Windows Phone 7.5 is an enjoyable smartphone experience, even if the hardware it works on is comparably weak and its feature set is still playing catch up. Windows Phone 8 surely starts to close that gap, with better hardware support (processing, higher end displays), NFC capability, Internet Explorer 10, and the integrated Wallet application experience (akin to what Apple announced with Passport in iOS 6). During its Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, Microsoft also made it clear that it was only focusing on a few core elements. So there is more to come.
There has been some encouraging Windows Phone 7 news for Microsoft: T-Mobile has seen Windows Phone 7 sales double in the past eight months, Slashgear reported.
Yet Microsoft also had to own up to a few setbacks, the biggest one being the long-rumored news that existing Windows Phone 7.x phones will not run Windows Phone 8. That had to make its hardware partners hurl, especially Nokia, which just rolled out the Lumia 900 earlier this spring. It's likely that most of the partners have known about this change for some time, and it's equally unlikely that we'll see any new phones between now and when Windows Phone 8 ships.
More important, this news had to make Windows Phone 7.x customers unhappy. Their consolation prize: Windows Phone 7.8, which will attempt to satiate end users with the new Start screen, a user experience upgrade that lets you customize your live tiles (you can re-size tiles, re-arrange them, and pin just about anything). Adding salt to the wound, Windows Phone 8 apps won't work on the older OS (Windows 7 and Windows 7.5 apps will run on Windows 8, however).
While Microsoft re-shuffles its deck, Google gets its turn next week at its annual developer conference, Google I/O, where it is sure to raise the bar with Android, just as Apple did recently with iOS. Microsoft is likely to be playing catch up for a good, long time.
It may seem that Microsoft's mobile OS has taken one step forward, and one step back. I'm quite sure Microsoft would eventually like to have a mobile operating system that competes aggressively with Android and iOS on a feature-by-feature basis. But for now Microsoft has a much heftier aim, and it's one that plays on the software giant's traditional strengths and futuristic motivations.
Simply put: Microsoft wants to own the entire end-user computing experience, regardless of the computing device.
Windows 8 was Microsoft's first big step toward that goal, and Surface, the tablet Microsoft announced earlier in the week showed just how serious Microsoft is about that goal. Windows Phone 8 represents the next major component.
Microsoft is using the commercial success of Windows as a predictor: 1.3 billion Windows users Microsoft says, from the household to the enterprise, is unparalleled ubiquity, like it or not. With RIM's fate quietly chiseled away, Microsoft is well poised to make the enterprise its battle trench in mobile.
On Wednesday, Microsoft made several significant enterprise announcements regarding Windows Phone 8. Most of them were obvious, welcomed, and way overdue (read: lacking in Windows Phone 7.x). An underlying kernel change may have been less obvious, even more overdue, and the ultimate detail upon which Microsoft is placing most of its mobile bets for the coming decade.