Difference of v0.2: How Microsoft shot its mobile foot off

Difference of v0.2: How Microsoft shot its mobile foot off

Summary: Mobile OS version numbers illustrate the difference between Apple's understanding of consumer desires versus Microsoft's techie mentality in announcing Windows Phone 7.8.


On Jun. 20, Microsoft announced details about Windows Phone 8 and simultaneously told all three of us (okay, Mary Jo Foley reports 3.5 million) who held Windows Phone 7 devices that our phones just became obsolete.

Mobile phones are special; they're personal and our reliance on them make the phone a cherished object. It is digital assistant, playmate, and friend connector all-in-one. We want to feel good about our phones, we want to think they're going to be with us for a while. We don't want to be told that our phone is on its deathbed.

Apple gets this; Microsoft doesn't...on the marketing side.

Kudos has to be given for the Windows Phone feature designers and engineers. They created a phone that makes you feel more connected to your friends and family. The Live Tile updates are a small thing but make a huge difference for gleaning information.

All that work has been undone by the way Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.

What's in a version number? It's an arbitrary designation that denotes a set of features, hopefully improved over the previous version. It's a snapshot of the product in that moment.

In short, it's whatever the company wants it to be.

The fact that Windows Phone 8 is coming makes a consumer have mixed feelings. "Oh, I have an older device but it's good to know that I bought a system that will keep improving...and maybe my device will be upgraded with new features!"

So it's great the WP7 devices will receive the biggest noticeable change--the new Start screen. Yet Microsoft has decided to tell everyone that the current generation of Windows Phones will not be running Windows Phone 8 and will get an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8 instead.

As a techie, I know Windows Phone 8 is a big change at its core. It's running on the same kernel as Windows 8, adds more storage options, multi-core processor support, NFC support, etc. Great! All those features need the appropriate hardware to support it.

Many are features that the average consumer won't care about because it's behind-the-scenes, or (like NFC) not widely used yet. A Windows Phone 7 consumer is used to the Live Tiles on the Start screen, and that's where they will see the biggest UI (user interface) indicator that it's a new operating system.

So why, why, why did Microsoft's Joe Belfiore announce Windows Phone 8 like this:

Windows Phone…7.8!

The new Start screen is so useful and emblematic of what Windows Phone is about that we want everybody to enjoy it. So we'll be delivering it to existing phones as a software update sometime after Window Phone 8 is released. Let me repeat: If you currently own a Windows Phone 7.5 handset, Microsoft is planning to release an update with the new Windows Phone 8 Start screen. We're calling it "Windows Phone 7.8.”

Some of you have been wondering, "Will we also get Windows Phone 8 as an update?" The answer, unfortunately, is no.

To an engineer this is straightforward information. As defined by Microsoft, Windows Phone 8 encompasses improvements that require better hardware, so old devices will not receive Windows Phone 8. Instead they will get the features compatible with their device and it will be called Windows Phone 7.8. Or as I like to say, 0.2 away from 8.

An engineer would appreciate the transparency. A general consumer will be disappointed.

How does Apple announce new platform upgrades? 

"iOS 5 is compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod Touch 3rd generation..."

Guess what, not every feature in iOS 5 runs on the older devices, but Apple still calls it iOS 5 and users are happy that their device is running the latest OS.

It is the exact same scenario, but communicated differently. That is a significant gap illustrating how Apple knows how to present itself to the consumer compared to Microsoft.

So what is the difference between 0.2? Alienating the supporters of Windows Phone 7 instead of cementing their loyalty for Windows Phone 8.

Topics: Mobile OS, Apple, Consumerization, Microsoft


Howard spent 14 years in the tech industry working as a programmer, evangelist, and community manager for Microsoft. In 2009, he had lived his "dream" of middle-management long enough and opened a Japanese restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Trading in stock grants and software licenses for raw fish and cash, he enjoys mixing his passion for technology into the daily hustle of small business.

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  • This isn't just some 'arbitrary designation' of a number

    Windows Phone 8 is, at its core, completely different to Windows Phone 7. We all know that the kernel, driver model etc is now based on Windows NT rather than Windows CE. This is a move for the better, a long term move, but it clearly requires some compromises ... but it is downright unintelligent to say they're simply shooting themselves in the foot and they could have easily avoided doing so.

    When Apple announce the iPhone 5, we all know it is going to come with a new dock connector and it will be longer. This will make a number a hardware accessories obsolete ... Apple may provide an adapter but all of this will mean that any accessory that depends upon the vertical length of an iPhone will be obsolete. Of course there will be a number of dissatisfied customers who have forked out for expensive, and yet then practically useless, pieces of kit. It will be a long run decision for Apple ... they know it will annoy some people but they have to make a break for the better.

