Breaking down Microsoft's Mobile World Congress announcements (so far)

Microsoft and Nokia don't have new handsets to show, but that doesn't mean the company is any less committed to Windows Phone.

The smartphone world is gathering in Barcelona, Spain, for the annual Mobile World Conference show, and while Microsoft and Nokia will be there, there won't be any new hardware shown. However, that doesn't mean Windows Phone is slipping as a priority. Far from it.

For starters, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced at a news conference at MWC that BlackBerry Messenger will soon be arriving on Windows Phone. BBM has already been ported to iOS and Android. He also announced that Adobe Photoshop will soon be arriving on Windows Phone 8.1. This would be a stripped-down version, similar to the iOS and Android versions, used to make basic image edits on the phone.

Next up from MWC, Microsoft and Qualcomm announced a new reference design program that supplies the baseline hardware, optimized software, and development tools and content to quickly knock out a WP8 phone design. Microsoft has also launched a developer page for Windows Phone handset makers.

It makes sense. The most popular Lumia has been the low-end 520, accounting for about one-third of all Windows Phone sales. It has primarily been a hit in lower-income parts of the world, where many customers cannot afford more expensive smartphones. And WP needs all the partner help it can get. Nokia accounts for more than 90% of WP sales, and with Microsoft buying the handset business, that will probably do more to nudge competitors out than attract them.

The next bit of news is that Windows Phone 8.1 will get a voice assistant similar to Siri, named Cortana. The name comes from the popular "Halo" games. Cortana was the AI assistant to the Master Chief character that represents the player. Cortana will be more than a voice; it will reportedly be an animated icon that bounces around the screen and shows emotion. So it looks like Clippy is being resurrected.

Finally, details on Windows Phone 8.1 are coming out in droves thanks to the WP 8.1 SDK leaking to the public. WP 8 hasn't had a major overhaul in close to two years, so it's definitely due, and this update is big, with a lot of new features. These include an overhauled Action Center with centralized notification management, similar to the BlackBerry Hub on the latest BB phones. WP 8.1 will feature Google Calendar support, multiple calendars, VPN support, encrypted S/MIME email, a new version of Internet Explorer with WebGL and HTML 5 enhancements and a fast-typing method similar to the Swype application on Android phones.

Microsoft has said WP 8.1 is due in "spring," which would indicate one busy period for the company. It has Windows 8.1 Update 1 coming as well, and possibly Windows 9 beta.

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