Why Microsoft should reboot its smartphone platform one more time

Why Microsoft should reboot its smartphone platform one more time

Summary: Microsoft is no stranger to rebooting its mobile platform, a move that invariably leaves customers who took a chance on the current platform out in the cold.


Rumors that Microsoft's next incarnation of its smartphone platform might not support the current hardware lineup have sent a ripple of anger, confusion and incredulity through the Windows Phone community.

Is Microsoft getting ready to reboot its smartphone platform again? And if so, why?

Microsoft is no stranger to such a move that invariably leaves customers who took a chance on the current platform out in the cold. Microsoft has done it twice in the past few years.

Two months following the release of the Kin mobile platform, Microsoft abruptly pulled the plug on it, bringing the entire project -- hardware, software and infrastructure -- to an unceremonious end. Later, when Windows Phone 7 platform was announced, Microsoft made it crystal clear that Window Mobile 6.5 devices wouldn't receive this update because of hardware changes between the two platforms.

With the platform finally showing signs of growth, uncertainly and doubt over future upgrades will almost certainly put a damper on sales, and push some potential customers to the iPhone or one of the myriad of Android handsets on offer.

While I do feel for consumers who took a chance on the Windows Phone platform, and can appreciate why they feel frustrated, I believe at least one more reboot is required. And the primary reason for this is Microsoft's upcoming Windows RT operating system for ARM devices.

So far, Microsoft has been uncharacteristically silent about what the future holds for existing Windows Phone users. The only comment from the company regarding the next Windows Phone release -- codenamed 'Apollo' -- is that all existing apps will be supported by the new platform. While this is reassuring for developers who have put the groundwork into building an app ecosystem around the platform, it offers little comfort to consumers who have just bought a new Windows Phone handset and tied themselves to a carrier contract for a year or two.

There are several reasons why I feel that it's a prudent time for Microsoft to carry out another reboot of the mobile platform, even at the risk of alienating those who have put their trust in the Windows Phone 7--7.5 platforms. The first reason is that it doesn't make much sense for Microsoft to support two mobile platforms. Apple manages to cater for both its smartphone and tablet with a single, unified iOS platform, and there's no reason why Microsoft couldn't and shouldn't do the same.

If Microsoft's goal is to get Windows on as broad a range of screens as possible, including PCs, smartphones, tablets, TVs and so on, it makes sense to keep the number of platforms needed to support these screens to a minimum. Keeping the smartphone platform separate to the tablet platform doesn't make long-term sense.

There are other hardware-related reasons why a reboot makes sense. Microsoft has had no end of problems getting Windows Phone 7--7.5 updates onto the existing lineup of hardware. While some of these problems were down to the carriers, most of it was due to hardware incompatibilities. These issues resulted long delays in getting updates to customers, confusion, angry customers, not to mention weeks of PR headaches for Microsoft.

Despite drawing up stringent reference hardware guidelines that handset makers had to follow, there was enough variation among the designs to cause problems. This is a situation that Microsoft can't allow to continue, especially as the Windows Phone market expands in terms of users and devices.

Another hardware-related reason is the need to add new features to the platform, such as NFC support, removable micro SD cards, new screen resolutions and so on. Additionally, there's a need to support more powerful hardware, including multi-core processors. These updates are needed to take the Windows Phone platform to the next level.

The upcoming Windows Phone 'Apollo' release sounds like it is going to be a huge update. In fact, I believe that 'Apollo' is going to end up have far more in common with Windows RT than Microsoft is willing to let on at this stage. While I don't think that 'Apollo' will be Windows RT, it will pave the way for unification of the two platforms into a single product down the line.

While there's no doubt that Microsoft could retrofit the platform to work on current Windows Phone hardware, the user experience is likely to be less than ideal. It's better users are stuck with a platform designed for their hardware than end up using a retrofitted platform that has been significantly cut down to work on older handsets.

Personally, I hope that Microsoft throws Windows Phone 7--7.5 owners a bone of some description, perhaps in the form of an update to bring a few 'Apollo' features to the platform. But overall I think that the mobile platform needs another reboot in light of what 'Apollo' and Windows RT will bring to the table.

