Microsoft does good: Windows Phone 7 users will get free upgrade to Windows Phone 8

nokia-lumia-900-review-windows-phone-homeIf Microsoft’s Windows 8 announcement earlier today whet your next-gen Windows appetite, we’ve got another juicy tidbit for you — this time from the mobile device front: All Windows Phone 7 users will get a free upgrade to Windows Phone 8 (codename: Apollo) upon its launch later this year. The new OS is expected for release sometime in October, along with a slew of flagship, hardware-optimized phones from Samsung, Nokia, HTC, and Acer. The news comes by way of Nuno Silva, a Developer Evangelist and 8-year veteran at Microsoft, speaking to the forum Zwame during an interview in Portugal.

In no uncertain terms, Silva answered the question of what devices will get the anticipated OS upgrade by explaining:

“What Microsoft said/stated and what I’m allowed to tell you is that all actual devices will get the upgrade to the next major version of Windows Phone (we’re talking about Apollo).”

When pressed to elaborate (and perhaps clarify), Silva affirmed that the OS upgrade would be an all-inclusive affair, “Since the first generation that were bought. The LG’s and SAMSUNGs.. Omnia 7 which were the first devices with Windows Phone reaching the market.”

Well there you have it, folks. Microsoft has decided to adopt the Cupertino method of OS upgrades, pushing at least the next generation of software to previous generation devices, no doubt in an effort to standardize the platform and reduce fragmentation. When you think about it, it really is the only smart move; because Windows Phone 7 users are glorified beta-testers paving the way for future iterations of the mobile platform, Microsoft would do well to reward its pioneers. And by developing a more rigid update platform, Microsoft maintains control of the ecosystem and features available to all Windows Phone users, as opposed to relying on a mishmash of carrier and device specific upgrade standards as Google has done with Android. Android’s upgrade schedule has perhaps suffered the harshest criticism of the major mobile OS’s, with a recent study finding millions of smartphone owners are still running nearly 4-year old versions of Google’s OS.

But the alternative that Apple (and now Microsoft) offer presents its own compromises: The walled-garden of Apple’s iOS is well known — a good example would be Apple’s decision to leave flagship features off of certain devices even while upgrading the OS, such as the iPhone 4’s conspicuous lack of Siri.

And a glaring number of Windows Phone 7 reviews note the painfully obvious lack of  high-resolution display capability, even among newer Windows Phones such as Nokia’s Lumia 900 — a limitation of Microsoft’s standardized software, not device maker’s hardware.

Microsoft’s decision may also be one of necessity: as of February 2012, Windows Phone had only acquired roughly 4 percent of the US smartphone market, according to comScore, down from a high of 5 percent — this after nearly two years. Although Microsoft’s Nokia partnership will likely result in a growing share of future smartphone sales, it would be foolish of Redmond to shut-out current users at the risk of them jumping ship to a competing OS before Windows Phone really gathers a foothold.