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Microsoft updates its phone-tablet software

– Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone software for smartphone-tablet hybrids as well as more powerful chips as the company plays catch-up to Google and Apple in mobile devices.

A bigger start menu with higher-resolution displays will enable the software to run on phones with 5- and 6-inch screens for the first time, Microsoft said. The update to Windows Phone 8 will roll out to developers todayand customers in coming months.

After losing out in smartphones and tablets to Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s iOS software, Microsoft is trying to appeal to consumers in the middle. Global shipments of “phablets” will more than double to 60.4 million this year, research firm IHS predicted in January. That’s a fraction of the more than 1 billion smartphones researcher IDC expects to be shipped.

Nokia Oyj, which is selling its handset unit to Microsoft for $7.2 billion, released a promotion for its Oct. 22 Nokia World event, featuring an image of a phablet. Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., is acquiring the business in a bid to jump-start its phone efforts while also trying to lure other manufacturers to its mobile operating system.

Windows Phone’s 3.7 percent share of the smartphone operating system market in the second quarter compares with 79 percent for Android and 13 percent for iOS, according to IDC.

Windows Phone is faring better in Europe and Latin America than in the U.S., division director Greg Sullivan said.