Let me start this column with a look back to a statement I made two years ago when I wrote back in 2010, right before Windows Phone 7 was launched: "It's new, it's fresh and it's just different", a statement which even made it into Microsoft's German Windows Phone 7 launch campaign. And even after two year, I don't have to take it back but contrariwise, it was never as true as today. With yesterday's Windows Phone 8 announcement, Microsoft consequently followed its way and who could have imagine two years ago that such a small product like Windows Phone is going to drive Microsoft's 2012 product direction? Nobody! Congrats Windows Phone, congrats Microsoft. Everything done right! Everything?
First of all, let us come to the good things of Windows Phone 8. There we have plenty of new features many Windows Phone 7 users might have missed. Like Windows Phone 8 will finally supports dual-core and more CPUs, higher screen resolutions (WVGA, WXGA, 720p), microSD memory cards and native NFC. It will feature a "Wallet Hub" which will allows to use Windows Phone 8 devices for mobile payment and more, a "Company Hub" which allows companies create their own Windows Phone 8 Hub for custom employee apps and other critical business information, Skype integration and Microsoft's Bing Maps will be replaced by the far better Nokia Map technology.
Last but not least, Windows Phone 8 will get a new Start Screen which will has more Tiles and allows to set the size of each Tile, making Windows Phone pretty much looking like a Windows 8 Start Screen - or the other way around.
Not to forget that OEMs will have much more flexibility to customize the hardware and bring some superior features to the next version of Windows Pone, think about Nokia's Pureview technology, or HTC's Beats Audio enhancements. I'm sure, OEMs will add good stuff to their phones which lets them better compete with Android and iOS.
So that's a lot of new features and the above are not all which Microsoft unveiled yesterday but just some highlights and upcoming features were even not unveiled but there's more to come. Brilliant, Windows Phone 8 will feature nearly everything I have missed nowadays!
And from the developer perspective? Windows Phone 8 shares the core with Windows RT and Windows 8 which virtually means that developers have to develop an app only once and can easily port them to one of the other two platforms after. That's brilliant since I would expect that Microsoft will attract many developers to develop for the new and upcoming Windows 8 and Windows RT platforms which means these apps can be easily ported to Windows Phone 8. This, combined with Microsoft's SkyDrive, should create an awesome eco-system where apps and devices can play nice and powerful with each other! Love it, it really sounds promising enough for me to save my money for one of the new Windows Phone 8 devices!
So what could the bad things be then? Well, while Windows Phone 7.x apps will work on Windows Phone 8 devices, for Windows 8 developed apps won't run on Windows Phone 7.x - which makes sense. And I would expect that many developers will sooner or later switch to the new Windows 8 APIs exclusively. They are more powerful and why should someone develop for a a dying platform? In the long run it will mean, that Windows Phone 7 devices won't see any new or maintained apps anymore. Why that? Well, because Windows Phone 7.x is a dead horse since yesterday while Windows Phone 8, Windows RT and Windows 8 are the future and as soon as one of the new hardware features is used in an app, it has to be developed for Windows Phone 8; while a second version, without support for a new hardware component, has to be developed for Windows Phone 7.
As an example let us take Foursquare which obviously seems to be a no-brainer. Why should future Foursquare versions be developed for Windows Phone 8 only? Well, Foursquare is pushing NFC check-ins very much, which is for instance already supported on Android. If Foursquare comes to the idea to also support this feature on Windows Phone, they can't do one version which either uses NFC hardware if available or not but they have to develop two versions. One for Windows Phone 8, because NFC is one of the new Windows Phone APIs, not available on Windows Phone 7 and one for Windows Phone 7. Sure, Microsoft said it's not too difficult to do this but why should a developer maintain an app for an obviously small installed user base? But having to maintain two apps costs money and time and at the end of the day the Windows Phone 7 support will die a silent dead, like Windows Phone 6.x died a silent dead, without any further app updates.
And this brings me to the ugly part of yesterday's Windows Phone 8 announcement which is called Windows Phone 7.8! First of all, Windows Phone 7.8 is a great looking refresh. It looks even fresher and Windows Phone 7 should have looked that one right from the start. It has far more options for personalization and I see some real benefits in the new Windows Phone 7.8 look and feel. Thank you Microsoft for not forgetting your current Windows Phone 7 customer base. Also I fully agree with Microsoft to not call it something like "Windows Phone 8 Light" or "Windows Phone 8 RT". It's not Windows Phone 8 at all, it's Windows Phone 7 since it's still running on the original Windows Phone 7 CE kernel. Everything else would be misleading for the customer and that's exactly the reason why Windows RT isn't called "Windows 8 Light" or something, because it's not Windows 8 light, even if it's much closer to Windows 8 than Windows Phone 7.8 is to Windows Phone 8.
But then again, Windows Phone 7.8 is just a skin, it's only mimicking the Windows Phone 8 look and feel which means it's not supporting any of the new features. It's like Microsoft would have added the Windows Phone 7 skin to Windows Phone 6.5 devices. Technically possible but without any benefit for the end-user, except that he would have received a thumb-friendly user interface. However, Microsoft said yesterday that Windows Phone 8 isn't supporting old silicon, etc. Sure it's not, not if you aren't developing the drivers but for sure it's possible to adopt the Windows Phone 8 core for today's hardware. It's a question of time and money and if Microsoft doesn't want to invest into it, because it has accepted that the installed Windows Phone 7 user base is too small, it's a valid point. But I don't believe that it's impossible since Windows Phone 8 will still run on an ARM v7 architecture, like Windows Phone 7 did before.
At the end of the day, we will soon have two Windows Phone worlds. The bright new Windows Phone 8 world, which is fantastic and the soon dying Windows Phone 7.x world. Ironically, the same is happening now to Windows Phone 7 what happened to Windows Phone 6.5 when Windows Phone 7 was launched. And now, less than two years later, the former murder is the victim which is nevertheless the natural course of things. The King is dead, long live the King.
However, even if Microsoft is releasing a Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade, one important thing was left open yesterday. While Microsoft said it will offer the Windows Phone 7.8 upgrades, it wasn't said that OEMs and carriers will or have to distribute it! At the end of the day, this could mean that only a few, Windows Phone 7 devices will receive the Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade while the majority of Windows Phone 7 devices will run with Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh or as I wrote back in March (already): "why Tango might be Windows Phone 7's last dance".
Anyway, in the meantime Nokia will have a bad time! It's latest high-end smartphone, the Lumia 900 only launched last week in Germany as well as in other European countries. But why should anyone purchase a Lumia 900 today? In the automotive industry, you will receive big discounts if the successor model was announced, I haven't seen this kind of discounts for Windows Phones yet and even with such a discount, I wouldn't purchase a dead horse anymore.
The other OEMs are not affected at all because they have, unlike Nokia, a second strong, not to say even stronger, smartphone platform in their portfolios. HTC, Huawei and Samsung can easily wait for Windows Phone 8 but sell in the meantime Android. For Nokia comes a lean time of at least 3 - 4 month they have to survive now and I wish the Finns good luck!
Cheers ~ Arne