    The same is true of WebOS ... although that didn't turn out too well for Palm, it annoyed a number of enterprise managers at my work because their Palm hardware would become old news.

    The difference isn't 0.2, it's that 7.x and 8 are completely different pieces of software. Supporting old devices would hold MS back, so, as a user of a Lumia 800 for work, I am happy to see a good interface move on from the technical constraints of CE.
    Miles Guilford
    • Are you kidding me?

      I am pretty sure you are not one of the WP7 users. As of now I feel Microsoft lied to us. They knowingly burned my investment. As a previous Lumia 900 user (sold the damned thing to buy a GS3) I will not recommend Microsoft products to any one. For one simple reason. Microsoft Lies to you like they are giving away pies... They lied with no fragmentation or you are not the beta testers
      • As a Windows Phone 7 user...

        I don't really care. My phone worked yesterday and guess what, it will still work tomorrow. I also have an iPhone 3GS and I wish I didn't, it shouldn't be supported with iOS 5 or 6, it runs like a complete dog now!

        Typing stutters and things that used to happen instantly, when the device was new, take several seconds now. It still works, but it was a much more enjoyable experience, before iOS 5 came along.

        Also, the reader of sites like this are a different type of consumer to the great unwashed. For a majority of the smartphone users I know, as long as the phone works, they don't care what version it is running. The more advanced users want it to have a Facebook app, but they really don't care what software version is running on the device.

        If a new looking iPhone comes out, they will want to upgrade, because theirs is now "outdated", but they often won't bother putting software updates on the device.

        As a for instance, I got 3 iPhone 3GS back from people leaving the company recently. One was on iOS 4.1 another mid 4.n and the third one was on 5.0. They were company phones, they could read their emails and make calls, they didn't care about anything else, they hadn't even signed up for an Apple account and downloaded any apps.
        • Good point

          You bring up a good point that Apple users also seem like the type who will go ahead and upgrade their whole device rather than just accept the updates. However that might be due to the "goodwill" that Apple has fostered with its marketing and communications.

          Yes, the reader of sites like ZDNet are definitely much more tech-savvy than the average smartphone user. That's what I was addressing though... us tech-knowledgeable folks will be forgiving and understand why Microsoft says existing devices aren't upgradable to Windows Phone 8, but phones are meant for a mass market, and their perception is significantly different.
          • But my point was...

            the people who don't read tech sites like this, probably aren't even aware that they are "going to be left behind."

            They don't know, or care, what version they currently have, or what version is coming up, as long as the device works reliably.
        • Also...

          It's not like developers aren't going to instantly stop developing for WP7. According to recent numbers, Nokia sold as much as 4 million Lumias. Plus the other WP7 devices.

          Since WP8 will support WP7 applications, why wouldn't I develop for WP7 for a while? Developers aren't stupid people. They know if they want to make money, they need to develop for WP7 for a while.
          • More reason

            If WP8 will support WP7 applications that's even more reason for Microsoft to have just said that the current WP7 phones will be able to run WP8. For a good chunk of time developers would be writing for the larger WP7-hardware phones than the WP8-only phones.
      • get over your self

        Did your phone stop making calls, getting email, did it slow down? No you just want new toys and you want them no matter what. It is what it is, I like my Lumia 900 still works as well as it did before they made the announcement, nothing changed.

        For anyone to buy a phone and expect the next greatest thing to be compatible is at the least naïve. Even Apple doesn't give everything to the next phone, they just market a bit differently.
        • You hit the nail on the head

          Ah, but that was exactly my point - Apple markets it a bit differently. The Apple user thinks, "I won't be able to use all the new features of iOS5 but my phone will be upgraded to it and I can use some of the features." The Microsoft user thinks, "I need a new phone to use Windows Phone 8 else I will be stuck on Windows Phone 7.8."
      • You are completely out of order

        The Lumia 900 is a good phone and it is going to receive a midlife update to 7.8, which offers you many improvements. The hardware platform is not supported by WP8, the same way it does not support Windows 8. Here you are complaining, but exactly how long did you plan on keeping your Lumia 900? Oh wait... you didn't keep it anyway! If you planned to keep it, then you should have been happy with what you paid for.

        There is nothing new here. In the past, when I bought Windows Mobile, I did not expect to be able to update from Windows Mobile 2003 to Windows Mobile 5.0 (nor could I without xdadevelopers) and that is perfectly acceptable. I bought Windows Mobile 2003, I liked it - I am NOT entitled automatically to the newest version. When I bought Windows 98, I was not entitled to Windows XP as a free upgrade was I?

