Microsoft has revealed some critical details about the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1, including more big-name manufacturers coming to the platform as well as the ability for any phone maker to load Windows Phone onto existing Qualcomm-based Android hardware.
The official Windows Phone 8.1 launch isn't coming until "this spring" (read: Microsoft's Build conference on 2 April), but Microsoft's corporate vice president, Joe Belfiore, revealed a set of new capabilities that will let a wider group of companies build cheaper Windows Phones.
The new platform will support Qualcomm's Snapdragon 200, 400, and 400 LTE chips, and more notably it will let Windows Phone run on existing Android hardware, with soft buttons instead of hard buttons and no mandatory physical camera button. SD support will be expanded so you'll be able to store apps on SD cards, which is a big deal on low-memory phones. The platform will also support dual SIMs, and a range of new Chinese network standards, he said.
New enterprise features will include S/MIME support, enterprise VPNs, enterprise Wi-Fi, extended mobile device management, and certificate management.
Along with that, Microsoft announced a huge array of new hardware partners, including LG, Lenovo, and ZTE, as well as a bunch of Chinese and Indian vendors like Gionee, Longcheer, and Xolo. Any company will be able to build a Windows Phone based on a new Qualcomm reference platform, the company said.
"You can take your Qualcomm Android design and you can run Windows on it," Belfiore said. Now, that doesn't mean you'll be able to dual-boot Android and Windows on the same phone - Belfiore actually refused to answer that question. And you won't be able to buy a copy of Windows Phone to load onto a phone as an individual, although I'm sure some XDA-Developers hackers will figure out that trick. But he said the OSes will run on "potentially even the same hardware."
Of course, this all comes just as Microsoft is about to absorb Nokia, which makes more than 80 per cent of the existing Windows Phones. The new array of OEMs will shift the market, said Nick Parker, Microsoft's Windows Phone OEM head.
"I think you will see a quite significant change in the performance and number of Windows Phones," he said.
The upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 will be available later this spring for all existing Windows Phone 8 hardware, although Belfiore said it would be up to wireless carriers as to whether individual devices would get the update.
We'll find out more about the new platform at Build, including what new features will appear in the software.
"You will see us do a bunch of cool end-user features," Belfiore said.