Is Windows 8 phone confusion good for Microsoft?

Is Windows 8 phone confusion good for Microsoft?

Summary: Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are related but they're not the same. Does confusing the two give the new phone OS a halo effect or risk disappointment?


In the run-up to Nokia's Windows Phone 8 announcements, much of the mainstream media talked about prospects for the new devices — calling them not Windows Phone 8 but Windows 8. Is that a confusion that does more good or harm?

Nokia Lumia 920
A Windows Phone or a Windows phone? The Nokia Lumia 820. Image credit: Sarah Tew/CNET News

Windows Phone 8 has the Windows 8 kernel and some of the programming interfaces, which is why Steve Ballmer said at the Nokia 920 launch that "we bring a developer platform and the Store in a common way to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8".

The change gives Windows Phone 8 more power under the hood, and the kernel should make developing drivers for new hardware faster, cheaper and more reliable.

They both have a tile-based Start screen, with notifications "front and centre", as Ballmer put it. Hardware acceleration of HTML5 in IE10 is just as useful on the phone as on the PC and well-written sites will automatically scale to fit the phone screen with a great layout — like the new HTML5 Pulse news site.

What Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 have in common

And Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 — and Xbox — share more than an interface Microsoft used to call Metro, although familiarity with the Start screen on Windows Phone makes Windows 8 easier to use, and vice versa.

They also share services. Achievements in Xbox games are the obvious one. There's something addictive about seeing your Minesweeper score from your Windows 8 PC on your phone and getting your perfect FreeCell record from your PC on a new phone gives you that nice warm feeling that's one of the really appealing features in Windows Phone.

As Microsoft is likely to put it, Windows 8 and Windows Phone are better together

It's not just games. The way Microsoft is pushing using a Microsoft account to sign into Windows 8 means you get SkyDrive integration for pictures and documents and OneNote notebooks. Notes you write on a Windows 8 tablet will be on your phone when you need them.

The photos you take on a Windows Phone 8 handset automatically upload, in full resolution rather than as half-size images, to SkyDrive so they appear straight away in the Photos app on Windows 8. Your Bing search history on Windows 8 could make the search results on a Windows Phone 8 handset more relevant.

As Microsoft is likely to put it, Windows 8 and Windows Phone are better together, and getting you to think about a Windows phone rather than a Windows Phone could be the marketing leverage Microsoft needs to start selling more devices, which is about the only thing Windows Phone hasn't been good at so far.

Like your Windows 8 system? Like your Xbox? It'll make you more interested in checking out a Windows Phone, hopes Microsoft.

Related but different operating systems

But while Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 are related products, they're not the same. That's a good thing. Having Windows on a 12-inch touchscreen is usable, but the familiar Windows interface on a five-inch screen would be a problem. The repeated failure of companies such as OQO proved that. Windows Phone has been an excellent touch interface all along and fits the small screen perfectly.

The real relationship between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 is an advantage for Microsoft that might be confusing to explain to a mainstream audience.

Is suggesting that they're the same thing a potential disadvantage? Will it make people expect a complex interface and blue screens on their phones, even though blue screens are rare on Windows these days and almost always mean you have a hardware fault? Or will the associations of Windows 8 have the same halo effect as Mac OS and iOS, which used to be routinely touted as pretty much the same thing despite the massive differences?

Is talking about Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 as if they're the same thing careless, or just what Microsoft would like us to think? Probably it's both.

Topics: Smartphones, Microsoft, Nokia, Operating Systems, Windows

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • Sort of confusing

    The article, that is. :)

    Consumers will be utterly confused and disappointed when they realize that Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT are three completely different platforms, with (still) somewhat lose ties.

    What some Microsoft customers will find annoying is how much Microsoft has borrowed from Apple in design and philosophy. Yet others, will jump in joy, that they too, could have features they envied their Apple-using friends for.

    It's too early to tell. Lets take big bowl of popcorn and watch the show.
    • Please explain

      What Microsoft borrowed from Apple for Windows 8 or Windows phone 8?
      • Duh

        A rectangle with rounded corners. Isn't it obvious?
        • Just that they aren't rounded

          Which is why Apple specifically called out Nokia in the court room as an example that you don't have to copy Apple to create a compelling product.
      • Not "borrowed", "licensed".

        Microsoft actually licensed Apple patented technologies for Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8.

        Microsoft did not "borrow" (a euphemism for "steal") these technologies, as Samsung has been found guilty of doing.
        Harvey Lubin
    • Eh?

      Apple troll, eh? Everything I love about my Windows Phone is what Microsoft *didn't* borrow from Apple.
    • Windows Phone 8 or 8 is a fresh way of thinking

      Try using it before making stupid and ignorant remarks. The philosophy is around what you want to do and not which application I need to use. Live tiles and hubs are different to static icons as well.

      You can say the integration of facebook, twitter, linkedin came to Windows phone way before iOS thought of doing the same.
    • Seriously...

