On Thursday Microsoft surprised even the most people following the mobile and telecommunications business by announcing the drastically new features of their Windows Phone 8 (WP 8) platform; the new common core with Windows 8 (or just the ARM based Windows RT, maybe?), native code C++ and DirectX support for developers, support for higher resolutions (720p and 768p), microSD support, multi-core CPU support, the IE10 browser and lots more. The Metro user interface also gets a big revamp.
Developers are excited. Finally the constraints of the old Windows CE platform will be history. The dream of one Windows development platform takes a major leap forward. It might even become true if everything works as Microsoft has hyped.
Microsoft also announced these are just the platform changes developers need to know now. More consumer specific announcements were promised later this year.
However, there’s a big negative reverse side to these good news: WP 8 won’t become available to current devices. Current WP 7.5 smartphones will get the forth-coming WP 7.8 update which promises enhancements to the UI. Most of the new features will require getting a new WP8 phone.
What does this mean for Nokia and other Windows Phone vendors? Surely, the forth-coming WP 8 smartphones will be more tempting than today’s devices. But, Nokia despirately needs their current Lumia series Windows Phones devices sell now. They are losing market share and making losses at a drastical pace.
According to some early reports, operators are already hesitating and not stocking Nokia Lumia phones anymore. Wall Street Journal has also speculated this could put Nokia Lumia 900 sales on ice.
I also called a few Finnish mobile software developers. They said they will probably put all of their resources to future WP 8 devices, because there is such a small base of WP 7.5 users out there.
The danger of fragmentation is obvious. If you develop a nice application that fully takes advantages of WP 8, it won’t work on today’s WP 7.x phones.
Thus Microsoft makes a bold and risky move by changing the core of the Windows Phone platform, but it might be justified in the long term considering the benefits of a common Windows 8 platform. Device vendors such as Nokia have a bigger short-term problem explaining their customers why Lumia 900 and other new devices are soon obsolete.
Speculations about Microsoft bringing their own Windows Phone 8 device do not help the Windows Phone device ecosystem. Nokia seems to be the only vendor really pushing it, and Microsoft as a competitor would make it even less tempting.