Tag Archives: windows phone

Why Microsoft is hard to love

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated last week that “We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows. That is our bold goal with Windows.”

It is an understandable goal. Many users have discovered a better experience using a Mac than with Windows, for example, and they are reluctant to go back. I will not go into all the reasons; personally I find little difference in usability between Mac and Windows, but I do not question the evidence. There are numerous factors, including the damage done by OEMs bundling unwanted software with Windows, countless attacks from malware and adware, badly written applications, low quality hardware sold on price, and yes, problems with Windows itself that cause frustration.

There is more though. What about the interaction customers have with the company, which makes a difference to the emotional response to which Nadella refers? Again, Apple has an advantage here, since high margins enable exceptional customer service, but any company is capable of treating its customers with respect and consideration; it is just that not all of them do.

Now I will point Nadella to this huge thread on Microsoft’s own community forums.  The discussion dates from September 10 2014 and the contributors are customers who own Windows Phone devices such as the Lumia 1020. They discovered that after updating their devices to Windows 8.1 they experienced intermittent freezes, where the phone stops responding and has to be cold booted by pressing an emergency button combination (volume down plus power). These, note, are critical customers for Microsoft since they are in the minority that have chosen Windows Phone and potentially form a group that can evangelise this so far moribund platform to others.

The thread starts with a huge effort by one user (“ArkEngel”) to document the problem and possible fixes. Users understand that these problems can be complex and that a fix may take some time. It seems clear that while not all devices are affected, there are a substantial number which worked fine with Windows Phone 8, but are now unreliable with Windows Phone 8.1. A system freeze is particularly problematic in a phone, since you may not realise it has happened, and until you do, no calls are received, no alerts or reminders fire, and so on, so these customers are anxious to find a solution.

Following the initial complaint, more users report similar issues. Nobody from Microsoft comments. When customers go through normal support channels, they often find that the phone is reset to factory defaults, but this does not fix the problem, leading to multiple returns.

Still no official comment. Then there is an intervention … by Microsoft’s Brian Harry on the developer side. He is nothing to do with the phone team, but on 27 October receives this comment on his official blog:

Brian, sorry to hijack you blog again, but you are the only person in MS who seems to care about customers. Can you please advise whoever in MS is responsible for WP8.1 and make them aware of the “freeze” bug that MANY users are reporting (31 pages on the forum below). There has been NO feedback from MS whatsoever in the months that this has been ongoing and it is obviously affecting many users (myself included). If “cloud first, mobile first” is to be a success, you better make the bl00dy OS work properly. Thanks

Harry promises to raise the issue internally. On 12 Nov still nothing, but a reminder is posted on Harry’s blog and he says:

Nag mail sent.  Sorry for no update.

This (I assume) prompts a post from Microsoft’s Kevin Lee – his only forum post ever according to his profile:

I’m sorry we’ve been dark – I work closely with the Lumia engineering team that’s working directly on this. Trying to shed a little light on this…

Beginning in early September we started to receive an increased number of customer feedback regarding Microsoft Lumia 1020 and 925 device freezes. During the last two months we have been reaching out for more and more data and devices to systematically reproduce and narrow down the root cause. It turned out to be a power regulator logic failure where in combination with multiple reasons the device fails to power up the CPU and peripherals after idling into a deep sleep state.

I am pleased to pass on that we have a fix candidate under validation which we expect to push out the soon with the next SW update!

Appreciate your patience.

OK, so Microsoft knows about the problem, has sat back saying nothing while users try this thing and that, but now after two months says it has a “fix candidate”. This is greeted warmly as good news, but guess what? Phones keep freezing, no fix appears, and in addition, there is lack of clarity about how exactly the fix is being “pushed out”.

Two months later, user Shubhan NeO says:

And I broke my Lumia 1020. Not going back to Windows Phone ever ! Switching back to Android ! Here is sneak peek of my phone !

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It is not quite clear whether he broke the phone deliberately in a fit of frustration, but perhaps he did as he comments further:

Works ? Seriously ? It hangs 2-3 a day, has stupid support for official apps. So many issue.

I’m done.

Here is another:

I paid the extra £ for a better phone; with a better ’41-megapixel camera’… now to find out that people with cheaper models have not had any freeze problems. Despite peoples comments about this being an aged device, and probably the reason for lack of support, I must add that I only purchased my 1020 ‘NEW’ in July 2014 (which is only 6 months ago). For 3 of those months it has been very unreliable … I am extremely disappointed in how I and everyone else here has been treated by Microsoft.

