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

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.
Written by Howard Lo, Contributor

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.

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