The new Phone Series 7 platform from Microsoft is getting a lot of praise at the moment, with only two things being identified as problems: the name of the platform, which will likely be overshadowed by the names of the phones anyway, and the fact that existing phone users can’t upgrade to the new operating system. The latter problem is a recurring one, but the reality is that to really move this platform forward, Microsoft had to step away from the past. It is kind of ironic that a lot of folks, over the last several decades, have felt that Microsoft should actually clean slate Windows as well, which would be vastly more difficult to do this with. Let’s talk about the problems with backwards compatibility and why Windows Phone Series 7 (WPS 7) needed a full reset.
Graphics Performance Requires Graphics Power
One of the things that sets the iPhone apart from other smartphone products is Apple’s focus on detail and their tight control over the product (evidently there is a control war going on over the iPad).
Each of the components is designed to work together, yet even so, they have had problems with each new iPhone release. For Microsoft, Google, Symbian, and other hardware-independent products, the problems have seemed more pronounced when they bring out new products, and each has to build for the lowest common denominator.
The end result is phones that are similar, but don’t take real advantage of the unique advances in certain hardware platforms like the Qualcomm Snapdragon, Nvidia Tegra, or Marvell Armada lines. So Microsoft made a hard choice, setting a hard specification for hardware so they could build a platform that pushed that hardware’s limits. In effect, the phone user will get much like what they get with Apple: the full capability available in the phone, and not lose as much due to the differences between the various platforms.
By doing this, Microsoft had to step away from the existing lines because they weren’t built under this specification, and wouldn’t have the performance the new OS required. As a result, backwards compatibility with hardware was compromised.
Upgrades Remain a Rarity
Cell phone manufacturers want to sell new phones, and carriers use the phone subsidy to lock in customers so they can’t move. If you update the OS, the cell phone manufacturer doesn’t make money, and you are at more risk of leaving your current carrier for a competitor. So while you often could update an old Windows Mobile phone with a new OS, few did, and few handset manufactures put in the work that allowed an upgrade.
The fact of the matter is we buy the vast majority of phones like any appliance: The device and related operating system is a single unit, and to upgrade you need to buy a new phone. However, with smartphones becoming more like PCs, the ability to upgrade these devices could increase. The question is, should it?
Let’s argue both sides.