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Will Windows Phone 8 give Microsoft a seat at the table with Google, Apple?

With neat features like a built-in digital wallet and better integration with desktop and tablet devices, Microsoft?s newly revealed Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system strengthens the company?s gambit to be one of the top three mobile players.

Microsoft made its appeal for industry support for its mobile strategy this week at its annual developer?s conference, where it unveiled key details about Windows Phone 8, which will arrive on new phones later this year. The news with perhaps the biggest potential is that Windows Phone 8 is based on the same core technologies that power Windows 8, Microsoft?s operating system for PCs and tablets.

?For consumers this new shared core means a much greater choice in hardware,? said Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft, Redmond, WA, during a presentation at its developer?s conference to introduce the new software.

?With a shared common core, developers who are working on Windows 8 have an incredibly easy transition to Windows Phone and developers who have done work on Windows Phone already can move those apps quickly and easily to Windows 8,? he said.

?And, in that situation everyone benefits. It is better for consumers, it is better for developers and it is better for our hardware partners as well because as the ecosystem grows and gets more healthy, the hardware partners benefit.?

Shared core
The news follows Microsoft?s revelation that it will bring out its own tablets later this year (see story). 

Windows Phone 8 will share common networking, security, media and Web browser technology, and a common file system with Windows 8. This will translate into new opportunities for app developers and hardware makers, according to the company.

For example, the shared core could mean a wider range of smartphones built on the Windows Phone 8 platform will become available, including phones at a variety of price points and with new capabilities. It also means that a much wider range of apps will be possible for Windows devices.

?One of the more important aspects of this is that there is more unification between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8,? said Noah Elkin, principal analyst at eMarketer, New York. ?The ability to build once and have it function on more than one platform is potentially a big deal.?

?They are assembling the important elements that are going to drive the mobile device and services market forward in the next couple of years,? he said.

Microsoft already appears to be picking up some steam on the apps front and announced at the event that the Windows Phone Marketplace has hit 100,000 apps and games.

In another move meant to appeal to developers, Windows Phone 8 will also offer in-app payments, making it possible for app makers to sell virtual and digital goods within their apps.

Microsoft is also expanding Marketplace to support downloads in over 180 countries, nearly triple its current footprint.

Bad news for Nokia
Windows Phone 8 could help Microsoft attract both hardware makers and wireless carriers that want to see another strong competitor in the game.

?The introduction of WP8 is very likely to attract back key OEMs including HTC, Samsung and LG as well as, most importantly, mobile operators that want to see another thoroughbred in this three-horse race,? said Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. ?Challengers including Huawei and ZTE have also said they would not seriously engage with Microsoft until Windows Phone 8 was ready as this could potentially take the focus away from the Android platform.?

However, the new operating system could be bad news for Nokia, which partnered with Microsoft on the Lumia line of smartphones built on Windows Phone 7, since the latest version of the OS will not run on existing hardware.

The fact that Windows Phone 7 is not upgradeable to Windows Phone 8 could have a negative impact on sales for existing Windows Phone 7 smartphones, particularly Nokia?s Lumia devices.

This is not good news for Nokia, which has not seen sales for its Lumia phones take off as hoped. The company said recently that it is laying off 10,000 workers and plans to partner with Microsoft on a line of less expensive smartphones so that it can compete better with Android.

?Operators and users will hold on until the new devices are in the market this coming Autumn,? Mr. Saadi said. ?This will have a serious impact on Nokia's financial performance this quarter as the company relies strongly on Windows Phones as the main platform for its smartphones.

On Par
Key features of the new operating system include NFC wireless sharing, enabling users to share photos, Office docs and contact info by tapping their phone against another NFC-enabled device.

There will also be a built-in wallet that can keep debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes, and other important info right at your fingertips. When paired with a secure SIM from a carrier, users will also be able to pay for things with a tap of their phone at compatible checkout counters.

Windows Phone 8 also builds in Nokia mapping as part of the platform, providing more detailed maps and turn-by-turn directions in many countries. Users will also be able to store maps offline on their phone so they can work without a data connection.

There is also a new start screen with a new palette of theme colors and three sizes of Live Tiles.

The new phone OS also features capabilities designed for the workplace, including device encryption, better security, remote management and the ability for companies to create their own hubs for custom apps.

The first wave of devices for Windows Phone 8 will come from Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC.

?Microsoft is certainly on par at the very least with the competing platforms at this point from a feature and functionality perspective,? eMarketer?s Mr. Elkin said. ?And the continued growth of its app store, both in terms of the quantity and the quality of apps available, will help Microsoft make that case.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York