        Your complaint is nonsense.
    • COMPARE!!

      vranesh Whatever...
      WP8 wont be out until october and wont have many apps specifically for it until mid 2013

      So far Ive had my wp7 previous to that, and Ive gone from 7, to 7.?, to 7.5 and will go to 7.8
      This is better than IOS and much better than any android phone where usually you only are able to go up 1 upgrade and then get stranded and need another phone to go for any other upgrade.

      I think YOU might not have checked out the history of the competition and are complaining about this with no merit - the same with the author of this ridiculous article.

      • SFT...?

        Stand tall for unicorns ... but why?
      • Not exactly

        I don't think it's accurate to say that the upgrades from WP7 to the current version are better than iOS. iPhone 3GS has been upgraded multiple times to the current iOS version. So that's pretty similar.

        As for Android, yeah, that's a mess.

        The main point I was trying to get at was how Apple knows how to manipulate customer perception while Microsoft doesn't. You could say that's a little "evil" of Apple to do, but the reality is that consumers aren't necessarily practical. Phones are emotional devices.

        Having specific apps for Windows Phone 8 unavailable until mid-2013 would be even more reason for Microsoft to have just said that all WP7 phones were upgrading to WP8 instead of creating WP 7.8.
    • it's how the news is being communicated

      Sure the difference between 7.8 and 8.0 is huge, since it is a an architectural shift for the better. However, besides the techies and some persistent users who just need to know everything, the average user simply is unable to understand that this is an architectural change. For them, the news suggest that their phone is obsolete. They need to be told that 8.0 is coming to them as well. They don't care if the Wallet Hub will have the capability of "tap and pay" or will it just be like the Apple's "cardholder". In the end What changes the consumer gets depends on their hardware. That should be sort of de-emphasized. The emphasis should be on that everyone is getting an upgrade to 8.0.
  • The number is separated from what it is is

    Hi Miles, thanks for reading and responding! I agree with you that, technically (or architecturally?), it's in Microsoft's best interest to base their mobile OS on the same kernel that is powering Windows 8. It will make it easier for developers to write programs for the desktop and mobile platforms.

    I was trying to talk more about consumer perception, especially for the average non-technical guy that just bought a Lumia 900. So I guess the question is could Microsoft have "framed" the change in different terms?
    • The Average non-technical Guy

      probably hasn't a clue that Windows Phone 8 is on the way, or that he is going to be left behind. When he gets his 7.8 update, he will be happy with the new features, if the changes don't confuse him, if he bothers to update at all.

      I know a lot of users of different platforms, most don't care what version they are using, as long as it works. They don't follow the tech press, they don't worry about "being left behind". As long as no newer, smarter looking version exists, most won't even worry about upgrading.
      • Possibly

        I think in the past the average person wouldn't know about updates or care what version they are using as long as it works... but as apps and smartphone proliferation becomes prevalent, even the mainstream media starts talking about upgrades and upcoming devices. Which propagates the feeling of being "left behind." Haha, I'm sure the phone manufacturers and software companies would love that to be the case!
        • Majority of consumers don't bother.

          From my experience, most normal users don't know and don't even bother to get to keep track of what's the new version of the software for the phone. My sister and niece don't upgrade their iOS version, my 2 other nieces have Android and don't upgrade or complain. I have friends with Android Phone also doesn't know the version or don't do any upgrade. This also apply to software on their notebook or PC. Majority of normal users who are not tech-savvy will not pay attention or bother with newer version or don't have a clue. The most is that they know a new iPhone or Galaxy is coming or currently in the market. We as a human has the bias that we only notice those areas that we are interested or know well, in this case you are tech-savvy so you pay more attention or know what will be the greatest or the latest that will be coming. I think the more important thing is that once they step into a Telco shop, the sales person is the key to sell them the package and of course since iPhone and Galaxy have already established as a brand, there is much less sales job to be done.
    • It's all in the communication

      You're right, MS haven't communicated it that well. It is annoying that all complaints basically stem from naivety (and selfishness, not that I can't expect an owner of a product not to be selfish). In an ideal world Windows Phone would have launched on NT, but that clearly didn't fit into the Windows on ARM development schedule, so we'd either be looking at the first iteration of Windows Phone (I'm artificially separating Windows Phone from Windows Mobile) now or some dissatisfied early adopters.
      Miles Guilford
  • shot in the foot

    Ya, MS shot itself in the foot by not deceiving the customers. What if we instead say Apple and others should do similar, not other way around. IF they lose sales in the process, it shouldn't be our concern. They are for-profit companies after all.