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Windows Phone 8: Speech, Wallet and more games on the way

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As expected, Microsoft announced Wednesday that the Windows Phone will be more integrated with Windows 8.

Just days after showing the world its Surface tablet, Microsoft continued to make announcements that indicate it’s finally ready to pull its strengths together and address some of its bigger weaknesses.

Joe Belfiore, head of the company’s phone program, said starting this fall Windows phones will ship with the shared core and he promised “more apps, bigger, more important apps coming faster and beautiful games.”

New Windows phones will have dual-core (and more) chips, three new screen resolutions and removable MicroSD cards. All existing Windows Phone 7.5 apps will run on all of the resolutions without any changes, Belfiore said.

The company also addressed a big problem with its Windows Phone — the system has been pretty much siloed off from other Microsoft products. Beginning this fall, Windows Phone 8 will make it easy for developers to move programs between the two systems. The company gave its developers a preview of the new phone just days after showing the world its Surface tablet, which has an operating system built with the same core.

Microsoft also is offering speech integration to all its developers, and will be able to launch, control and search through apps. The company also showed a video in which a phone sent a text to a user’s contacts using speech.

And the company is getting into the digital wallet game by offering Wallet, which will allow users access to their credit, debit and loyalty cards. Wallet can also be used for in-app purchases and will access deals and support tap-to-pay with near-field technology chips.

Another announcement, the addition of Nokia’s mapping technology, also shows how Microsoft is gunning for iOS and Android. The maps will feature turn-by-turn directions and support offline maps. All Windows Phones will come with Internet Explorer 10, which will include anti-phishing technology.

Courting the enterprise market , Belfiore said that the phone will support encryption as well as Office apps.

Users also will be able to exercise more control over their home screens with the ability to change the size of the Metro live tiles on the phone and more color options. That’s been a major complaint from Windows Phone users, who had been frustrated that they couldn’t organize their screens exactly as they wanted.

Good news for gamers comes out of the day’s announcement as well: by letting developers use the same language to write for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, Microsoft may finally deliver on the promise of rich mobile gaming. Porting the game from one device to the other is fairly easy, Belfiore said, with only screen size to consider.

The Havok Technology Suite will also work with Windows Phone, which head of product Andrew Bowell promised would bring better, more dynamic games to mobile .

In a demo, Bowell showed off an impressive 3D model of a character that the company ported from its PC engine, and Gameloft and Big Fish were announced as gaming launch partners for Windows 8.

Related stories:

Microsoft aims to straddle two worlds with new Surface tablet

Microsoft tablet risks alienating its longtime partners _ PC makers

Microsoft Surface: Five things we don’t know

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