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BW Businessworld

Microsoft’s Not Done Yet

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In what has been a hectic few days for the technology world, here’s another launch. This time it’s the Windows Phone 8 event, just happened in San Francisco.  Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Corp, took the stage to tell the media about the significance of Windows Phone to Microsoft, going through how it has grown through various devices, specially recently launched ones. He then dove into apps, announcing that 120,000 apps were now available for Windows Phone and this number was growing. 
Belfiore said that if we look at the smartphone space, interfaces had hardly evolved. With Android and iOS copying each other, phones really looked the same. "With Windows Phone we decided not to use that tired old metaphor. Our way is to put people at the centre of the experience, not icons for apps. Not focus on speeds and feeds like Android and iOS do," he said. Presenting the Windows Phone interface, with its brilliant live tiles and so markedly different from Android phones and Apple’s iPhone, he reinforced his point. He went through the strengths of Windows Phone, starting with its live tiles and the fact that they contained dynamic information relevant to real people – rather than being lifeless icons. Not just that, Windows is the only OS that has live apps to go with the tiles, he pointed out. 
Microsoft has protected its Windows Phone 8 under a veil of secrecy, refusing to give journalists a glance at anything beyond the start screen and in some cases, under tight supervision, the camera. A feature that was not well known then was the new lock screen, on which developers could create apps that would personalise the phone and give the user quick access to what was important right from the moment the phone is picked up.
Content from favourite apps can be displayed on the lock screen – including photos, notifications and information. Facebook statuses and photos, for example, could make up the lock screen, making the device intensely personal. Another feature is the tight integration of Skype into the phone. It is always on without taking up processing power or battery. A number of new apps, games, music and utilities were mentioned. The poor availability of apps has on Windows Phone 7 and versions – 7.5 and 7.8 has been a sore point that Microsoft is trying hard to address, encouraging developers with incentives and convincing people that apps are quickly populating the Windows Store. 
Compression of data during web browsing, which becomes faster as a result, fast wi-fi, control over how you use your bandwidth, and a special ‘Kids Corner’ with apps and controls just for children were also introduced – with Joe Belfiore’s own children followed by Jessica Alba coming on stage as a sweetener. 
To further intensify the personalisation on the phone, Microsoft has also enhanced the ‘People Hub’, the area of the phone where everything about contacts and family and friends is concentrated. There are now Rooms, a concept that is expressed with the ability to collect personal information that is contextual. 
The greater use of SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud service, the integration with Windows 8 on other devices, and of course Office for productivity and Xbox for games, were also mentioned. 
Steve Ballmer, Chairman Microsoft, then came up to tie up the launch of the Windows Phone into Microsoft’s Windows 8 vision, underlining the strengthis once more. Steve Balmer then demo’d the much awaited Nokia Lumia 920 with its special camera featuring image stabilisation. He also showed HTC’s 8x. 
Several vendors, among them Nokia, of course, but also Samsung and HTC, have Windows Phone 8 handsets ready but have held off revealing them while Microsoft put the finishing touches on the operating system. Now, these will be rolling out across the world, with briefings to the tech media having begun. Microsoft has a mere 3.1 per cent share of the smartphone market as seen over the quarter ending June, according to research firm IDC. With users not eager to buy Windows devices that were to be outdated soon, sales will have taken a futher hit. Now, Microsoft and its partners hope the situation will change and users will find the different and youthful take on the smartphone interface appealing enough to give Windows Phone a chance. 
mala(at)pobox(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter