Microsoft Windows Phones Specs Hint at Midmarket Entry

Microsoft's new Windows Phone hardware specs, which make cameras optional, hint at a more aggressive midmarket presence to come for the platform.

Microsoft has apparently loosened its minimum hardware requirements for Windows Phone, potentially opening the way for manufacturers to create more midmarket devices that use the mobile operating system.

As first uncovered by blogs such as WPCentral, Microsoft's listing for Windows Phone's hardware specifications now includes "primary camera" and "front-facing camera" under "optional hardware." The rest of the "standard hardware" remains much the same, including three hardware buttons (start, search and back) and an accelerometer. Those specifications were last updated September 23, 2011.

If Microsoft continues to loosen its grip on Windows Phone hardware, it could create the opening that manufacturers need to produce lower-cost handsets. At the moment, Windows Phone runs primarily on higher-end devices, although Microsoft has made no secret of its desire to penetrate the midrange market increasingly dominated by Google Android.

"We are dramatically broadening the set of price points in Mango-related phones that we can reach," Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Windows Phone division, told the audience during the Asia D conference Oct. 19. "That's particularly important because going lower down in price point opens up more addressable market."

That movement has already begun with Nokia's Lumia 710, which includes a 1.4GHz processor, 5-megapixel and the latest Windows Phone Mango update. Nokia is pairing that device with the higher-end Lumia 800, which features the same processor but also an 8-megapixel camera that uses Carl Zeiss optics and a 3.7-inch active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) ClearBlack curved display integrated into a body rendered from a single piece of polycarbonate.

Microsoft will certainly need the midmarket if it wants to fulfill certain analyst projections of seizing second or third place in the smartphone market within the next few years. Research firm IDC suggested earlier this year that Nokia will help drive Windows Phone to second place behind Android by 2015, while Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley believes that Windows Phone could eventually battle it out with Android and iOS instead of lagging far behind in market share.

Even as Microsoft pushes Windows Phone, it continues to profit handsomely from one of the platform's fiercest competitors. On Oct. 23, the company announced it had locked down yet another Android manufacturer into a patent-licensing agreement, the ninth in four months and the tenth Android-related one overall. Microsoft has insisted for some time that Android violates its patents, and wants to be paid accordingly.

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