I also hope that Microsoft finally gets its mobile platform right, so there won't be a need for another reboot for some time to come.

Image credit: Nokia.


Top accessories for your iPhone and iPad

Image Gallery: Top accessories for your iPhone and iPad Image Gallery: Charge Image Gallery: Charge

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Smartphones, Software, Telcos

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Reboot is great for Microsoft, but bad for Windows Phone users

    What you're basically saying is that users of current Windows Phone 7 / 7.5 devices, like the latest Nokia Lumias, get dudded.

    Windows Phone 7 turned out to be yet another stop-gap OS, a stepping stone on the way to Microsoft's real OS, Windows Phone 8. But there's a problem here.

    If Microsoft keeps releasing dud OSes, like Windows Mobile, Kin, and now Windows Phone 7, it reduces its standing in the community each time. If everyone who buys a Lumia or Windows Phone 7.5 devices gets shafted, they are not going to be Microsoft customers next time around.
    • My bet

      Is that MS does this very similar to the way they moved from the original XBox to the XBox 360.

      They need to upgrade the OS so there will be some apps that won't port (WP7 is CE basically with .NetCF 3.7) and next OS I bet is Win8 RT with .Net 4.0 full framework.

      But there will be some apps that can be ported. All in all it will be a non-issue as new phones will have Win8 RT and old will continue for 10 years under MS' support guidelines, but probably won't get the best and latest apps.
  • Well

    The reason they have not confirmed nor denied that users will be able to upgrade to windows 8, is because they don't know yet (in my opinion).

    If you look out for device statistics and related stuff like that, you will see that they are testing windows 8 on Lumia 800's 900's and HTC Titan II.

    They wont say yes for sure yet, because its not fully tested. At a guess, gen 2 handsets will get upgraded if compatible, if not, maybe an early trade in scheme will be introduced.

    Hopefully the 1st one, as i love the design of my lumia/.
    • Agreed

      I don't believe that the first gen handsets will get, or even be able to handle the upgrade. However the second gen, very well may. There is a significant difference between gen 1 and gen 2 handsets.
  • Cultural Problem

    Microsoft just can't seem to get their corporate head around the fact that smartphones are a competitive business sector, and you just can't treat your customers with contempt like you can when you have a monopoly, because guess what guys? - they go elswhere!!
    This ain't desktops where you can crap on the customers and they'll come back for more because there's no realistic alternative.
    • MS support is best for corporates!

      what do you mean by "treat your customers with contempt"? care to explain? In our organization, whenever we have had to engage Microsoft for troubleshooting something, their support and response has been top class, with brilliant people available to help you almost instantly & 24x7. Far better and professional than responses from companies like Oracle, BMC, RIM, HP, Dell etc - which are our other vendors.
  • MSFT's problem is a PR issue

    Microsoft needs to come clean on what will happen with W8 and WinRT vis a vis WP7+ hardware. If WP7-7.5 hardware will work with RT, fine. If not, what are the options? Nokia is coming out with pretty nice hardware and it would be a shame if this is compromised by poor PR from Redmond.
  • Lets wait to hear from MS itself

    There are a lot of unanswered questions, for example ,questions like will apps written for WP8 work for WP7? ( we know the opposite will work). Will developers have to republish existing apps for WP8 ( like they did for the mango refresh), and so on.

    Probably we have wait until MS clarifies the whole scenario. There are too many variables now. The so-called insider news in not always true.
  • If WOA takes off, most likely WP7 will lead to W8 or W9

    That is a big IF largely dependent upon consumers there, so predicting the longterm direction for MS's light mobile OSs is fuzzy.

    Certainly, having W8 on my Galaxy Note has a certain appeal in regard to its transparency with the rest of our network.
  • Hasn't hurt Apple or Google...

    Both Apple and Google have introduced newer and better versions of their respective smartphone operating systems which made previous generations unsuitable for upgrade.

