Last week Microsoft shared their plans for Windows Phone 8 – at least some of their plans. The majority of the information shared was around developer features. Although, there was a preview of the new Start Screen, and a small thing about upgrades not supporting older hardware. Since that news hit, the internet has been a buzz with people proclaiming that it’s the end of Microsoft in the mobile space. Others are saying that Nokia and the average consumer just got screwed over by Microsoft. I even posted my initial thoughts on this, to be honest I was a little disappointed at first. But let’s take a step back and see what we really know and how bad things really are.
First off, existing devices are not going to stop working all of a sudden. Just because a newer version of Windows Phone has been released, doesn’t mean your existing phone will no longer be able to make a call, or browse the web, or download an app from the marketplace. All of that will keep running for a while still. Unless of course you manage to drop your phone in the water or something like that.
Second, Nokia wasn’t screwed over by Microsoft in any way. It’s very unlikely that they would have jumped on board with a new and emerging platform without sitting down and seeing Microsoft’s 3 or 5 year plan for Windows Phone. In fact, that’s probably why they chose to repurpose existing hardware for their first pass at Windows Phone devices. Get something out quickly so the revenue can start, all the while your core team is working on the next generation hardware.
On stage during the presentation, Joe Belfiore commented that his demo was going to be done on prototype hardware made by Nokia that will not be released to the public. Clearly, Nokia knew of the new hardware specs and have already been designing phones for those specs. There’s no way they were surprised about this – no way.
So what does the future hold for existing owners of Windows Phone devices? The truth is, we don’t really know. What we do know, is that Microsoft will not be bringing all the new features in Windows Phone 8 to older devices. Here is Microsoft’s exact comment on the matter, directly from the Windows Phone 8 announcement post on the teams Blog :
“The new Start screen is so useful and emblematic of what Windows Phone is about that we want everybody to enjoy it. So we’ll be delivering it to existing phones as a software update sometime after Window Phone 8 is released. Let me repeat: If you currently own a Windows Phone 7.5 handset, Microsoft is planning to release an update with the new Windows Phone 8 Start screen. We’re calling it “Windows Phone 7.8.””
That’s pretty straight forward – Start screen and nothing else. Now let’s contrast that with what Nokia has shared on their blog post regarding Windows Phone 8 Unveiling:
“For those who already have Lumia devices with Windows Phone 7.5, you’ll be able to update your phones with some of the new Windows Phone 8 features like the start screen and download new apps from companies like Zynga, whose Words with Friends and Draw Something will be available in Autumn.” (emphasis Nokia’s)
Nokia has interesting wording when you take into account Microsoft’s post. Nokia says “features like” which tends to indicate that they are expecting to see more than just the Start screen coming to the platform. It could be that Nokia is including their own application updates as part of those additional features. Or, maybe Microsoft just isn’t willing to confirm at this time, that there is more to the update than just the Start screen. Either option, and more are possible.
Another interesting quote from the Nokia blog post says:
“With years of experience building NFC experiences on Symbian, the Nokia N9 and most recently the Nokia Lumia 610 NFC with Orange, we’re excited about what we can do with NFC across the whole of Windows Phone.”
Nokia added NFC support on the 610, but NFC support in Windows Phone isn’t coming until Windows Phone 8. The 610 is meant as an entry level phone and designed specifically for lower end specs and pricing. Why would Nokia add NFC on a device that currently doesn’t support it, and according to Microsoft, won’t be getting any update other than the Start screen.
There’s a few discrepancies between Nokia and Microsoft’s comments regarding the upgrade coming to existing devices. My guess, would be that Microsoft will release Windows Phone 7.8 with a new Start screen along with a few of the other consumer focused features – likely NFC. Could some of the other features we don’t know about be included in this update? Seems entirely possible to me. Right now, the only one that knows for sure is Microsoft, and they’re not talking. We do know that your device won’t stop working the day Windows Phone 8 hits the streets. Even if app developers all jumped onto the new Native Code option, it would take a while for development and switching over those 100,000 apps. So the marketplace will still have plenty of apps to pick from. The rest is just wait and see.