Microsoft has already begun a countdown to the end of support for Windows Phone 8 and 7.8, which could be seen as an indication that some existing phones will be upgradable to the next version of the OS and not left obsolete.
Short-term obsolescence is a bit of a sore spot because Microsoft declared Windows Phone 7.5 obsolete almost as soon as it shipped. That was because Windows Phone 8 changed so radically, the existing WP7.5 hardware couldn’t support it. Windows Phone 7.8 was created to make WP7.5 users less disgruntled about this.
Microsoft’s Product Lifecycle Support page says Microsoft plans to end mainstream support for Windows Phone 8 on July 8, 2014, and end support for Windows Phone 7.8 on September 9, 2014. After that, it will cease shipping fixes and upgrades.
Microsoft states it will make updates available “for the operating system on your phone, including security updates, for a period of 18 months after the lifecycle start date.” That’s about the current lifespan of smartphones as it is, as people tend to upgrade to a new device after 18 months. Once you are within six months of the end of the contract, carriers will waive the early termination fee to get you to sign on for another two years.
Microsoft has not talked officially about the next version of Windows Phone, but there was some talk at the recent Mobile World Congress show about Microsoft’s plans. A Microsoft product manager told the gadget blog Pocket-Lint that Windows Phone would “evolve,” rather than go through major upgrades.
Users have been left hanging more than once. BlackBerry did it twice: in the move from BB OS 6 to 7, and again in the move from 7 to 10. Likewise, Microsoft left WP 7.5 users, who got some of the features of WP8 in the WP 7.8 release.
On the flip side, Apple has been the best about preserving hardware compatibility. You can load iOS 6.1.3, the latest version, on the iPhone 3GS, which shipped in 2009.
In Microsoft’s case, the history of this OS has been about rushing things out to market. Now it seems to be settling down, said Will Stofega, program manager for mobile device technology and trends at IDC.
“It makes it easier and seamless and really helpful for developers. Android developers are not pleased about having to support 17 prior versions and 17 screen resolutions. So this net net doesn’t force you to buy new hardware but gives you the best of a new software experience,” he said.
He also noted that with Android, the size of the files has gotten larger with each new version but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the next version of Windows Phone. “If they say Windows Phone 8 hardware will support upgrades, the upgrades for whatever the next version is should be in line with what’s out now for file size and partitioning. That’s a big deal. In the Android space, you can’t reliably predict how large these files will be and it’s driven handset makers crazy,” said Stofega.