Last night, Microsoft announced plans for the next version of its Windows Phone operating system – Windows Phone 8. In many ways it was a great announcement. Windows smartphones will have a “common core” with desktop Windows. The Windows ecosystem is converging, maybe a little late, but I said Windows 8 could be a turning point for Microsoft and Windows Phone seems to be a part of that.
Tom Warren had a great post up almost immediately at the Verge on what what was announced for Windows Phone 8. But Tom also highlighted, as did Simon Bisson at ZDNet, that there was a sting in the tail. A very big sting. And its target is the very people who adopted Windows Phone 7 – arguably the community that Microsoft needs in order to make Windows Phone 8 a success.
Current generation Windows Phone (Mango) devices will not be upgradable to Windows Phone 8 (Apollo).
There will be an update for Windows Phone 7, taking it to 7.8 (extending Microsoft’s marketing abuse of version numbers) but it’s little more than a few cosmetic changes. Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 but not vice versa (exceptions being those that are not compiled to take advantage of new Windows Phone 8 functionality, or Siverlight apps for Windows Phone, themselves sidelined for XAML/C#). Given that we’re starting out from a fairly limited pool of apps, that pool is likely to get smaller as apps are updated; and it pretty much kills the current Windows Phone market stone dead.
I switched to Windows Phone because I thought it was fresh, different, and because Microsoft positioned it as the future of their smartphone story. The big reset happened when Windows Mobile was killed off two years ago in favour of Windows Phone. I thought (still do think) that iOS has become stale, its UI is tired and has become clunky in places (in fairness, so is Windows Phone at times) but at least the aging iPhone 3GS that my employer provides runs the latest version of iOS. Meanwhile, Android is fragmented and has its own problems around security and an incoherent tablet story (don’t write it off just yet though). I didn’t buy an HTC HD2 because I knew that Windows Mobile 6.5 devices wouldn’t be upgradable to Windows Phone 7 (that much was already known long before Windows 7 appeared). Instead, I waited for Nokia to release some (semi-) decent hardware for Windows Phone and, just 7 months later, they made it obsolete – and I simply don’t buy that they were unaware of Microsoft’s roadmap for Windows Phone. I know that technology adoption is a risky business but I expect my device to at least last as long as a standard mobile phone contract (2 years) and my Lumia 800 has a limited future ahead of it.
Some say that users will always complain: either that there’s no legacy support; or that legacy support is bloating the OS – but a published roadmap that allows consumers to make informed choices (together with N-1 version support) should really be the minimum acceptable standard.
Microsoft owned the roadmap. Microsoft controlled the reference architecture. Microsoft prevented OEMs from increasing the hardware capabilities of Windows Phone devices (screen resolution, adding multiple cores, etc.) and now Microsoft is preventing even recent hardware from running its latest phone OS. In short, Microsoft is screwing its early adopters.
I really do hope that all those consumers that Microsoft and Nokia have been (knowingly) marketing dead-end Lumia devices too of late have an opportunity to force support for Windows Phone 7-class hardware to continue until Windows 9 comes along (giving users 2-3 years of current device support). Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen (unless there are some very smart lawyers involved).
One thing’s for sure. This Windows Phone user will be thinking very, very carefully before committing to any future mobile device purchases running Windows. Once bitten, twice shy.