Microsoft Corp’s new smartphone software will be built on the same core as its new upcoming PC and tablet operating system, bringing the company one step closer to unifying its Windows franchise across a full range of screens that are revolutionizing computing.
The world’s largest software company, which is running to keep up with Apple Inc’s iPhone and Google Inc’s Android devices, said the common core means customers will have a greater choice of smartphones and applications, and be able to switch between multiple machines more easily.
The move follows the launch of the Surface tablet on Monday, Microsoft’s effort to join the fast-growing mobile computing market and to tackle Apple’s iPad head-on.
At an event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Microsoft officially announced its new smartphone software, called Windows Phone 8, and said smartphones running the software would hit the market this autumn.
The new smartphones — made by handset makers Nokia Oyj, Samsung Electronics Co, HTC Corp (宏達電) and Huawei Technologies Co (華為) on Qualcomm dual-core chips — will feature voice commands, Skype calling, near-field communication (NFC) for wireless transactions and built-in maps for GPS directions.
Microsoft’s voice recognition feature goes beyond Apple’s rival Siri service by allowing users to issue commands to apps, not just the smartphone’s core operating system.
The new software will support NFC transactions — in which the user taps a reader to make a purchase — but Microsoft is leaving it to independent software makers to write the actual applications controlling the process, meaning it will not be a direct competitor to the Google Wallet service for Android smartphones.
Microsoft’s new smartphones will have an updated, customizable start screen in Microsoft’s new “Metro” style, which centers on touchable “tiles,” or colorful squares, representing people, applications and services that update in real time, for example showing Facebook posts or new e-mail.
The Metro style is also the interface for Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system — designed to run on both tablets and traditional PCs — which Microsoft is expected to launch around October.
Microsoft’s Windows smartphones have been well-reviewed, but have not caught on in the market, partly due to the fact that there are only 100,000 or so apps available, compared with 500,000 or so for both Apple and Android devices.
Microsoft is hoping that a common core between its PC and smartphone software will make it easier for developers to create applications for both, with minimal adjustments. The company said current devices, which run on Windows Phone 7.5, would not be able to update to Windows Phone 8. The Redmond, Washington-based company has invested billions of dollars in phones — including a deal with Nokia to use its software — in an attempt to break into the market.
So far it has had little impact, capturing only 2 percent of the world’s smartphone market last quarter, according to tech research firm Gartner. Google’s Android leads the market with 56 percent, followed by Apple with 23 percent.