMs to get up and running with Qualcomm's hardware reference design, so operators and brands can pick up a white label device and get it out quickly. Anyone logging in to a new portal oem.windowsphone.com should be able to sign up.

Microsoft announced partnerships with many manufacturers unfamiliar in the West: Gionee; Karbonn, Xolo, JSR and Longcheer; others like Foxconn, LG and Lenovo are better known - if not always for the right reasons. LG is a cheeky inclusion - it was already signed up to Windows Phone.

Snapdragon 200 8x10 and 8x12 chipsets will be supported for much cheaper devices. The requirement to include a camera has also been dropped.

The absence of dual SIM support had kept Microsoft from competing well in major markets like China and India, VP of Operating Systems Joe Belfiore said. There were no hints about licensing and pricing cuts to make price sensitive phones more competitive.

Belfiore spent plenty of time answering criticism that Windows Phone team had done little for end users in 2013. The way he described it, it was all part of the master plan.

Belfiore said Windows Phone had started as a system with limited functionality, almost as a kind of test. In 2013 it had achieved scale - growing 91pc year-on-year and outselling iPhone in some markets (India and Brazil). Microsoft was particularly pleased to reach No.3 in the UK market in December, outselling all Android devices with the Nokia Lumia 520. That's the nearest thing to a hit Nokia has had in years.

"There was a lot of blocking and tackling that needed to be done in WP (windows Phone) for it to reach escape velocity," said Belfiore. He also added, mystifyingly, that "2013 was the year we ate our vegetables." Nobody was sure what this meant. He may as well have said, "2013 was the year we finally dealt with that ingrowing toe nail" - it would have made as much sense. Still, everybody wrote it down.

Microsoft is sensitive to the charge that it's walking away from the Sinofsky era - although running away would be more accurate. It just wanted to make Windows desktop less user-hostile. So he confirmed Modern apps get a title bar and a close button. They really are widgets now, just very big widgets.

"We love touch, we don't want to degrade the touch experience, none of our work has a negative impact on touch experience ... but we think we can improve it". Windows 8 will be more mouse-friendly, have better management and Windows Phone gets long-overdue enterprise features like VPN and S/MIME. That, we already knew. ®

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