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First tablets, now Windows Phone 8: Microsoft tears through big week of big reveals

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(Read caption) Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft, introduces the Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system in San Francisco this week.

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At an event in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon, Microsoft reps took the wraps off Windows Phone 8, the latest edition of its mobile operating system. According to Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 will hit handsets – including hardware made by HTC and Samsung – sometime this fall, just in time for the holiday shopping rush. Microsoft, of course, has a long slog ahead if it hopes to catch Apple and Google

According to stats released earlier this month by IDC (hat tip to BGR), the Microsoft Windows mobile OS currently accounts for about five percent of the global smartphone market – well behind Apple's 20 percent and Android's whopping 61 percent. But Microsoft is betting that Windows Phone 8, which shares code with the desktop and tablet versions of the forthcoming Windows 8 OS, could propel the company to the top of the heap. 

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The San Francisco event was only a preview, so expect Microsoft to unveil more information on Windows Phone 8 in coming weeks. In the meantime, here's what we know: The OS will allow users to customize the home screen with various tile shapes and colors, according to the BBC. (The working term is "live tiles," Mashable notes.) And Windows Phone 8 will be equipped with Nokia's Navteq turn-by-turn navigation – a major plus for regular travelers.

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In addition, look for NFC technology and removable Micro SD cards on all Windows Phone 8 devices. 

So how will Windows Phone 8 stack up against its competitors? Well, over at Gizmodo, Jesus Diaz favorably compares the new OS to its predecessor. 

"I love Windows Phone 7's start screen: neatly organized square tiles that clearly show information in real time – from emails to photos to weather to travel progress – without having to click on applications," Diaz writes. "With Windows Phone 8 Microsoft has solved my only criticism: not enough information density. And it have done so without destroying Metro's simplicity and elegance."

Meanwhile, Eric Zeman of Information Week sees unlimited potential for the OS. "With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft greatly expanded the types of hardware that can run its smartphone platform. Moving forward, Windows Phone will support multicore processors and removable/expandable storage. It also adds support for more screen resolutions, including 480 x 800, 768 x 1280, and 720 x 1280," he writes. 

In related news, Microsoft Tuesday introduced the Surface, a Windows 8-powered tablet that will come in two editions – one for casual users and one for computer professionals. No word yet on pricing and availability, although the devices are expected sometime later this year. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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