Microsoft targets developing markets with Windows Phone changes

Less expensive phones from a wider range of brands should be appearing later this year

With developing markets in its sight, Microsoft is making a number of changes to Windows Phone that it hopes will result in a wider range of less expensive devices.

A forthcoming update of the Windows Phone 8 operating system will drop several key hardware requirements, such as the need for three physical buttons on the front of the phone and a camera button, said Joe Belfiore, who runs Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, during a presentation at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

"We're no longer going to require those buttons," he said.

Microsoft will also allow more software to run from an SD (Secure Digital) card, reducing the amount of internal memory that needs to be installed in a phone and adding support for the Snapdragon 200, a Qualcomm chipset aimed at low-cost phones.

"That will get us to even lower price point phones that we get to today," said Belfiore.

The company will ensure drivers exist for a number of standard phone components, such as popular camera modules, so it's possible to reuse work done on other handsets in Windows Phone products. In some cases, it might be possible to take a hardware design for an Android phone and run Windows on it without major development changes.

Doing so would reduce the development cost of a phone and in turn the retail price.

Microsoft will also add support for dual SIM cards, which are popular in some developing markets, and several flavors of Chinese LTE technology.

Currently, Windows Phones are available from four major hardware makers: HTC, Nokia, Huawei and Samsung.

As part of the changes, the company is working with a number of new hardware partners that are expected to bring phones to market.

They are Lenovo, Longcheer, ZTE, JSR and Gionee in China, Karbonn and Xolo in India, LG Electronics and Foxconn, which is the world's largest contract manufacturer.

The OS update will happen sometime in the spring, Microsoft said, but was not more specific.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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