Summary:

Microsoft’s hardware requirements for Windows Phone 7 Mango devices will add support for front-facing cameras, and Skype will support them. To help broaden the appeal of Windows Phone 7 smartphones, Microsoft should deeply integrate Skype into the platform and consider adding unique services.

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Future Microsoft phones running the Windows Phone Mango software will have front-facing cameras and be supported by Skype’s video calling service. News of the new hardware and software feature comes from a Microsoft TechEd conference in New Zealand, where the information was tweeted by an attendee. The first phone with Mango to ship is actually available today from Fujitsu, but does not have a camera on the front of the phone, although the rear-camera sensor uses a class-leading 13.2-megapixel sensor.

Skype support shouldn’t surprise many as Microsoft purchased the company earlier this year for $8.5 billion. Although Skype’s software is likely to be integrated into Windows products for the desktop, it could provide a bigger boost to the Windows Phone line as video calling is on the rise: Skype video chat accounted for 40 percent of all Skype minutes by the end of last year, for example. After the Skype purchase, I suggested how it could further benefit Microsoft’s smartphone line in a few unique ways, including this one:

Microsoft could also leverage the Skype deal with its Xbox Live membership. Perhaps the company includes a small amount of monthly SkypeOut minutes to Windows Phone 7 devices as part of the Xbox Live annual membership. In some crude sense, such a promotion turns Microsoft into a pseudo-MVNO and reduces a consumer’s reliance on their carrier (and perhaps their bill) as they can potentially reduce their monthly voice plan.

We’ll have to see if Microsoft travels down that road, or a similar one, with Skype on Windows Phone handsets. My idea may not come to fruition, but I expect Microsoft to do more than just add basic Skype support to phones running Mango or future updates. Simply adding Skype doesn’t differentiate the platform, even though I’ve already found much to like in Mango.

Deep Skype integration into the operating system, phone app and contacts would be a start. But offering something truly unique — like it does with the Xbox Live gaming platform — can help broaden appeal to Windows Phone 7 as it looks to move up the smartphone ranks.

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