Windows 8 review: Microsoft makes grab for smartphone customers with Windows Phone 8 OS

Microsoft is going all out in an attempt to push customers to its new Windows Phone 8 operating system. All it has to do is convince people the platform is better than Google's Android and Apple's iOS. Easy, right?

The company officially launched the latest version of its smartphone OS Monday morning in San Francisco. The press event was part of a larger marketing blitz by Microsoft, which started last week with the rollout of its new Windows 8 OS for PCs and tablets, and its new Surface tablet, which aims to take on the iPad.

Big tech launches like these are piling up in the weeks leading up to the holiday shopping season. Last week, Apple announced its new iPad Mini, a fourth-generation iPad, and a refreshed line of laptop and desktop computers.

Google had a major Android event scheduled for Monday morning in New York City, at which it was expected to announce a new Nexus 4 handset and 10-inch Nexus 10 tablet. However, the company canceled the event at the last minute due to concerns about Hurricane Sandy.

Secrets, once used to build anticipation ahead of these announcements, are getting harder to keep, due to leaky supply chains and forgetful employees leaving devices behind in bars. Tech watchers are hoping Microsoft will have some new software or hardware to show off on Monday, unlike its events last week at which very little new information was revealed.

What we do know is that the new Windows Phone 8 platform isn't just an updated version of its predecessor. Microsoft has overhauled its entire design and architecture to make it more similar to the Windows 8 operating system, so that various Windows products can work well together. Other changes include adding support for sharing-feature near field communication, over-the-air updates and support for quad-core processors.

A new smartphone operating system is nothing without some slick new devices to run it. So far Windows Phone 8 has the Nokia Lumia 920 and 820, Samsung Ativ S and HTC's Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S. The first devices designed specificially for Windows Phone 8 should be available in stores and online starting in November.

Windows Phone has been around for two years, but it has yet to make a dent in a market dominated by Google and Apple. According to Strategy Analytics, Microsoft phones will only account for 4% of the smartphone market in the U.S. in 2012.

The launch isn't just a big deal for Microsoft. Finnish phone maker Nokia is taking a big gamble on the Windows Phone platform too, which might be its last chance to win back smartphone customers.

Nokia reigned as top cell phone company for many years, until 2007, the year the iPhone came out. Last week, the company slid off the list of top five smartphone manufacturers in the world, according to research firm IDC.

Nokia is still the No. 2 phone manufacturer in the world, thanks to its booming feature phone -- or "dumb phone" -- sales.

Microsoft has a big sales job ahead of it on Monday, explaining to consumers and businesses why this platform is a better choice than Android or iOS. The Windows ecosystem's biggest missing piece at the moment is its app selection. So it's fitting that on Tuesday, Microsoft's Build developer conference begins at the company's main base in Redmond, Washington.

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