Poor old Microsoft. It announces a strong set of features for the next generation of Windows Phones, which I have covered in some detail here, including the news that it will be built on the full Windows 8 kernel, not the cut-down Windows CE as before. So how do people react? Not so much with acclaim for these features, but rather with shock and disappointment at the dreadful news: existing Windows Phone 7.x handsets cannot be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. This must be the end of Nokia, the argument goes, as sales will now stop dead until the new one is on sale.
Of course it would be better if Microsoft had managed to stay compatible with current hardware, but I think the fuss is overdone. Here is why.
- First, we have seen this coming. It has been known for ages that Windows Phone would move from Windows CE to Windows 8. I first posted about it in March 2011 and it was fully confirmed about in February this year.
- Second, it was never likely that Windows Phone 8 would run on Windows Phone 7 hardware. Perhaps it could be made to run, but of course you would not get multi-core, and it would probably not run well. A change of operating system is hard to accommodate.
- Third, upgradability of smartphones is always an uncertain business. Operators do not like firmware upgrades, since it only causes them hassle. Some users like them, but mostly the vocal minority of tech enthusiasts, rather than the less vocal majority who simply want their phones to keep on working.
- Fourth, Microsoft is in fact upgrading Windows Phone 7.x devices, with the most visible aspect of the upgrade, the new start screen. It is not ideal, but it is substantial; and there will be other new features in Windows Phone 7.8.
I doubt therefore that Windows Phone 7 sales will stop dead because of this.
Microsoft’s bigger problem, of course, is that the thing is not selling that well anyway. At this stage, it makes sense for the company to go all-out with the best possible features in Windows Phone 8, rather than compromising for the sake of the relatively small number of 7.x owners.
Another question: is Nokia damaged by this? My view is simple. Nokia, for better or worse, has tied its fortunes closely to those of Microsoft. In other words, what is good for Microsoft is good for Nokia. Nokia is the number one hardware partner for Windows Phone, and the prototype shown at the Windows Summit yesterday was a Nokia device. If Windows Phone 8 is a winner, Nokia wins too.