The stream of Mobile World Congress press events has officially begun, even though the show doesn't technically get started until Feb. 24. Microsoft was the first one doing the talking in Barcelona today, with Windows Phone lead Joe Belfiore taking the time to talk Live Tiles on stage.
Belfiore announced that a number of new hardware manufacturers have signed on to work with Windows Phone. In total, there are nine companies that will be partnering with Microsoft to produce Windows Phone hardware. Those include Lenovo, LG, ZTE, Foxconn, Gionee, JSR, Karbonn, Lava (Xolo) and Longcheer. No specific device announcements were made, but Microsoft does say that we can expect to see "a range of devices across screen sizes and price points."
Microsoft also revealed a few new hardware features that are coming to the Windows Phone platform. Support for Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 and Snapdragon 400 chips is in Windows Phone's future, which includes support for all major cellular technologies, as is dual-SIM functionality.
Microsoft also plans to allow OEMs to use soft keys on their Windows Phone hardware, ending the requirement that its devices feature three physical buttons. The Redmond company says that one benefit of these additions is that they'll enable device makers to use the same hardware for their Android and Windows Phone products.
Rounding out today's announcements is a Windows Phone app update. Microsoft says that the Windows Phone Store is now home to 240,000 apps, with 500 more hitting the shop's virtual shelves every day. One major addition that'll be added to the Windows Phone Store in the "coming weeks" is a Facebook Messenger app.
This latest batch of new Windows Phone features may not sound like much at first, but they're actually pretty big for Microsoft's mobile platform. The nine new hardware partners and support for Snapdragon 200 and 400 chips will allow Microsoft to continue its attack on the entry-level segment, and dual-SIM functionality will be big in international markets. Then there's the inclusion of soft key support, which will allow for a wider range of hardware and will also allow manufacturers to more easily reuse their designs for other types of phones in order to create Windows Phone products.
Microsoft didn't officially announce Windows Phone 8.1 or anything like that today, but according to the rumor mill, these changes will be coming with that update. Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to be shown at Microsoft's Build developer conference in early April.