Windows Phone 8 to go head-to-head with Apple’s iOS 6


Philip Elmer-DeWitt is a senior editor at Fortune.



Nokia prototype at the Windows 8 Developers Summit. Photo: The Verge

FORTUNE -- As predicted, Microsoft (msft) took the wraps off its next generation smartphone strategy Wednesday at the Windows Phone Developer Summit in San Francisco.

With Apple (aapl) expected to introduce a new iPhone in conjunction with the scheduled release of iOS 6 this fall, the stage is set for a holiday face-off between these two long-time rivals in the battle for second place after Google's (goog) market-leading Android smartphones.

Once again, Microsoft will be trying to stretch its lead on the desktop by taking a version of Windows into the mobile device marketplace. Apple, meanwhile, will be playing into its strength in devices that operate smoothly together in an easy-to-use software ecosphere.

To the relief of its hardware partners -- some of whom were taken by surprise by Microsoft's tablet announcement Monday -- Redmond will not be building its own smartphones. It's leaving that to the likes of Nokia, Huawei, Samsung and HTC.

But those partner-built phones will be packed with new Microsoft-supported features, among them:

  • A new customizable home screen
  • Maps with turn-by-turn driving directions and real-time traffic conditions
  • Voice control search functions
  • Voice over Internet Protocol integration (not just Skype)
  • A SIM-based electronic "wallet" for making purchases via NFC (near field communications)

That last item gives Microsoft an edge over both Android and iOS -- at least for now. Android offers NFC functions, but they haven't been widely adopted. Apple, for its part, has yet to provide near-field communications in any of its mobile devices, nor has it said anything one way or the other about building NFC into the next iPhone.

But Apple has a lot of momentum, including a significant lead in mobile software. There are more than half a million apps in Apple's App Store and only about 100,000 in Microsoft's. Moreover, nearly all of those Windows Phone apps will have to be rewritten to run on Windows Phone 8 -- a process Microsoft worked hard at Wednesday's developers summit to sound as painless as possible.

Meanwhile, early adopters who bought Windows Phone 7 phones -- like the Nokia Lumias -- are left without an upgrade path. They will, however, get some of the new features -- including the new desktop -- in a release called Windows Phone 7.8.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. FORTUNE may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions