So here we are, day three of my look into what the biggest players in the smartphone world will, or possibly should do in 2012.

We’ve already covered Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone, with both set for exciting and challenging times ahead of them, but what about the noisy neighbor. What about Microsoft?

Microsoft Windows Phone

2011 was a big year for Microsoft. With the launch of Windows Phone 7 and the subsequent deal with Nokia allowing the Finnish firm to become a major WP7 partner, Microsoft saw its new mobile OS take a leap forward both in availability and usability. Windows Phone 7.5, Mango, brought with it a selection of features which many believed should have been present from day one, and coupled with the new hardware from Nokia the early days of 2012 have already started well.

Windows-Phone-7

The issue facing Microsoft is a very similar one to that of Google, and that is attracting developers to a platform which is currently lacking in grad-A titles. Take Xbox LIVE as a prime example.

The big advantage that Microsoft has over its rivals is the deep integration with the Xbox gaming platform that Xbox LIVE should bring. Being able to tie mobile gaming into the home gaming space could potentially open up a whole market for Windows Phone, with gamers flocking to the platform in order to get the most out of the games they play on their Xbox 360s. Throw in some top-class multiplayer gaming through Xbox LIVE on a smartphone, and things could get really interesting.

Apple itself has recognized the importance of building a community around gaming on the go, with Game Center aiming to do what Xbox LIVE did for the Xbox. As is so often the case with Apple however, things seem to have gone very quiet on that front, with Game Center becoming stagnant and never really hitting the heights we had all hoped. In Xbox LIVE, Microsoft has the opportunity to take things one step further, and actually make gaming on a smartphone a real experience that hardcore gamers want to get into.

I would expect 2012 to be the year that Microsoft really takes the bull by the horns with Windows Phone, with WP8 possibly on the agenda during the first half of the year. With the existing hardware specifications beginning to get a little long in the tooth – Microsoft tells hardware partners what specifications WP7 handsets need to meet – I fully expect a new reference design to be announced alongside Windows Phone 8, giving the whole platform a nudge forward in the specification arms race that Android is currently winning.

Many would argue that Windows Phone does not need the super-fast, dual-core chips that Android phones are sporting, but if games are to be the platform’s biggest weapon; then developers are going to need more power to work with. Hence, new hardware.

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I’ve got high hopes for Windows Phone this year, but if Microsoft does not hit all the right notes during the next twelve months, I would argue that we can all but write the company off for this generation.

Just as we did with the previous one.

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