Windows Phone 7.8: is it more than a Start screen?

Windows Phone 7.8: is it more than a Start screen?

Summary: Yes, the only Windows Phone 8 feature that Microsoft has promised users of existing Windows Phone handsets is the new Start screen, with three sizes of tile you can arrange in a more creative layout. But that's not the only new features existing Windows Phone users are going to get.

TOPICS: Windows

Yes, the only Windows Phone 8 feature that Microsoft has promised users of existing Windows Phone handsets is the new Start screen, with three sizes of tile you can arrange in a more creative layout. But that's not the only new features existing Windows Phone users are going to get.

Phone makers like Nokia can still make new applications for Windows Phone 7.8; Nokia is releasing a handful of interesting applications and system updates during June and July, including a group photo application that brings one of the signature features of BlackBerry 10 for the Lumia. Snap a couple of photos of a group of people and you can take the best faces from each shot and combine them. There are more apps and improvements to existing apps on the way; Nokia is going to carry on creating updates for Windows Phone 7.8.

Other developers are going to keep developing apps for Windows Phone 7.8 as well. Unless an app uses the new features in Windows Phone 8, it can run on both systems and developers will want to maximise sales; expect plenty of apps that have extra features for 8 but are available for 7.8 as well. Is that the fragmentation that Microsoft tried so hard to avoid in the past? Pretty much, but it's more like supporting two versions of iOS than 492 versions of Android; more work rather than so much work it may not be worth it.

The real question is, are there other parts of Windows Phone 8 that Microsoft could, should or will bring to Windows Phone 7.8? Given that we don't know most of the features, it's hard to say. But while anything that needs the new hardware or specific Windows features is out - NFC payments and tap to play and BitLocker and secure boot - others are possible.

Background navigation would work better on two cores but battery life aside, it should be possible to let turn-by-turn software carry on working in the background the way music playback can. VOIP software is certainly going to work on Windows Phone 7.8 and again, background execution could be possible; the hooks to make VOIP look like any other phone call probably rely on the Windows network stack that Windows Phone 8 gets with the kernel.

You couldn't have the full Wallet without NFC; it might be possible to have the section that stores details of membership cards but without BitLocker encryption you wouldn't want to store much more than your library card in there. You can have encryption on Windows Phone today; apps like Password Padlock use it, but the question with bringing all of these features to Windows Phone 7.8 has to be how much work it would be for Microsoft to recreate them on a platform that doesn't have the hardware or the existing Windows code they're being built on - and whether it's worth doing for a limited number of features and the current Windows Phone user base.

Microsoft isn't the only company to say that new features need new hardware. The iPhone 4 didn't get Siri; the iPhone 3 didn't get email encryption. A year after they were introduced, there were new iOS features you couldn't get on those iPhones. And the progression from Windows Phone 7.5 to 8 is far more like the difference between iOS 1 and 2 than it is between iOS 4 and 5 (it's been a while since the original iPhone got an update). It's a significant platform shift that will let Microsoft keep much more compatibility going forward.

You don't have to like the idea of not getting an upgrade to Windows Phone 8 to understand why it makes sense. But it doesn't mean that the Windows Phone you bought last week or last month stops working or stop getting any new features or new apps. If you wait six months there will always be new and better hardware - so you lose the benefit of having a new system for six months and at the end of it there's another shiny object for you to think it's worth waiting for.

Mary Branscombe

Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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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  • @SB&MB

    You can try and wrap it up any way you want and weakly attempt to accuse all OS's of a similar practice. It doesn't change the position/outlook for the current range of Nokia Lumias - their very rapid demise. The top-end Lumia 800/900 are truely dead in the water.

    They are now effectively feature phones, not smart phones. With an obsolete ecosystem that was neither successful, or had any meaningful marketshare - its dead and buried.

    MS are looking forward, so should everyone else.

    Are you somehow thinking consumers are daft enough not to also look forward, and see that if they buy a Nokia Lumia 900 today, they are buying into an obsolete Ecosystem.

    Its a bit rich to be promoting future 'possible' features to an audience that has just been told that their brand new Nokia Lumia 800/900 ain't getting WP8 and the ability to run true WP8 Apps. Not much else matters to be blunt. Most are stuck in a contract for 24 months, and paying handsomely for the privilege.
  • Cont...
    WP8 is definitely what Windows Phone 7 should have been to start with, ie. based on NT not CE. If MS had taken that bold step in 2007/2008 with real vision, they might now have an ecosystem to match Apple iOS, with a strong partner to match - Nokia. Instead we have talk of Government bailouts for Nokia, to help it get through a difficult period.

    In fairness to MS, its taken this long for the hardware technology to catch up in order to run the Win NT Kernel, with mobile graphics to match and have a meaningful battery life. It would have been difficult to get the idea across of scrapping everything MS had done upto then regarding Windows CE, in 2007/2008. i.e, in putting this vision forward. MS were also dealing with the fallout from the bugtastic Vista. You can only make big drastic changes like this when you back is truely against the wall.

    As said in another post, its as though MS/Ballmer have metaphorically thrown the chairs across the room, and left a trail of Windows Phone users in the wake to achieve, what they are trying to achieve, thereby using a WinNT kernel. In effect starting from zero again regards to true Windows Phone 8 Apps / Windows 8 Ecosystem.

