Microsoft looks to woo developers with Windows Phone upgrade

Windows Phone update improves security and messaging, but the platform still trails Android and iOS by a wide margin

Still struggling to gain a foothold in the smartphone market, Microsoft continues to fight on with improvements to its Windows Phone platform. A developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1 Update, due next week, will enhance folders, security, and messaging capabilities.

The Live Folders feature lets developers organize apps into folders from the Start screen, a Windows Phone blog post today reveals. Data and identity are more protected on public networks, with a capability to send and receive data through a VPN while connected to Wi-Fi hotspots. An Apps Corner capability lets users specify which apps are displayed in a special sandboxed mode, enabling businesses to allow access to select apps.

The Windows Phone update also improves message management through SMS merge and forwarding, in which multiple messages can be selected for deletion and forwarding. And Microsoft is making it easier to see the latest information about games and apps in the Windows Phone Store through a Live Tile capability. 

Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri personal assistant, is being made available in China and the United Kingdom in beta form and in Canada, India, and Australia in alpha form. Cortana is being improved in the United States with new natural-language scenarios and the ability to invoke Cortana hands-free while driving.

Windows Phone, though, remains little more than a blip on the smartphone radar screen domestically, according to analytics firm comScore. Its U.S. market share report for May, released earlier this month, shows Windows Phone at 3.4 percent -- distantly trailing Android's 52.1 percent share and the 41.9 percent share for Apple's iOS. Globally, Windows Phone's share has hovered at around 4 percent.

On the bright side, VisionMobile's recent "State of the Developer Nation Q3 2014" report, which queried more than 10,000 developers in 137 countries, cited Windows Phone as a target platform for 28 percent of developers. Despite its continued lack of traction in the market, a decent percentage of developers see Windows Phone as a platform that requires their attention.

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