With the release of the Lumia 900 on Easter Sunday, chatter involving Windows Phone began to focus on the forthcoming long awaited Apollo update scheduled for this Fall, and recent reports regarding the update are now putting the viability of current Windows Phone hardware into question, with Microsoft making even more curious statements that may repeat the past mistakes that Microsoft made with Windows Mobile that Windows Phone 7 was supposed to correct in the first place.
First, a report based on a statement from a Windows Phone evangelist made yesterday initially confirmed that all Windows Phone hardware released up to the Lumia 900 would receive Windows Phone 8 this Fall with no exception, with the goal of keeping Microsoft’s Windows Phone lineup consistent in terms of updates, while yet another report filed by The Verge claiming their own internal source states that Microsoft will not update Windows Phone 7 devices to WP8/Apollo at all.
As has been the case with Microsoft in the past, the actual truth lies somewhere between both extremes of either statement and all of the current evidence suggests that while devices will still be updated after Refresh, the scope of the update will depend on the device generation, as recent job listings by Microsoft hint at future compatibility for Windows Phone 7 apps on Windows 8 ARM/RT/insert other codename here.
Another issue is that we still don’t know whether Apollo will indeed be a generational update version of Windows 8 for smartphones, or whether it will be a modified hybrid build of Windows Phone 7 with select Windows 8 extensions to bridge previous devices, taking into account the hardware requirements for current second generation and first-generation hardware compared to the increased hardware requirements for Windows 8 on ARM/RT.
With these two opposing reports surfacing just as the Lumia 900 is proving a better than expected success in the US, in would be in Microsoft’s best interest to break from its current traditions to remain silent on the issue and confirm its future plans for updates on Windows Phone 7 hardware, as these reports are doing little more than adding to the overall negative perception of the platform as poorly supported and unpopular, just as Microsoft and Nokia are making their biggest push to sell Windows Phone to the masses after a year and a half of middling performance and poor public recognition.
If either report is correct, one would kill any demand for the platform overnight, as the Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh Update for the rest of the Windows Phone lineup has been delayed from this month to June, which would then mean that the Refresh update would be the last major update for Windows Phone as a platform and the hardware would be left moribund, only to have Microsoft and its OEM partners once again relaunch with Windows 8 when Windows Phone 7 owners were just getting settled into the platform during the first year of their 2 year agreements on their Lumias.
Conversely, the other more positive report would actually engender confidence in Windows Phone hardware and revitalize enthusiast support for Windows Phone early adopters, as it would easily allow them to convince fence sitters that current phones would be updated without worry and increase developer interest to more sustainable levels with current incentives in place. Those customers that had shown interest in Windows Phone but didn’t immediately buy into the platform because of the widely publicized update issues would also be rewarded with a platform that receives constant support.
Whatever the case may be it’s too early to start reporting on whether Windows Phone 7 hardware will be updated to Windows 8 or not, because Microsoft still have to solve the marketing problem with Windows Phone. If they let these reports dominate the conversation on Windows Phone instead of the runaway success of the Lumia 900, it will show that they still don’t understand why Windows Phone was floundering for so long to begin with: lack of focus, and focus is something that Microsoft desperately needs, not just in mobile but at all levels.