    Apple aren't too bad, with the 3GS now holding on for a long time, but the iPhone 1 and 2 stopped getting upgrades pretty quickly.

    Likewise, look at the debacle of the Android upgrade system. Relatively new phones, like the Samsung Galaxy S won't get updates at all.

    Just because the next version of the OS will get NFC etc. doesn't mean it can't be used on devices without it. It will be interesting to see whether some or any devices can be upgraded.

    I guess the emerging markets phones won't get updates, but MS would have to be pretty braindead to abandon those who have supported them so far...
  • Reboot does not preclude upgrade

    i made a commentary on this on "another" site. but the gist of it is this ... oem's are ultimately responsible for os upgrades. yes, microsoft (or google) may have changed the os quite a bit to make this work more difficult, but it's doable. it comes down to whether it makes sense financially to do so. and this all depends on what is selling. take a look how samsung is buys porting ics to their "popular" handsets. so, though the os can and will change, whether or not you get an upgrade really depends on the unit you have and how popular it is ... the last thing oem's want is for existing customers to look elsewhere especially if sales show that the unit was good.

    so, will wp8 be a reboot ? well, from all info so far, it seems so. does this prevent upgrading existing handsets to it ? no. so, we need to keep these two things separate. to find out if your unit will be upgraded, check with your oem. if it's very popular like the lumia 900, chances are pretty good that it will be ... the last thing nokia want is "any" loss of popularity at this stage in the game.
  • evolution, not reboot

    I really feel like MS will evolve WP with WP8. That being said, they won't shoot Nokia in the foot and stop supporting all their new phones with updates like WP8. They will probably do like Apple, and provide a WP8 upgrade that doesn't include all the features a phone made for WP8 would have (like the difference between an iPhone 4 and 4S).
  • you are doing it again

    first artical yea for apple and the next two bashing .yes i finnaly said it bashing microsoft. tell your pin head boss's to shut up about pushing apple.we are tired of hearing the all powerfull,mistical and majical apple. It sounds like you guy's never got away from your childhood or are so much like the rest of your generation that got to have it now mentality that you buy the first thing that gets hyped up the press without realy checking it out for real.so go a head and vote me down it will just how much i am right.peace
    • I was going to say something relevant...

      But after reading your comment, I no longer want to live on this planet any more.
  • You are right!

    I think Microsoft needs to change windows phone because it is not geared properly for a lot of apps, which is what the developers are looking to make money just as much as Microsoft and Nokia.
    The OS It is cluttered with giant squares who according to their size is mostly intended for widgets and not ordinary apps. The OS is also missing folders to organize the many individually purchased or free apps.
    Microsoft has done the task of getting windows phone us quickly, and have it more user friendly. They have also managed to develop the tool well.
  • MS needs to get out of Mobile

    Consumers have spoken. They don't want Windows on their phones. They need reliability on their mobile life and that's something Windows has never provided.

    And adding more confusion and uncertainty to your shrinking mobile OS is not the way to go.
    • I see you have never used it.

      Typical ABMer. WP7 is the most stable system out there. Two re-boots in a year. One to upgrade the OS, the second because my battery ran out. Can you say the same for your slow buggy Android? That's why my Galaxy S that won't be upgraded is sitting in a drawer.
    • Windows Phone not reliable?

      Your insipid and baseless comment just proves two things : you're a troll and you never used a Windows Phone.

      Meanwhile, I give you credit for the "confusion" part of your comment.
    • Actually, the average consumer hasn't used it

      I don't know if the Lumia has been a game changer in that regard, but walk into AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. Tell me what it is that they first try to push you to. It will likely be the iPhone or Android devices, depending on which one you go to.

      That isn't to say that WP7 actually is for everyone, there are some people who simply do not like the Live Tiles. I am simply pointing out that it hasn't been given the fair shake that you seem to be implying.
      Michael Alan Goff
  • Never seen one

    I still have yet to see anyone carry a Windows phone. Working on the Hill, iphone, blackberry (still) and android are king. Seeing a windows phone, at least in DC, would be like seeing a unicorn.