Windows Phone communicates better via upgraded Facebook, Viber apps

Microsoft is working to increase the number apps available for its OS, but device sales are shrinking

The new Facebook app for Windows Phone has integrated messaging.

The new Facebook app for Windows Phone has integrated messaging.

Windows Phone is getting better voice and chat features thanks to upgraded applications from Facebook and Viber -- and that's key if Microsoft wants its OS to gain share.

Windows Phone has been stymied since its inception by a lack of apps, and even those available haven't always had functionality that matched the Android and iOS versions. But now things are looking up in the voice and messaging segment.

Version 5.3 of the Facebook app, which dropped into the Windows app store on Monday, has integrated messaging, as well as the ability to upload videos. The app also promises better performance. Version 4.2 of the Viber app, also available Monday, has the company's hold and talk feature, which lets users send instant voice messages. It too is said to offer better performance with faster conversation loading and other enhancements.

The two upgrades come after last week's announcement of a public beta version of BlackBerry's BBM app, which can be used to chat and share content. The first version can't be used to make free voice calls, which is possible with the Android and iOS versions.

BlackBerry said the company is "already working hard" on a second version, but it didn't elaborate on what features it would add.

The Viber and the BBM beta are compatible with Windows Phone 8.1 and 8, while the Facebook app also works with Windows Phone 7.5.

Web-based messaging is an important arena, as evidenced by Facebook's US$19 billion deal to acquire WhatsApp and Japanese company Rakuten's acquisition of Viber, so it's crucial for Microsoft to get the biggest vendors onboard.

While Microsoft has had some success with increasing the number of apps available for its phone OS, it has continued to struggle, particularly in the U.S. and China. Its worldwide share fell to just 2.7 percent and 8 million units during the second quarter, down from 3.8 percent and 8.9 million units in the previous year, according to market research company Strategy Analytics.

The low-cost Nokia Lumia 530 with the improved Windows Phone 8.1 should help increase volumes when it goes on sale this month in some parts of the world. The phone was announced two weeks ago and will cost about €85 (US$115) before taxes and the potential subsidies that come with a contract.

However, with new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella de-emphasizing mobile devices, the company will have to rely on smartphone makers to put out more phones, which in the past has proved difficult. Products like the recently announced Canvas Win W092 and the Canvas Win W121 from Indian company Micromax are a step in the right direction, but many more are needed if the platform is to survive.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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