Read the thread for more stories of frustration and decisions never to buy another Windows Phone.

What are the real problems here? The hardest thing to accept is not the fact of the fault occurring, or even the time taken to fix it, but the apparent lack of concern by the company for the plight of its customers. If Mr Lee, or others from the team, had posted regularly about what the problem is, how they are addressing it, possible workarounds and likely time scales, it would easier for users to understand.

As it is, it seems that this part of the company does not care; a particular shame, as Nokia had a good reputation for customer service.

I post this then as feedback to Nadella and suggest that a cultural shift in some areas of Microsoft is necessary in order to make possible the kind of emotional transition he seeks.

A tale of two Lumias: snaps on a Lumia 630 versus a Lumia 1020

I spent a morning in Oxford taking some snaps and thought it would be fun to compare what a budget Windows Smartphone – the new Nokia Lumia 630 – can do versus the king of photography smartphones, the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Note this is not intended as a fair comparison; the 1020 costs around four times as much as the 630. It does show what you are giving up if you use a budget smartphone for all your snaps. In each case, you can click the image to see the full resolution.

Here is the Bodleian Library on the 630:

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and on the 1020, using the 5MP version (the 1020 also stores a high res version of each image):

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Next, Pembroke College on the 630:

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and on the 1020:

 

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Some flowers at the corner of Pembroke’s Chapel Quad, on the 630:

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and on the 1020:

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The difference is more telling if you zoom in. Here is a detail taken from a picture of Broad Street on the 630:

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and on the 1020:

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What about the high-res versions of the Lumia 1020 snaps? Here is a picture of Oxford’s “Bridge of Sighs”:

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Let’s zoom in to look at the sculpture on the bridge. This is from the 5MP version, which I’ve enlarged slightly:

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Here is the same section taken from the high-res 34MP image:

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I consider the improvement well worthwhile; it does pay to hang on to those high-res images for the pictures you most value.

I snapped this on the 630 too; here is the same zoomed-in and enlarged section:

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Ouch!

Conclusion? The camera on the Lumia 630 is not too bad – for a cheap smartphone. The Lumia 1020 is something special and I am grateful to Nokia for delivering a smartphone with a camera good enough that I can leave a standalone camera out of my bag – noting that I am not a photographer, just a traveller who takes pictures. I have not used a tripod on any of the above; from my perspective, coping with camera shake is one of the characteristics I need in whatever camera I use.

Review: Nokia Lumia 630 – a lot of smartphone for the money

Microsoft/Nokia has released the Lumia 630 Windows Phone in the UK. It is notable for two reasons:

  • The first phone on sale with Windows Phone 8.1 installed
  • A budget contender with a full range of features at around £100. For example, o2.co.uk offer it for £99.99 with a “Pay & Go” tariff from £10.00 monthly. Amazon.co.uk is currently offering it sim-free for £128.29.

The quick summary:

  • 4.5″ 854×480 LCD screen
  • 5MP rear camera
  • 512MB RAM
  • 8GB storage
  • MicroSD slot supporting up to 128GB
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.2 GHz processor
  • Bluetooth 4.0, wi-fi, WCDMA,GSM,A-GPS etc
  • 1830 mAh removable battery

What is missing? Among the compromises here, there is no front-facing camera, the only sensor is an accelerometer, the screen resolution is poor compared to a high-end smartphone, and there is no dedicated camera button.

The older Lumia 625 has some features missing on the 630, including a camera button, LED Flash, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor, Nokia’s “super sensitive touch” screen, and LTE. The 625 is a similar price, so if those features matter to you it might be a better buy, though you have to put up with the older and slower S4 processor.

The Lumia 630 does support Nokia’s SensorCore feature, which lets apps like Health & Fitness (pre-installed) track movement through an API without consuming much power.

The lack of a camera button or Flash is disappointing, considering Nokia’s reputation as a brand good for photography.

Out of the box

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The Lumia 630 is a basic package. No headset is included, presumably on the grounds that you likely have one already, though buying one separately is inexpensive. There is a mains charger; you probably have one of these already too, but it might not be optimal for this particular device, which may be why Nokia chose to prioritise this over the headset.

In order to fit the SIM, you pop the phone out of its shell; it feels if anything a bit too easy, though the phone shows no sign of falling apart accidentally so far.

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The software of course is Windows Phone 8.1, with several nice improvements including a notification screen accessed by swiping down from the top. This works even from the lock screen, and gives immediate access to the camera, which may explain why the button is missing. I still miss the button though.

