Microsoft tries again with Windows Phone 8October 29, 2012: 3:07 PM ET
A slew of new features prove the company is determined to make a dent in the crucial phone segment.
FORTUNE -- Lucky for Microsoft, its Windows Phone 8 launch event was not scheduled for stormy New York. But that doesn't mean prospects for the latest version of its mobile operating system aren't cloudy.
The tech giant is throwing all its weight behind new efforts to reclaim dominance in the changing computing market, where tablets and smartphones -- not PCs -- rule. At its launch event on Monday morning, Microsoft (MSFT) unveiled several new mobile features, but no phones that hadn't already been announced. Most impressive though, was the progress Microsoft has made with getting more developers on board. Windows Phone 8 will come with new, optimized Facebook (FB), Twitter and Pandora (P) apps. For the first time, it will also feature popular apps like Temple Run, Angry Birds, Urban Spoon and LivingSocial. According to the company, 46 of the top 50 apps will be available on its app store, which now has a total 120,000 apps.
"That's huge progress for us," said Joe Belfiore, manager of Microsoft's Windows Phone program, at Monday's event.
Some of the upcoming Windows Phone 8 devices, like Nokia's (NOK) Lumia line of phones, have received decent reviews, and the operating system's interface offers a different approach to the look and feel of most smartphones. But Microsoft has been criticized for its lack of mobile applications. The new apps are promising, but many developers say they are still taking a "wait and see approach" with the latest version of Windows Phone. And 120,000 is still a far cry from the 700,000 apps found on Apple's (AAPL) iPhones.
Other new Windows Phone 8 features include a personalized lock screen that shows Facebook notifications, more personalization options for its "tile" interface and "Kid's Corner," a child-friendly mode for smartphones. Devices that run on Windows Phone 8, made by Nokia, HTC and Samsung, will be launching over the next few weeks.
But Microsoft's big bet isn't just on smartphones. Its new, Windows 8 strategy encompasses PCs, tablets and phones, which will all have a similar, tiles and app-centric feel. Photos and documents will sync across all three platforms, giving users a "connected experience."
It's clear the company has a lot at stake, and is making a gamble on consumers embracing the new platform across all of their personal devices. Chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, who also took the stage at the company's launch event, said he is "heartened" to see the lines at Microsoft stores. But while Microsoft will still own nearly 90% of the PC market in 2016, it is expected to take in just 14% of smartphone sales by that year, according to analyst firm Forrester Research (FORR). Still, there's no doubt Microsoft will do whatever it takes -- paying developers to create apps for its platform, and shelling out millions of dollars on an aggressive ad campaign, for example -- to get some momentum behind Windows 8.
"Between Windows 8, Surface and Windows Phone 8," Ballmer promised, "you won't be able to turn on a TV or open a magazine withough seeing a Microsoft Windows ad."