Last week, as was widely anticipated, Microsoft officials announced that the next version of Windows Phone will be based on a core shared with Windows 8. Windows Phone 8 (WP8), announced at the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco therefore becomes the second reset of the platform after Windows Phone 7 (WP7) broke away from Windows Mobile 6.x (WinMo) about 2 years ago.
When it was announced that WinMo devices won’t be able to upgrade to WP7, there was a lot of complaints from developers as well as users. Developers felt that they would have to code for an installed base of zero, and users felt that their devices are suddenly going to become “legacy”. We can see a similar trend now, because WP7 devices won’t be able to upgrade to WP8 and developers will be faced again with an installed base of zero.
What is good for new WP8 buyers is that all existing WP7 apps will in fact work (and per Microsoft, those apps will work much better on WP8) on their new devices. So, WP8 will not start with zero apps in the marketplace. However, developers will have to justify their investment in WP8. Questions they have to answer:
- As an existing WP7 app developer, why should I build a WP8 app? There are many more WP7 devices today and those devices won’t be able to run my app. On the other hand, if I target WP7 devices, I have to go with the least common denominator.
- As an existing iOS/Android developer, why should I port my app to WP8? There is no one using WP8, and iOS and Android are selling millions of devices every day.
As a result, this reset brings us back to the same place that Microsoft found itself around the time of WP7 launch. The difference this time being, Metro is a well-regarded entity now. Windows and Xbox have now adopted Metro and everyone is going to see the familiar tile-based interface on their PCs and in their homes. It will be perhaps easier to sell WP8 devices given the familiarity.
Here’s why I think the situation may be better than I have put forward above.
- Microsoft (and partners, especially Nokia) know fully well that they need WP8 to sell way more than WP7 did. They will invest – directly with actual dollars, and indirectly with platform and developer evangelism and training – heavily into the ecosystem to get marquee names to WP8. We have seen how Nokia has been able to get the key big name brands to WP7. I suspect this effort will continue, and may even get deeper, with the ease of porting WP8 apps to Windows 8 (and vice versa).
- With native code support there is a hope that it will become easier to port apps from iOS and Android to WP8, so the justification for investment may be easier since it won’t require a complete rewrite of the apps. Games especially will benefit tremendously from this new platform update.
- Microsoft has been courting a lot of developers for Windows 8 (which is also getting its own reset, and will start with installed base of zero for Metro style apps). All those brands/developers will only need to make tweaks to cater those Windows 8 apps for WP8. I already see a lot of big brands releasing their preview apps in the Windows 8 Store, so there is hope that by the time Windows 8 is available generally there will be more.
- Carriers like Verizon Wireless, wanting to see some competition to the duopoly that is iOS/Android, have publicly said they will support WP8. This is especially true given that the other mobile force, Research in Motion (Blackberry maker), is in a downward spiral into oblivion. This should help WP8 in getting more traction from the time it launches. Once WP8 has some traction, it would become instantly appealing to the other carriers as well. Developers can sense momentum shifts and if they see the traction they will start building apps and justify the investment in the platform.
- Late 2012/early 2013 will also mark the completion of Microsoft’s ecosystem and integration story. They have several crucial products and services launching, which will complete the picture of their famous “3 screens and a cloud”. Besides Windows and Windows Phone, there is a new version of Office (client, web, server and maybe even iOS/Android tablet versions), a revamped Xbox media services offering, a Barnes & Noble-affiliated book/periodical platform, and more. So, messaging to the customers will become easier than when WP7 launched, or at least that’s the hope.
As you can see, there is a lot of hope and promise in this piece. There is also a lot of skepticism about how this story will unfold.
It would be an understatement to say that this Fall is huge for Microsoft as a company. Will customers get the message? Will this “all in” strategy result in a big bust? Will Microsoft be a force to reckon with, or will they be relegated to being an also-ran? I don’t know. I am excited to see what happens. You?