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Tomorrow, Apple is going to unveil new iPhones, new sales numbers, and a new mobile operating system. Tonight, however, Microsoft put up its hand and said, “Don’t forget about us!”

And the company has good reason to.

Windows Phone is clearly the up-and-coming mobile platform. It has taken third place in the global smartphone wars away from a certain black fruit. And it is clearly the mobile operating system that is growing the fastest — which arguably is easier to do when you start small. But it’s also the mobile ecosystem that developers have started to pay more and more attention to, as Windows Phone now sports more than 170,000 apps.

That’s resulted in a mobile operating system that grew 77.6 percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2013, according to the IDC.

Microsoft says that among the advantages of Windows Phone is a variety of options at multiple price points (nudge, nudge, Apple) that still all have the same “high-end personal experience” (nudge-nudge, Android). And it points out that the Lumia 520 is the best-selling no-contract phone on Amazon right now, at a very affordable $129, and the new Lumia 1020 is in the top five best-sellers, also on Amazon.

There are some data points — Mexico, Italy, and a few other countries — that suggest Windows Phone could grow to challenge not just for BlackBerry’s former position but also second place in the mobile marketplace. To get there, however, Windows Phone will have to overcome significant perception challenges like those from tech insider Robert Scoble, who told me bluntly a few weeks ago that he “hated Windows Phone” while also dropping iPhone in favor of Android.

That said, Microsoft has a major opportunity, particularly now that the software giant is acquiring most of Nokia’s business.

Nokia still sells tens of millions of feature phones each and every quarter in addition to the 20 million Windows Phone devices the company has sold. If Microsoft can find an affordable way for buyers of those phones — who are mostly in Africa, South America, Asia, and other fairly low-income places — to be able to get a smarter device running Windows Phone, there’s a real opportunity to break through the one-two Android-iPhone logjam and challenge for global smartphone supremacy.

That’s a long shot, at best.

But it’s a shot — something that Windows watchers of several years ago might not have imagined in their wildest dreams.


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