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Microsoft isn't screwing over early Windows Phone adopters

Column Windows Phone 8 is all that can save the mobile OS
Fri Jun 22 2012, 13:44

carly-pageTHIS WEEK witnessed Microsoft's announcement of its next generation mobile software, Windows Phone 8 (WP8), which will boast near field communications (NFC), support for multi-core processors and a more customisable user interface (UI).

However, the company's San Francisco event also saw the firm sheepishly admit that existing Windows Phone owners won't be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8 and will have to be content with version 7.8 instead.

Sure, it sounds like Microsoft has turned its back on its loyal customers, which if recent Windows Phone statistics are anything to go by, are limited in numbers. Early adopters of the operating system certainly seem to think that they're being stabbed in the back, taking to social networks to vent their anger.

Following the announcement one agitated user tweeted, "So, let me get this straight... My Lumia, less than 6 months old, has just been made obsolete? No upgrade path to WP8? Screw you."

In my opinion though, owners of current Windows Phone 7.5 Mango or Tango powered devices shouldn't be too bothered by the company's decision, as the move sees Microsoft taking the giant leap it needs to in order to save its flailing smartphone operating system. That, and present Windows Phone owners are not missing out on that much anyway.

The main news to come out of Microsoft's lengthy Windows Phone 8 developer preview on Thursday was that the operating system will finally support decent hardware specifications. Multi-core processors, HD and WXGA resolution screens and MicroSD support are all on the cards for next-generation Windows Phone devices, along with support for NFC SIM cards that will enable WP8 handsets to make mobile payments.

Of course, these features, which are the ones that got the media in attendance applauding, wouldn't be coming to your present Windows Phone even if it was updated to Windows Phone 8 - the first reason not to get upset about the lack of an upgrade.

While that might be stating the obvious, from the comments I've seen on the web, consumers' biggest issue is the fact that Windows Phone 8 is being built on the NT Kernel, the same used for Windows 8 devices such as the recently announced Microsoft Surface tablets. This means, if carried out smoothly, that developers will create apps specifically for Windows Phone 8, which might not be backwards compatible with Windows Phone 7.X devices.

However, customers should see a glimmer of hope, as Microsoft said that all Windows Phone 7 apps will work perfectly on Windows Phone 8. This means that if Microsoft cares as much about its smartphone customers as it makes out in enthusiastic keynotes, early Windows Phone adopters are unlikely to be left out of the new app catalogue.

Another reason existing Windows Phone customers shouldn't be angry at Microsoft is its announcement of Windows Phone 7.8, an operating system update that looks likely to provide the best equivalency to Windows Phone 8 possible despite current devices' limited specs. For example, the update will bring the new customisable interface to Windows Phone 7 devices, which as pointed out by Microsoft, means that your Windows Phone 7.8 handset will look and feel the same as an Apollo-powered device.

In a way, Microsoft isn't doing anything differently than its competitors - it's just being a lot more upfront about it. While Apple said that it will bring IOS 6 to its previous smartphones, it's since been discovered that not all of the functionality of IOS 6 will be coming to the Iphone 4 - including Apple's much-trumpeted turn-by-turn navigation.

If Microsoft said, "Windows Phone 8 will be coming to older phones but without all of the features", which is exactly what Apple did with the launch of IOS 6, would people really be moaning? No, they wouldn't.

Since the announcement on Thursday I've also seen a number of comments that the lack of a Windows Phone 8 update will harm Nokia's financials in the coming quarter as it struggles to shift current Lumia devices. My response? Rubbish. The industry needs to remember that not everyone cares about software updates. I know a number of people who decide to buy a device simply based on aesthetics and whether it gets the job done, which I can confidently say that the Mango-powered Lumia smartphones do.

Most importantly, Microsoft is doing what's right for its future - it's moving forward. Admittedly, I haven't been known for being the biggest Microsoft fan, but with Windows Phone 8 I admire the company for doing what it needs to do to survive in the market. The software giant is also doing all it can to bring as many of these features to early adopters too, which is something that's quite commendable.

Sure, the situation is not entirely ideal for early adopters of Windows Phone devices, but it's the only thing that can save the operating system going forward. µ


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