Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Microsoft just made all Windows Phone 7.X smartphones obsolete

Earlier today, Microsoft gave a technical preview of Windows Phone 8, the new version of its phone operating system. There were two big pieces of news, one good for developers and future Windows Phone buyers, the other very bad for current Windows Phone owners.

The good news is that Windows Phone 8 will be based on the same kernel, and many of the same drivers, as Windows 8. That means that it will be much easier for developers to move apps from Windows Phone 8 to Windows 8 and vice versa. I suspect that it won't be quite as smooth as Apple's iOS environment, where the iPhone and iPad run the same operating system, but it'll be much better than Windows' current situation, where there's virtually no commonality between Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7.X.

The bad (really bad) news is that owners of Windows Phone 7.X devices will not be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. All those folks that bought Nokia Lumia 900s, 800s, 600s and any other Windows Phone 7.X device are out of luck--no Windows Phone 8 for you. Microsoft will offer them a consolation prize, Windows Phone 7.8, with some of Windows Phone 8's user interface improvements, but with no way to run Windows Phone 8 apps.

Apple's had this "make your new operating system compatible with your old devices" thing down for a few years now, and I marvel at why neither Google nor now Microsoft can do it. Microsoft will undoubtedly argue that smartphones need new hardware to take advantage of Windows Phone 8, but that doesn't explain why the company didn't anticipate the problem when drawing up the specifications for Windows Phone 7.X devices. Did the Windows and Windows Phone teams not start talking to each other until a few weeks ago?

When Nokia launched the Lumia 900, it ran commercials in the U.S. with a spokesperson telling people that the "beta test is over"--they could buy the first "production" smartphone, the Lumia 900. Unfortunately, Nokia and Microsoft customers who bought that line now know that they were merely participating in yet another beta test.
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