Thursday, June 21, 2012

Windows Phone 8 is here! What happens to Windows Phone 7.5

So it is official. Existing Windows Phone devices will not be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8. Instead they will received an update to Windows Phone 7.8. When the Windows Phone 8 devices are released later this year, it will bring the platform at parity with its Android and Apple iOS counterparts with support for multi-core processors and more modern graphics chips which will bring faster performance, support for HD displays and improve multi-tasking. There are many more things being integrated and improved by Windows Phone 8. But there is really no rush discussing that now. There will be plenty of time to look at the new phones when they are released towards the end of the year.

More pressing is, what does this all mean for Windows 7.5 devices. Current Windows Phones will get  select Windows Phone 8 features, but all that has been confirmed so far is the new home screen.

Owners of the Windows Phone 7 devices are satisfied with their experience. The Windows Phone 7 devices officially released in the Philippines in 2010, the HTC HD7 and the HTC Mozart, got a minor update, a major update in Windows Phone 7.5, and will get one last feature update. 

Buyers of the HTC Radar released in 2011 will be a little disappointed. This midrange device gets Windows a minor update to Windows Phone 7.8, while its Android counterpart, the HTC Desire S will be getting one major update in Android 4.0. Still some midrange Android phones will not be getting the Android 4.0 update (I am looking at you, Samsung... cough... Galaxy SL... cough... Galaxy W... cough Galaxy S Advance). So in the mid-range, you can say that getting the next major update for a device is still lottery draw (well if you buy a Samsung or Windows Phone). 

Buyers of the newly released Nokia Lumia 610 and 710, which are entry level, and lower mid-range smartphones will probably accept that getting updates for less expensive phones is something they should not expect (Unless you bought a Sony. Sony has updated almost all of its entire 2011 Xperia line-up).  

Nokia Lumia 800 and 900 buyers. The Lumia 800 became available in April 2012, with the Lumia 900 being available a month later. In six months, both these phones fall under the category of legacy devices, joining Symbian and Meego handsets.

I think this has eroded the credibility of the Windows Phone platform.

A bit too deja vu. Buyers of Windows Phone 6.5 Professional devices, like the legendary HTC HD2 which featured unprecedented hardware for its time, felt abandoned when they found out the Microsoft would not be updating their phones to Windows Phone 7. Having the same situation repeat itself two years later with phones like the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900, and HTC's Titan and Titan II, will feel a bit to deja vu.

Smoke by Windows Phone 8.  Microsoft sponsored a much publicized campaign to highlight that a smartphone need not have cutting edge hardware if it is a Windows Phone. After months of convincing you that  hardware which was cutting edge two years ago, can still cut it today... well Microsoft now tells you your hardware is not cutting edge enough. 

The biggest loser here is Nokia. LG and ZTE opted out of the Windows Phone device arena. Huawei still has to release one. HTC and Samsung will dispose of their current stock at fire sale prices, continue selling Android phones, and prepare for the next generation of Windows Phone 8 devices.

Ask a HTC or Samsung executive about it, and they will shrug their shoulders and say there was nothing they could do about it. Neither company actually spent much time Marketing their Windows Phone 7.5 devices. Samsung did not officially release a Windows Phone device in the Philippines. The last Windows Phone device officially released by HTC in the Philippines was in 2011, with the HTC Radar.

For Nokia, is is a different story.

Nokia's name is tarnished. Nokia launched the Nokia Lumia 900, headlining that the "Smartphone Beta Test is Over". It turns out, with the announcement of Windows Phone 8 the beta test is over. The problem is, the Nokia Lumia 900 and 800 are part of the beta test.

What will Nokia sell until October. Nokia has no Android phones to sell till October or November. It will have to marker and sell Windows 7.5 and Windows 7.8. Ironically, Nokia is used to this. It is now the official repository of almost all the worlds dead Smartphone operating systems: Symbian, Meego and Windows Phone 7.8. It has no choice but to sell a phone based on a operating system quickly fading into obsolescence.

Every Nokia phone sold in the next four or five months, runs the risk of losing goodwill. Every buyer may feel that he or she was misinformed when the buyer learns that the nice shiny device in his or her hands, was obsolete at the time of purchase. How can buyers not notice when in four of five months, Nokia advertises their new and better devices.

In the end, it is all up to the app developers. You now have two versions of the Windows Phone operating system. Windows Phone 7.x based on the Windows CE kernel and Windows Phone 8 based on the NT Kernel. For buyers, Windows Phone 8 is a few months away. For app developers they get the new API's (developer tools) for Windows Phone 8 now.

If developers start coding their apps for Windows Phone 8 they probably wont be compatible with current phones. Windows Phone 7.5 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 devices, so developers can continue to code on the old API's. But that means they wont be able to take advantage of multi-core processing. I do not want to venture a guess on how this will go. 

Worse part is, Nokia still needs Windows Phone 7.8 even after October. Just six days ago, Nokia announced its battle plan. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced "We need to compete with Android aggressively. The low end price point war is an important part of that."

With Windows Phone 8 requiring dual core processors as a minimum requirement, while Android phones can get by on single core processors, it will be hard for Nokia to compete at the entry level unless they continue to build Windows 7.8 devices even after October 2012.

Nokia had confirmed to PCMag, that Windows Phone 7 devices will continue to be sold by Nokia, even after Windows Phone 8 is released.

Microsoft just gave Windows Phone 7.5 owners a stereo. One person I was chatting with on Google+ likened it this way. Apple with iOS 6 is giving the update even to its iPhone 3GS of 2009. Sure you loose a lot of features that are available only on newer iPhones. Microsoft is giving the new start screen to Windows Phone 7.5 owners via Windows 7.8. So Apple gives its old "cars" and new engine, minus the stereo. Microsoft gives its not so old cars a stereo, but does not give you the new engine.

Others will point at Android 2.3.6 devices in the market today and say Microsoft's move is not so different. Android 2.3.6 devices are on the same kernel as Android 4.0 devices. Some apps which require newer features in Android 4.0 wont run. But that situation is milder than Windows Phone's fragmentation where the Windows Phone 7.8 devices will be running on the Windows CE kernel (think Windows 98) while Windows Phone devices will be running on the NT Kernel (think Windows XP/Vista/7).

Microsoft situation is more like RIM and it BlackBerry. When BlackBerry 10 is released it will leave all current BlackBerry phones in its dust. When Windows Phone 8 comes out, it will leave all existing Windows Phones its legacy to a failed two year experiment.

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