Microsoft Aims Windows Phone at Low-End Smartphone Market

Microsoft is expanding Windows Phone's language and hardware support in an effort to extend the platform's availability to developing markets, the company announced Monday at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.

The company plans to launch Windows Phone Marketplace in a total of 28 new countries, according to a Microsoft press release. The Marketplace recently became available in Argentina, Peru, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and will open in 23 more countries, including China, "in the coming week," the company said.

Microsoft will also widen the range of prices for Windows Phone devices. All told, Microsoft's efforts will grow Windows Phone's potential global user base by 60 percent, the press release said.

Additionally, Microsoft said it is making strides toward lowering Windows Phone's hardware requirements for low-end devices. According to a blog post Monday by Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of the Windows Phone division, Windows Phone will be able to run on devices with 256 MB of memory and running the lower-cost Qualcomm 7x27 "system on a chip" processor.

In an interview with Bloomberg published Monday, Myerson said the relaxed hardware requirements could lower the cost of production for Windows Phone manufacturers between 30 and 40 percent.

"New Windows Phones could cost as little as $100 to $200 to make," according to the Bloomberg article. "In the U.S., those savings are unlikely to be passed along to consumers, Myerson said. In emerging markets, though, the changes should lead to cheaper phone prices."

Two low-end Windows Phone devices designed for emerging markets were unveiled on Monday at Mobile World Congress: the Nokia Lumia 610 and the ZTE Orbit. The Orbit reportedly runs "Tango," the code-name of the first of two Windows Phone updates expected this year. Reports suggest that Tango will be aimed at low-end smartphones while the second update, code-named "Apollo," will be aimed at higher-end devices, though Microsoft has not confirmed this. Apollo is rumored to be scheduled for release in Q4.

Microsoft claimed that the vast majority of apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace will run on the low-cost devices; only about 5 percent of apps will not work, according to a blog post Monday by Joe Belfiore, vice president of Windows Phone Management. For those cases, Microsoft said the incompatible apps will be "flagged" so users don't download them unwittingly.

"We're contacting the developers of these apps directly to advise them of steps they can take to make their app compatible with lower cost phones. In most cases the guidance is simply to use less memory," Belfiore wrote.

To help developers test their apps, Microsoft on Monday released a community technology preview (CTP) of the Windows Phone software development kit that includes a 256 MB emulator. More information on the CTP, including download links, are available in this MSDN blog.

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editorial director of Converge360.