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Cortana, the virtual personal assistant currently in beta, is not yet present in the UK. You can enable Cortana with a bit of effort by changing your language and region, but it is not recommended other than for temporary experimentation.

I hit one problem in setup. The automatic date and time setting does not work, at least not with my carrier (Three). This in turn broke some other features including SkyDrive and Exchange/Office 365 email, until I set it manually. The manual setting is not brilliant though, since when I turned the set off and on again, it came up with a setting from several days ago. This looks like a software bug so I hope it will be fixed soon.

Here is the home screen pretty much out of the box, though I have connected it to Exchange:

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This is NOT how I prefer to set up my home screen on a Windows phone. Normally I reduce all the tiles to the smallest size other than the phone icon, which I have large so I can hit it as easily as possible. This fits more icons on the screen and gets rid of the annoying People live tile animations. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference.

The apps prominent above the fold include PhotoBeamer, which lets you show pictures on a friend’s Windows Phone (a cool app), LINE which is a messaging app, and the excellent HERE maps and Nokia Camera.

Scroll down and you get Facebook, Skype, HERE Drive, Nokia Mix Radio, OneDrive, calendar and several more.

A word about apps

I do not intend this to be another reviews of a Windows Phone which say, “great phone but the apps are lacking.” It is true to the extent that Windows Phone lacks the great support with iOS and Android get in terms of apps. Windows Phone owners have to put up with seeing “available for iOS and Android” for apps which they might  otherwise like to install, and with apps that are less well maintained or up to date than those for the two more popular platforms.

Clearly, the way to fix this is for lots more people to buy Windows Phones. Therefore, not to buy a Windows Phone because of the app shortage merely perpetuates the problem.

But how bad is it? The answer will be different depending which apps matter to you; but there are a couple of reasons why it is not, in my opinion, all that bad.

One is that Microsoft has its own platform, putting it in a stronger position than say, Blackberry or even Apple (if iOS were not already popular). The Microsoft platform includes maps and driving (Nokia), search (Bing), messaging (Skype), email and cloud documents (Office 365) and online storage (OneDrive).

Second, the Windows app store is not as moribund as the Windows 8 app store. There are decent apps in most categories and support from third parties like Spotify, WhatsApp, Instagram or the BBC is improving.

If you love Google, this is unlikely to be the phone for you, since it seems almost to go out of its way not to support Windows Phone.

On the other hand, there are Windows Phone apps which I miss on other platforms, including Nokia Camera, HERE Drive, and the built-in email and calendar apps.

It is a factor, but not a showstopper.

Lumia 630 in use

My experience of using the 630 is mainly positive. Performance is great; the phone is fast and responsive. Battery life is good too:

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Note that the Battery Saver is off by default, but I prefer having it come on automatically as needed.

Battery life is nothing special if you use the phone intensively, such as to watch a video or play a game, but when it on standby it is better than previous Windows phones I have tried.

The camera is better than I had expected, given the annoyances mentioned above. For casual snaps it is up to the mark you would expect from a budget smartphone.

This is not PureView though; do not expect the same quality as on Nokia’s high-end phones. See here for some comparative snaps.

Audio on the Lumia 630 sounds fine when played with a high quality headset. I played the same track on the 630, the Lumia 1020, and from a PC via a dedicated headphone amplifer. Possibly the 630 sounds slightly thin compared to the more expensive setups, but the earbuds or headphones you use will likely make the most difference.

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Health and Fitness tracking, using the Bing app, is fun and saves having to manage a separate device like a Fitbit.

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I have yet to catch out the 630 on performance. Youtube videos and BBC iPlayer played smoothly.

The display is on the dull side but no enough to spoil the experience. However I did notice grey marks (presumably shadows of the glue that holds the screen on) at the top of the screen, visible on light backgrounds, which is a slight annoyance.

Conclusion

The Lumia 630 is a budget smartphone with a lot to offer. There are just a few annoyances: features missing that were present on the 625, slightly dull screen, and some signs of cost-cutting. These are small blemishes though when you consider what you do get for a modest outlay.

&nbr;

Results for Nokia’s last quarter with Windows Phone: slightly worse than flat? Over to you Microsoft

Nokia has released its fourth quarter results for 2013. They make odd reading because of the division into “Continuing operations” and “Discontinued operations”, the latter including the mobile phone business which has been acquired by Microsoft. This tends to cloud the key point of interest for some of us, which is how Windows Phone is faring in the market.

