Why isn’t Windows Phone 8 an update for Nokia Lumia’s ?

Yesterday’s announcement of Windows Phone 8 not being an upgrade for the latest Nokia phones, including Lumia 800, 900 et al, has been met understandably with both disappointment and anger from many existing handset owners. I’ve also seen some articles/comments that suggest it is needed for the greater good; articles which clearly missed what WP8 potentially brings, and clearly missed the point that existing handset owners clearly like what WP8 has to offer: hence their angst.

First of, the question of hardware. Existing Nokia Lumia’s use Snapdragon ARM (v7) processors also known as system on a chip (SOC). The new version of Windows Phone will also run Snapdragon ARM chips, also currently ARM V7.  Where’s the massive hardware incompatibility? There’s been silly comments about the NFC chips, but no, the real hardware issue is most likely the graphics drivers. For a closer look, read the Windows 8 team blog on building for ARM.  You’ll see that the Windows 8 team actually did a lot of their early development on existing phones !!  It doesn’t look like it is a hardware issue, rather it’s a question of the investment into updating drivers for existing graphics chips Surprised smile

Secondly, there’s the misnomer that having the new start screen will make Windows Phones 7.5 just like Windows Phone 8. Wrong. WP8 brings with it some very important changes, two of which are native code, and drivers. Drivers will open up a world of possibilities with both existing hardware such as printers and scanners, external drives, external video etc. WP8 will start the era of new connectivity for devices.

Native code will change the games and apps we see for Windows Phone.  Many of the apps Windows Phone users have been waiting to be ported over from the iPhone or Android will be written in native C++ and hence never be seen on the existing devices. New immersive games with stunning graphics also won’t be available for existing devices as long as they are stuck on Windows Phone 7.X

Even the fate of web browsing on the phone is looking bad. With the existing share of Windows Phones being such a small market segment, if the phone doesn’t get the newest IE and HTML 5 support there’s an increasing chance over time that web sites won’t even consider the existing devices and their rendering capabilities a viable target.

Thirdly, the lack of an upgrade for existing phones is going to do severe damage to the Windows Phone market whilst the market waits for WP8 capable devices. This sounds like it is still months and months away. After the recent hype and marketing push for the Nokia Lumia’s this is a massive back step.  Will Microsoft and Nokia be buying back existing devices retailers feel they are stuck with or giving massive rebates (remember the Microsoft Kin anyone?). The real cost to the market is going to be huge.

This black hole of no devices available that will be upgradable to windows 8 is going to strike at the confidence the market place has with Microsoft. It was only three years ago Microsoft abandoned Windows Mobile 6.5 for Windows Phone 7. Now they are abandoning it again. The upgrade policy announced yesterday is for only 18 months (although expect that to be challenged legally in Australia at least where telco’s are required to guarantee products for the minimal term of the contract which is usually 24 months). This adds to the recent history of abandoning Zune devices and phones such as the Microsoft Kin.

Windows On ARM (WOA) which is the shared core for Windows RT (Windows 8 on ARM tablets) and Windows Phone 8 will most likely at last bring a stability to the core for devices. But this is the same OS core that we have to regularly update, virtually every month. A support guarantee for 18 months only isn’t going to really cut it.

Lastly, but certainly not least-ly,  many of the people who have bought Windows Phones have done so knowing the devices won’t upgrade in terms of hardware, but they expected the software to be updated and new applications to be available to them.  Microsoft’s rush to get windows Phone 7 out left it without many features, features people expected to be updated/upgraded over time. The lack of some big name apps was something people thought would be fixed with time as more people bought the Windows Phone. People bought into Windows Phone on a promise of things to come, and did so knowing that the more that bought the phones the more likely we would be to see new apps on the phone.

They bought into trust and faith that things were going to get better. And it might, but not for those who backed Windows Phone 7.