    I think WP8 will be far more successful, than anything so far for MS, but this will have the drastic effect of prematurely killing off existing WP7 Development, because the market for WP8 will quickly dwarf the marketshare of WP7. I think WP8 will be more successful than Windows 8 on Intel, and become MS's 'Halo' Product (glow, rather than in the sense of Halo the game). But short term, partners will take a kicking.

    Developers arent going to put time and effort into developing and supporting WP7 - its too different, given the powerful directx apps they can develop with WP8.

    The Nokia Lumia 800 / Lumia 900 are truely obsolete. Its created a 6-10 month vacuum for Nokia, no wonder they are laying off 10,000 jobs, to conserve cash. Deal Posting sites/discussions mean consumers know about these changes much more quickly today, they are much more informed and change their habits far more rapidly, the 'cut off' by consumers/enterprise will be drastic for the Lumia 800/900.

    I think we'll see the biggest drop in monthly sales of any range of consumer device, ever so far. Lets not kid ourselves, that existing Lumia Range sales can somehow survive this, they can't.
  • Apple did the same thing with IOS as its based on the same core as the Mac OSX so MS have done the same thing, although as you said, getting NT Kernel core onto a mobile was probably not without significant hurdles :-) But now going forward, I think the next big problem for Nokia is that people will now wait for WP8 before buying another windows phone....ouch!
  • I currently am using a Nokia Lumia 710 and am finding it to be superior to any other phone I have ever used. With Windows 7.8 latest features it will make an already excellent phone even better.
    I would say that the 710 performs better than my wifes iPhone 4 with a few less features at 33% of the cost. For the price these Nokia Windows phones are a steal, get one you won’t regret it.
    In regards to your comments about the Windows 8 upgrade I find that to be so biased as for example my LG Optimus can't be upgraded to ICS due to harware limitations.
    For those of you that are considering a new Nokia phone try one of these and look how smooth they scroll, check out the camera's multiple manual over rides, and the beautiful intergration of all of you social media.
    For those of you that have a few old phones laying around and have owned Nokia's you will know that they they are robust almost bullet proof long lasting devices, and a bargain!
  • @John, if you notice I didn't include the Nokia Lumia 710. I don't think it matters for this entry level phone as much - whether it can run WP8 Apps. There is a big difference for power users between native WP8 and WP7 Apps wise, this is a major upgrade. The Nokia Lumia 710 a great entry phone to dip your toe into WP7/Tiles. The Nokia 710 is the best way to try Windows Phone.

    But, it will also look very dated, very quickly against WP8 phones on release. The Nokia 710 is the best value of WP7 phones by far - technical internally, pretty similar as the Lumia 800. A good phone with a great screen and IE9 is very fast and fluid, but you will feel the cut-off, as developers concentrate on WP8 Apps, turning it into effectively a feature-phone.

    The market for WP8 will expand much more rapidly (developers understand the advantage of the NT Kernel+DirectX), than the current WP7 userbase has. WP8 will dwarf WP7 users very quickly. Developers will be able to make their money from soley WP8 native Apps, they are easier to write/port. WP7 users will effectively be ignored, just because the apps you can produce with WP8 are much more powerful, additionally, more easily transferred from iOS to WP8.

    Conclusion: The current Nokia lumia range of phones are obsolete.
  • I think obsolete is a bit ott. You have to remember these phones rock on there own merit. Plus good apps take time to create so there is still a lot in the pipeline ready for WP7.5/8. This coupled with the fact Nokia is still going to be developing updates. Remember here that Nokia has a big investment in getting budget handsets out ie bellow the spec of windows phone 8. This means someone is going to be supporting them. Also its not like there is a lot of bugs that need fixing (unlike any version of Android when they keep promising the bugs will be fixed only to create a host of new ones). At the end of the day the only people that this will even affect is power users as you said and most of them will have bought on release. Take my Lumia 800 by time WP8 comes out it will be a year old that gives 6 months of overlap till my upgrade, given the amount of time it takes for new top apps to be developed and the fact nokia is bringing out updates means i wont even see a drop off and nore will many other users. Lets also not forget that Nokia has made deals with Rovio and zynga to bring there apps to windows phone.

    Put it short new homescreen rocks also we get new camera features plus the rovio and zynga games and by time the drop off comes it will already be time to upgrade for 90% of users (Thats if it comes at all really as i said low end devices are a big deal for Nokia so i dont see them being left to rot). I think this is a great deal for most users. They already have the best OS they will now see huge price drops and you get lots of cool new shiz to make it feel fresh. I used Android for years and only once saw an official update and that was 2 months after release.
  • Link Bait

    You haven't said anything that anyone with a lumina or Htc or samsung didn't already know. If this is all you got,go do some housework,or get your nails done,because what you wrote is just bluy,bluy,bluy.
  • Getting one now

    It's end of October 2012 now, and I may actually buy a Lumia 800 even now. Pricing on the new Win 8 phones looks like it'll be very premium. Meanwhile the Lumia 800 is still very solid hardware and is receiving a good price drop. At a little over $300 unlocked and on contract, it's a steal, quite frankly. And the 7.8 upgrade is very welcome.

    I'm comparing mid-range phones, and the Lumia 800 is costing the same money as for example the HTC One V and Samsung Galaxy S Duos. Feature for feature it's not even a comparison: Lumia 800 has a better OS, faster CPU, 720p HD video, 8MP camera, Amoled screen.. This is not a contest.
    Han CNX