The answer seems to be that sales slightly declined, though it is not clear. Here is what we know.

Mobile phone revenue overall declined by 29% year on year and by 5% quarter on quarter, for the quarter ending December 2013.

Nokia states in its report:

The year-on-year decline in discontinued operations net sales in the fourth quarter 2013 was primarily due to lower Mobile Phones net sales and, to a lesser extent, lower Smart Devices net sales. Our Mobile Phones net sales were affected by competitive industry dynamics, including intense smartphone competition at increasingly lower price points and intense competition at the low end of our product portfolio. Our Smart Devices net sales were affected by competitive industry dynamics including the strong momentum of competing smartphone platforms, as well as our portfolio transition from Symbian products to Lumia products.

Disappointing; though in mitigation Lumia (ie Windows Phone) sales volume in 2013 overall is said to be double that in 2012.

We do know that much of Lumia’s success is thanks to the introduction of low-end devices such as the Lumia 520. That has been good for building market share, but not so good for app sales or mind share – on the assumption that that purchasers of high-end devices are more likely to spend on apps, and that aspirational devices have a greater influence on mind share than cheap ones.

That does mean though that units might have gone up even though revenue has fallen.

Still, the results do put a dampener on the theory that Windows Phone is taking off at last.

This is a moment of transition following the Microsoft acquisition. Microsoft has not got a good track record with acquisitions, and the Danger/Kin disaster is hard to forget, but Nokia comes with an influential executive (Stephen Elop) and common sense would suggest that the team which created excellent devices like the Lumia 1020, and which was able to engineer strong budget offerings like the 520, should be kept together as far as possible. Or will it be dragged into the mire of Microsoft’s notorious internal politics? Over to you Microsoft.

Update: it is now reported that Lumia sold 8.2m devices in Q4, down from 8.8m in Q3 but up from 4.4m in the same quarter 2012.

Nokia 925: smart camera and metal band design continues Windows Phone 8 and Lumia effort

Nokia has announced the Lumia 925, a high-end Windows Phone which will go on sale in Europe in June from Vodafone and others. The price is around €469 + VAT, presumably without a contract. Vodafone customers will be offered an “exclusive 32GB version” according to the press release.

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So what’s special about the 925? It sports a 4.5″ AMOLED 1280 x 768 display, which is decent, along with 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. Battery life is a claimed 440 hrs standby and 12.8 hrs talk time. No SD card slot, presumably for the same reason as for the 920: it would have “defiled it” according to Nokia VP Kevin Shields.

A big attraction is the camera, or rather cameras, including the main 8.7 MP PureView which also offers 1080p 30fps HD video, and the front-facing 1.2MP wide angle camera. The magic is said to be both in the lens and the software, especially the Smart Camera update (coming shortly after the launch) which enables the camera to take ten images in one shot, giving the user options for which one to keep (sounds similar to Microsoft’s Blink app which is already available for Windows Phone).

There is also Nokia’s HERE mapping suite which the company says offers “the world’s only fully integrated and true offline maps experience.”

Another Lumia innovation is the metal frame which is for “antenna functionality, appeal and robustness”. Presumably Nokia has ensured that it does not kill the signal when touched in the wrong place, as happened with the metal band for Apple’s iPhone 4.

Seemingly every mention of a Nokia phone has to ask the big questions. Can Windows Phone succeed against iPhone and Android? Can Nokia survive?

Whatever is the answer to those questions, this phone is unlikely to change it.

I will say that after a shaky start with the 800 (nice phone, terrible battery life and unfortunate bugs) the Lumia range has evolved into something excellent, that spans from good budget smartphones like the 620 to devices like the 820 and 920 which are a pleasure to use.

A good quarter for Nokia, but Lumia still has far to go

Some good news from Nokia at last. The company reports sales ahead of expectations along with “underlying profitability” in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Success for Windows Phone? It is a positive sign, but short of a breakthrough. Here are the details. I am showing three quarters for comparison: fourth quarter 2011, third quarter 2012, and fourth quarter 2012.

  Q4 2011 Q3 2012 Q4 2012
Mobile phone units, millions 113.5 77 79.6
Smartphone units, millions (Lumia in brackets) 19.6 (?) 6.3 (2.9) 6.6 (4.4)

Looking in more detail at the Smartphone units, the Q4 2011 smartphones were mostly Symbian. Lumia (Windows Phone) was launched in October 2011 but with only two models and limited territories (it also sold short of expectations, and rumour has it, with a high rate of returns).