      Uhhh... Microsoft has had "smart" phones with touch screens (although not capacitive) since way back when Apple stock was still crap and they were still pushing monochrome ipods as their main product. Steve Jobs didn't create the heavens and the earth in seven days, nor did Apple invent the smart phone. They have just gotten very good at getting patents for stupid stuff that already existed and suing everyone and their mother in an attempt to block competition more than true copyright infringement. They were lucky a dumb jury believed they invented rectangular phones, smooth edges, icons for programs, and... oh yeah! I almost forgot! They were ingenius enough to shortent a freaking existing word (app from applications) and get a copyright for it! So we can copyright parts of existing words now? In that case, I think I'll copyright the "word" "PLE" and sue Apple every time they attach it to the back of their made-up word "app". Speaking of "stealing" I wonder where Apple got the idea for mapping features, flyovers, street views, and turn by turn GPS in their new iOS 6?
    • ???????

      "What some Microsoft customers will find annoying is how much Microsoft has borrowed from Apple in design and philosophy. Yet others, will jump in joy, that they too, could have features they envied their Apple-using friends for."

      I own an iPhone. I like it. A lot. Its a great device and I suggest anyone looking for a new smartphone strongly consider an iPhone, although I do beleive people do need to look into any device they are considering to see if its the best for them.

      That being said, I dont have a clue what your talking about. How much Microsoft has borrowed from Apple? I beg your pardon???

      This is the kind of crap nonsesne that so many of the Windows 8 haters have tried for weeks to put out there for public consumption as if what they have just said has any merit.

      The plain fact that again we just see constant nonsense coming from the mouths of Windows 8 haters only seems to prove to me that they cannot find a single solitary genuine flaw in WP8 at all. Its shameful and its become pointless as all the haters have done is inadvertantly proved there isnt really anything wrong with WP8 and its very likely do do quite well.
      • I've got one for you real simple

        you said "...there isnt really anything wrong with WP8.."

        How about they sell me a phone with "the same windows core" implying it will run the same apps. I go buy an app for PC and bam - I have to pay AGAIN.

        The other side of things from developer point of view I've explained already. Making people waste their time "developing" specifically for a phone, that was claimed to have "the same core as a PC" - lame and stupid PR for idiots, to which you treat your audience.

        You simpletons are not just idiots - you are softies... that would be a new low.
        • Are you crazy?

          If you buy "Modern UI AKA Metro" app (sorry: application. I don't want to be sued by APPle for using their term "app") it is tied to your Microsoft Account and therefore it will be available to any device you have the same account on. Provided the app was designed with that device in mind. Just like the iCrap store does.
          • Ok, have you seen Microsoft app store?

            1. Where does it say that an app can be run on a Metro tablet and on a Windows 8 Phone?

            2. Why is it not possible to develop apps and target all the Metro platforms that share the "same core"?

            3. What was the point of cancelling their older Windows Phone 7 platform when they knew they were not going to offer any reasonable compatibility with the tablet Windows 8 in this new Phone 8?

            Silverlight for Phone 7 was as much incompatible with Silverlight for Winows 7 as this new iteration! So Windows Phone 8 is again DOA.
          • Over 90% of the applications.

            Are compatible with Windows RT and presumably Windows Phone 8 (though it hasn't been released so I can't say that with certainty). Understandably, the market isn't what it's going to be in a year or two so that number may improve or go down, tough to say, but I would imagine that the ones that don't need a laptop will design their applications in a manner to support all three (one code base with slight variations is a lot easier to maintain and enhance than 4 seperate products entirely). They do have the capability to support all three in one application.
          • thanks for demonstrating my point

            It's certainly far easier to port an app from Windows 8/RT to Windows Phone 8 but the app will need to at least be recompiled with a different namespace and might need completely rewriting if it uses Contracts (WP8 doesn't have those). We don't know if there will be any overlap between Stores in the way you suggest, convenient as that would be, or whether developers will want to let you use your five installs over different platforms or just different devices on one platform.
  • Not Confusing at all

    I am easily confused and it seems straightforward to me. One is for a mobile phone the other one is not.
    • If you were to buy an application

      You would be CONFUSED.
      Because applications designed for one will not run on the other due to different UI approach.

      But they are saying their core platform is the same. The same and not the same at the same time??? They are idiots.
      • Yes because

        Under the system requirements it wouldn't clearly say Windows 8 or Windows [b]Phone[b] 8. If people cannot read then that is their problem. You cannot idiot proof the world.
        • Even less confusing than reading system requirements

          The fact that WP8 has its own store that will not stock apps that won't run on WP8 and that Windows 8 Metro has its own store that will not stock apps that won't run on Windows 8 Metro means that consumers are never even shown apps that won't run on the platform they are using.

          So in fact, this one actually happens to be idiot proof. It might not be iFanboi proof though. That is an entirely different class of idiot.
          • Very true

            I mean the application detecting the OS before it runs the install is not a new concept. The App Store can detect the OS and show relevant apps too that work with the OS you are using. I know it is a hard concept for some, but there is bound to be someone that will find a way to get the install files on to a non compatible OS and they cry and complain when it doesn't work.
      • No confusion

        The core being same implies Kernel and core drivers are same across all Windows. UI framework and specific drivers are different for each form as it should be.

        Its you who are confused and treating core as the total OS, no one said its the same OS across all forms.