San Francisco: Microsoft set out to win over iPhone and Android gadget devotees with Windows 8 smartphones, new devices that emphasize individualism and unify digital lives in the Internet cloud.

The global rollout of Windows 8 phones, set to begin in Europe this weekend, is the final piece in a Microsoft operating system transformation aimed at harmonizing the technology titan's software and hardware for mobile lifestyles.

"It has been for us an exciting and energizing few days," Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said yesterday while unveiling the slick new smartphones at a media event in San Francisco.

"Windows PCs (personal computers) really are the best PCs ever and today we are bringing phones into the Windows family with Windows 8."

Microsoft on Friday launched its latest generation Windows operating system, hit the market with Surface tablet computers and opened scores of temporary "pop-up" stores that have drawn crowds interested in Windows 8 devices.

"The lines we've seen at Microsoft stores have been heartening," Ballmer said.

Windows Phone 8 is the final component in Microsoft's new equation and shares a user interfaced based on "tiles" that can be personalized with people's pictures, applications, games, music and more.

Microsoft's online shop is stocked with more than 120,000 applications tailored for Windows 8 phones and the number is growing, according to Belfiore.

Analysts have long contended that hip, fun, or functional "apps" are crucial to the success of smartphones.

Microsoft partnered with Facebook to optimize a Windows 8 version of the leading social network's application that includes serving up slide shows of personal pictures to handset lock-screens.

A "live apps" feature allows for sports scores, messages, images or other data to be streamed to an ever-changing lock-page on phones, a demonstration showed.

A Twitter application was also tailored with Windows 8, and a specially designed Skype "app" is in the works, according to Belfiore.

Windows 8 smartphones will roll out around the world in November and December.


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