Microsoft: Updates to Windows, Windows Phone Coming This Spring

Microsoft used an event at Mobile World Congress on Sunday to announce plans for a spring update to both its phone and PC operating systems.

With the next update to Windows 8, Microsoft plans to allow the operating system to work better on non-touch PCs. The update to Windows 8.1 will also support lower-end devices thanks to less strict hardware requirements and is designed to work better in the office. Computer makers will now be able to build machines using as little as 1GB of memory and 16GB of storage, paving the way for cheaper machines.

Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore said the changes are designed to better support mouse-and-keyboard users, but insisted touch is still a key focus.

“We love touch,” Belfiore said, speaking at a press event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “None of the work we are doing has a negative effect on touch.”

On the phone front, Microsoft said the spring update will better support business use with improved Wi-Fi and device management. The update will also support more Qualcomm chips, including its Snapdragon 200 family. “That will get us to even lower price point phones than we see today,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft is also changing the hardware specifications for Windows Phone, doing away with the requirement for three hardware buttons, including a dedicated camera key. This should not only allow cheaper devices, but also enable hardware makers to use the same designs they use for Android, should they choose to.

With the new update, Windows Phone will also work with the Chinese flavor of LTE, as well as support dual SIM cards, an option popular in places such as India and China. Facebook Messenger is also coming in the next few weeks to Windows Phone, Belfiore said.

Perhaps the biggest news of the event was that, despite its impending purchase of Nokia, Microsoft has lined up a number of new hardware partners planning to make Windows Phone devices. The list includes LG and Lenovo and contract manufacturer Foxconn as well as a number of names not well known in the U.S. but popular in India and China.

Belfiore showed off a Qualcomm reference design that will allow device makers and carriers to quickly get to market with a Windows Phone device.

The company is saving its full reveal of the next version of Windows Phone for Build, a Microsoft developer conference set for the beginning of April in San Francisco.

As first reported by Re/code, no new Windows Phone hardware is expected to debut at Mobile World Congress.

Microsoft also threw out some stats designed to put Windows and Windows Phone in a better light.

Belfiore noted that with 200 million licenses sold, Windows 8 and 8.1 have a larger market share than all versions of Mac OS X. He said customer satisfaction is much higher on touch-based machines, which so far account for only 40 percent of systems.

As for Windows Phone, Belfiore said it had reached greater than 10 percent market share in six countries and outsells the iPhone in 10 countries.

That said, Belfiore conceded, “the U.S. is a tough market for us.”

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Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20145:06 am

Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20145:03 am

Looking back at a slide Microsoft showed, some of the new hardware makers are Gionee, Xolo, Longcheer and JSR (along with the better known ones–LG, Lenovo and contract maker Foxconn).

Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20145:01 am

On making it easier for hardware makers to use similar designs as they do for Android, Microsoft wouldn’t get in to specifics on whether users will be able to choose Windows Phone or Android. Microsoft device maker liason Nick Parker did say that changes will allow manufactures to use very similar and “potentially even the same hardware.”

Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20144:58 am

No comment on whether Microsoft is cutting licensing fees for Windows Phone.

Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20144:57 am

Elephant in the room mentioned. Belfiore asked how Microsoft would you feel if Nokia made an Android phone?

Belfiore: We have a terrific engineering relationship with Nokia. What they do as an independent company is up to them, but Microsoft may like some things they do better than others

Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20144:53 am

So Microsoft didn’t show off its rumored personal assistant, code-named Cortana.

Ina Fried Ina Fried February 23, 20144:52 am

On to Q and A.

Belfiore declined to say if Microsoft would add support for outside software keyboards but said that in general Microsoft is trying to make Windows Phone more flexible.