Lumia units increased by 51% over Q3, but considering that Q3 was a bad quarter as customers waited for Windows Phone 8 that is a decent but not stunning improvement. Lumia units exceeded Symbian units, but remain far short of what Nokia used to achieve with Symbian.

There is also a warning about Q1 2013:

Seasonality and competitive environment are expected to have a negative impact on the first quarter 2013 underlying profitability for Devices & Services, compared to the fourth quarter 2012.

That said, here is what Nokia said in the Q3 release:

Nokia expects the fourth quarter 2012 to be a challenging quarter in Smart Devices, with a lower-than-normal benefit from seasonality in volumes, primarily due to product transitions and our ramp up plan for our new devices.

It looks as if the company prefers to be cautious in its financial statements.

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Nokia forms 71% of Windows Phone market according to AdDuplex research

These figures from AdDuplex, which runs an ad network for Windows Phone, surprised me. The company studies its stats for a random day in November, the 30th, and reports that 71% of the Windows Phone devices contacting its servers were from Nokia. The Lumia 710 leads with 24%, followed by Lumia 800 at 18%, and the Lumia 900 at 7%.

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The obvious conclusion is that Nokia dominates the Windows Phone market. Bad news for HTC, which seems to be making a real effort with its 8X release (the 20th most popular device according to the stats).

Dominating the market may sound good for Nokia, but unfortunately the entire market is relatively small. The risk for the platform is that it becomes in effect a Nokia-only OS with all the other OEMs focused on Android.

Windows Phone 8 launches: is it enough?

Microsoft has launched Windows Phone 8 at a press event in San Francisco, streamed around the world. Joe Belfiore presented the new features in his usual enthusiastic style (complete with kids on stage to show Kids Corner), and the phone was endorsed by CEO Steve Ballmer and celebrity Jessica Alba.

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Key new features:

  • Built on Windows 8 kernel rather than Windows CE
  • Data Sense is for optimizing (ie reducing) mobile data usage and offers visibility about which apps are using data and how much, as well as a data compression feature that enables up to 45% more web browsing for the same amount of data transfer. The compression feature requires operator support and some details are not yet clear.
  • People hub has “Rooms” which let you group contacts, a feature that seems close to what Google+ offers with circles, though Microsoft also has a limited sharing feature that lets trusted contacts see a Room schedule on an iPhone.
  • New Skype app which runs in the background in an efficient manner – you wonder how popular this will be with operators
  • Kids Corner lets you create a kind of secondary login for children, with apps, games and music that you select. Your normal Start screen is protected by a password, so no embarrassing calls or tweets.

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  • Apps can now display content on the lock screen and integrate into hubs and with Windows Phone Wallet.
  • More apps are coming, and Belfiore told us that 46 of the 50 most popular apps across all platforms are available for Windows Phone 8. Pandora, Urbanspoon and Temple Run got a mention.
  • There is an iTunes import feature which will copy unprotected music from iTunes to SkyDrive for use on the phone and with Xbox Music.
  • 7GB SkyDrive cloud storage comes for free.
  • OneNote has a new voice transcription feature.
  • Now support for 50 languages, with apps in 191 countries

This was not an event for developers, though we did learn that the SDK will be made available to everyone from tomorrow 30th October.

Phones themselves will be available from this weekend in Europe and from November 14th in the USA.

I got a quick look at the HTX 8x, and was struck by how slim it is, with a 720X1280 4.3″ screen.

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It is curved at the back and has a quality feel, though I am not sure HTC quite matches Nokia for hardware design.

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I like Windows Phone and there are some tempting new features here. Will this improve Microsoft’s market share and Nokia’s fortunes? This may sound like ducking this issue, but I do not think the fortunes of Windows Phone depend on its features or even the quality of the phones. It is all about operator and retail partnerships, and what customers get told when they walk in to buy a phone and a contract. Windows Phone launched to near-invisibility on the high street. Matters have improved a little since then, especially after Nokia came out with the Lumia (Ballmer said that Nokia sells more Windows Phones than any other vendor), but Microsoft’s phone was still an also-ran after iOS and Android. How does Microsoft get into those in-store conversations, yet alone win them?

I also think Windows 8 is a factor here. If devices like Surface RT are popular, then Live Tiles and other elements of Windows Phone 8 will become familiar. On the other hand if Windows 8 users rush to install substitute Start menus and ignore the new app platform, not much will have been achieved.

Common sense on non-upgradeable Windows 7 Phones

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.

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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.