When Microsoft announced that Windows Phone 8 wouldn’t be released as an update for existing Windows Phone 7 devices, some people on the internet (mostly early adopters) became quite angry. The frustration died down somewhat over the next few months, but slowly came back into focus as the launch of Windows Phone 8 drew near without any word about the 7.8 update. Now that we actually have a few details, however, the frustration seems to have been blown out of proportion once again. Can we all just calm down?
Windows Phone Corporate Vice President Terry Myerson announced in a post on the Windows Phone Blog that the Windows Phone 7.8 update will be rolled out to “as many devices as possible in early 2013.” The update’s biggest feature will be the new Start screen, which is wider than its predecessor and more customizable thanks to the resizable Live Tiles (small, regular, or double-wide), but the update will also include the new selection of 20 accent colors, automatic lock screen updates with the Bing picture of the day, and a new ‘A1B2C3′ PIN/password challenge to prevent accidental data wipes. While this is obviously just a small subset of the features in Windows Phone 8, it is, quite frankly, more than Microsoft had to do. The Windows Phone 7.8 update is, for the most part, pure fan service. The Redmond software giant completely redesigned the Windows Phone OS from the ground-up, so porting these features to an older and completely different platform is no small feat.
Of course, while the new Start screen breathes new life into your older device, it’s not a critical update; it simply allows for more customization. It would certainly be nice to have received the update alongside the release of Windows Phone 8, but Microsoft never said that this would be the case, merely stating that it would be released sometime after the launch of the new OS. I’ve seen a number of people complain about why it has taken Microsoft so long to release this update. To put it bluntly, the company probably couldn’t afford to devote too many resources to delivering a fan service update until the main OS was ready for launch. Windows Phone 8 is the future, and it needed to be ready to go in time for Microsoft’s hardware partners to get their devices on store shelves in November. You also have to factor in the carriers and manufacturers, which almost always require months of testing before an update can be made publically available.
It’s also important to note that while Windows Phone 8 is Microsoft’s flagship mobile OS, the company certainly isn’t abandoning Windows Phone 7.x. New devices running the older OS will continue to be manufactured and sold for the foreseeable future, particularly in emerging markets. Windows Phone 8 is the flagship operating system, but Windows Phone 7.x will still be around for some time.
The biggest issue surrounding the lack of a major update for older devices is the concern that new apps would no longer be released for 7.x devices. Thankfully, this hasn’t really been the case so far. In fact, only a handful of apps and games have been released exclusively for Windows Phone 8. I’d argue that it’s the newer OS that’s getting the short end of the stick at this point, since a number of apps are not yet compatible with the latest version of Windows Phone. It’s easy to update them with Windows Phone 8 compatibility, but the developers have yet to do so.
Whether you purchased a Windows Phone 7.x device six months ago or two years ago, the OS will still continue to work with the vast majority of apps on the Windows Phone Store. And the Windows Phone 7.8 update will start rolling out in the not-too-distant future, bringing with it the new Start screen and other customization options. Sure, it’s not out yet, but at least it’s on its way. For now, we should all just take a deep breath.