Ina Fried

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Will Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 Move Put Nokia’s Current Business on Ice?

Nokia is already having plenty of problems on the sales front, but now the Finnish phone maker has another hurdle to deal with.

A Windows Phone ice sculpture at Wednesday's Windows Phone Summit

Microsoft on Wednesday confirmed that any Windows Phone that customers buy in the next few months won’t run the next version of its operating system. Although there are some good reasons for that — Windows Phone 8 is tied to a number of new hardware features and other big changes — the move could nonetheless create yet another headache for a company already fighting a serious migraine.

Microsoft is promising a more modest update for current phones — Windows Phone 7.8 — that will at least allow existing customers to get Windows Phone 8’s more customizable start screen.

But it remains to be seen how the announcement of Windows Phone 8 — several months before the first devices are ready — will impact sales of the Nokia Lumia and other Microsoft-based phones.

Clearly sensing the potential for problems, Nokia posted this statement on its U.S. Twitter account Wednesday afternoon: “We will bring the elements of WP8 to Lumia 900 that aren’t tied to the new hardware.”

Nokia also said it plans to upgrade a number of its own Windows Phone apps in an effort to keep interest in its current devices. The company’s camera, maps and music programs will all be updated starting in the coming days; the company will also debut a new tool for tracking one’s data, text and voice usage.

“The message we have to get through to consumers is this thing is a great value today,” Nokia SVP Kevin Shields told AllThingsD just after Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 announcement.

Even after Windows Phone 8 debuts this fall, Shields said that plenty of apps will continue to be written that will work on Windows Phone 7 devices. Microsoft hasn’t gone into all the details, but developers will have the option of creating programs that run on old and new devices, creating apps with some features only for Windows 8 or creating apps to run only on the new operating system.

Shields said the company sees more legs for Windows Phone 7 — perhaps even after the new operating system comes out.

Although Microsoft has talked about the long-term potential of Windows Phone 8 to help the company get to lower prices, the operating system initially demands more resources than its predecessor — a challenge for Nokia, which badly needs less expensive Windows phones to help reach the markets it used to hit with Symbian devices. The company will also, of course, be among the first with Windows Phone 8 devices.

Another big change is that Nokia’s core Navteq mapping technology is being brought into Windows Phone 8. Shields said that Nokia is committed to making Windows Phone a success and one way it can help is by ensuring that Windows Phone has the best mapping and navigation technology of the smartphone platforms. In particular, Nokia’s mapping technology will give Windows Phone 8 offline maps and turn-by-turn navigation.

While that is good for Windows Phone as a whole, those had been specific selling points for Nokia. Shields said that Nokia will build on top of those elements with other features. One example of that is Nokia City Lens, the company’s augmented reality mapping app.

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