6 Things Windows Phone 8 Still Needs to Succeed

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With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft will redo the plumbing of its mobile operating system to allow more diverse hardware and easier app development.

At last, Windows Phone will support multi-core processors, HD screen resolutions and microSD cards for hardware makers, and will add native code support and other goodies for app development. The goal, as always, will be to elevate Windows Phone from underdog status against iOS and Android.

At a press event this week, Microsoft only announced some of the changes it will make in Windows Phone 8. The rest will come later, before new phones running the software launch this fall. (My colleague, Harry McCracken, has outlined what we know so far.) In the meantime, let’s consider what still needs to happen for Windows Phone 8 to start making a serious dent in the sales of its rivals:

Interesting Hardware

Although software is more important than hardware, the device itself is still what gets people excited–you can see it in the way people freak about new iPhones, even though updates to iOS are much more meaningful. With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has laid the groundwork for better hardware by supporting dual-core processors and screen resolutions up to 1280×768. But it’s still up to hardware makers to create exciting phones that pique the interest of consumers. Nokia’s done some good work with its existing Lumia phones, but let’s see  HTC, Huawei and Samsung wow consumers as well.

Better Marketing Campaigns

When I think back to how Android got on the map, Verizon’s original “iDon’t” ads for the Motorola Droid stand out. They were perfect for the time, pointing out the iPhone’s weaknesses while offering an alternative to Verizon customers, who in December 2009 couldn’t buy the iPhone anyway. Nokia’s recent “Smartphone Beta Test” ads, which suggested that all other phones are broken products, seemed like a cheap imitation, and AT&T’s Lumia 900 ads are pretty tame. Microsoft can do better, and finally get people talking about Windows Phone.

Google Search

Call me crazy, but I think Microsoft makes a mistake by not letting users choose their default search engine on Windows Phones. Devout users–that is, Microsoft fans–probably don’t mind, but most people prefer Google, and forcing them to use Bing means they’ve got one more unfamiliar thing to deal with when they consider a Windows Phone. I understand that Bing needs to be at the heart of the phone’s search functions, but Microsoft should at least let users default to Google in the web browser.

(Related nuisance: When you run a browser search in Windows Phone, it takes you out of the browser and into a separate Bing app, then back to the browser after you’ve selected a search result. It’s a weird quirk that wastes time and causes confusion, and I hope it goes away.)

Developer Support for the Cool New Features

In Windows Phone 8, app developers can incorporate spoken input, so users can search by voice or dictate commands. It sounds useful, but it’s entirely dependent on developer support — and that’s not a given. Windows Phone 7.5 has a similar problem with “secondary tiles,” which allow users to create home screen links to a specific part of an app, but only if developers add support for it. I’m worried that voice input could see slow adoption from app developers–especially if they’re just porting iPhone and Android apps using the new native code support in Windows Phone 8 without doing much extra work.

Cloud-Based Media Services

Apple’s iTunes has always been a huge hook for iPhone users, and with iCloud, it’s even more alluring. Users know that if they buy a new iPhone–and for that matter, an iPad or iPod Touch– all their MP3s purchased from iTunes will be immediately available, and that they can always plug into iTunes to get the rest or pay $25 a year to sync their music. Android users can sync all their music with Google Play and their songs on any device.

Windows Phone doesn’t have any similar cloud services. To sync music from a PC to a Windows Phone, you’ve got to use Microsoft’s Zune software, but Zune is a dead brand walking. More SkyDrive integration is rumored for Windows Phone 8, but music and video syncing needs to be free, or priced very aggressively, to get people on board.

Serious Verizon Wireless Support

So far, the largest wireless carrier in the United States has only offered a single Windows Phone handset, the HTC Trophy, and that was back in early 2011, before the launch of Windows Phone 7.5. Verizon told PCMag that it “will support the Windows Phone 8 platform,” but its exact plans are unclear. I define “serious Verizon support” as multiple phones, a big marketing push and retail staff that are eager to sell Microsoft’s platform. We’ll see.

MORE: What We Know About Windows Phone 8 So Far