Owners of Windows Phone 8 devices can breathe a sigh of relief: Microsoft has committed to offering a software upgrade path for phones designed to run the current version of its mobile operating system. The promise was made by marketing manager Greg Sullivan to a PC Magazine reporter on the sidelines of the recently concluded MWC in Barcelona.
Early Windows Phone adopters who jumped in with Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 were left out in the cold when Microsoft announced that their devices would not be able to handle Windows Phone 8. The news came out months before the launch of WP8, putting a severe damper on sales of the suddenly obsolete previous-generation devices, such as the first wave of Nokia Lumias and a handful of models from LG and Samsung. The reason was that WP8 was going to use a whole new Windows kernel, requiring a new processor architecture. The decision cast long-lasting doubts over Microsoft's ability to provide an upgrade path to buyers of any future devices.
The current Nokia Lumia range
Microsoft, which did not actively participate at MWC this year, is widely rumoured to be quite far along into its next product development cycle, codenamed “Blue”. This will be a product refresh across Windows for the desktop, tablets and phones as well as Microsoft's various online services. Sullivan's statements seem to indicate that it will indeed roll out to all current and future WP8 devices. Perhaps having learnt from their mistake last year, no one at Microsoft has yet clarified what exactly the “Blue” refresh is and what it will bring to the table.
Windows Phone 7.x devices were built to an extremely tight specification, which didn't allow any flexibility in terms of the CPU used, amount of RAM, screen resolution and storage, and did not meet the minimum spec WP8 eventually required. Instead of a full upgrade, users were promised a cosmetic update that merely imitated the look and feel of WP8, which has still not rolled out to all WP 7.x users nearly six months after it was supposed to. Windows Phone 8 devices have relatively more headroom for future software updates, and the software can scale across a wider range of hardware, making it possible to launch devices that will be designed with the next version of Windows Phone in mind but released earlier with WP8.