Windows Phone 8: Should a phone act more like a PC?

Microsoft rolled out Windows Phone 8, an operating system that resembles Windows 8 for PCs. While the software is not identical across devices, programmers will have an easier time moving applications from one to another.

Noah Berger/REUTERS
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft, introduces the Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system in San Francisco, Calif., June 20, 2012.

Struggling to keep pace with Apple and GoogleMicrosoft on Wednesday unveiled a new version of its mobile phone operating system in hopes of attracting more attention from consumers and developers.

Unlike Windows Phone 7, the upcoming Windows Phone 8 will share its foundation with the company’s new Windows 8 software that will run on PCs and tablets. That will allow software developers to more easily design applications that can run on multiple devices. It should also allow programmers to create much more sophisticated games for Windows Phone devices.

The updated software will also add a wide range of new features, such as support for multi-core processors, near-field communication radios and high-resolution screens. It also will include a new mobile “wallet” application that will let device owners pay for items with their phones and use them to access coupons and store loyalty cards.

“This is a huge release,” said Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president at Microsoft who oversees its Windows Phone efforts.

But the release also represents an effort by Microsoft to catch up with the competition. Many of the new features in Windows Phone 8 are ones already present in Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS software.

Microsoft hopes to jump-start interest in its mobile software. Since the company launched Windows Phone 7 in the fall of 2010, it’s already initiated a media blitz, released a medium-sized update and convinced mobile phone giant Nokia to focus its smartphone efforts on the software.

But the company’s efforts have largely failed to generate excitement. Windows Phone devices represented less than 2 percent of the total smartphones shipped worldwide in the first quarter of this year. That share of the market is smaller than that held by Microsoft’s older Windows Mobile software right before Windows Phone 7 debuted.

Microsoft officials left several pertinent questions unanswered about the software. They declined to say when it will be available, for example, announcing only that it would be out later this year. They even declined to disclose when programmers will be able to download a software development kit, which is crucial for creating new apps for the operating system, saying only that it will be out later this summer.

Meanwhile, Microsoft risks upsetting its user base. Current Windows Phone users won’t be able to upgrade their devices to Windows Phone 8. And newer apps designed for Windows Phone 8 won’t run on Windows Phone 7.

The announcement comes two days after Microsoft revealed plans to get into the computer hardware business by making its own tablets running Windows 8. While CEO Steve Ballmer headlined that event in Los Angeles, he was not at the Windows Phone event here.

The Windows Phone announcement comes a little more than a week after Apple unveiled iOS 6, the latest version of the software that underlies the iPhone and iPad. Next week, Google is holding an event in which it is expected to discuss new features in Android.

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