Windows Phone 7 Update Coming Early Next Year
Windows Phone 7.5-era phone customers will be updated to Windows Phone 7.8 early next year, according to Windows Phone Corporate Vice President Terry Myerson.
"[W]e want you to know that we're working closely with our hardware and carrier partners to get [Windows Phone 7.8] tested, approved, and rolled out to as many devices as possible in early 2013," Myerson wrote in a post Wednesday on the Windows Phone Blog.
New devices running Windows Phone 7.8 are already "beginning to launch" in other countries, Myerson noted.
Windows Phone 7.8 is designed for devices currently running Windows Phone 7.5. Those devices are not upgradeable to Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft's smartphone platform that launched in late October, due to Windows Phone 8's higher hardware requirements.
"Many of the new capabilities in Windows Phone 8 are hardware related; things like multicore support, near-field communication (NFC), even the graphics elements rely on hardware that is simply not present in existing Windows Phone devices," a Microsoft spokesperson explained in June, when Microsoft first previewed Windows Phone 8 and announced the forthcoming 7.8 update. "So doing the work to get the full Windows Phone 8 release as an upgrade to existing devices just didn't make sense. Multicore and NFC support don't add any value to a phone without the hardware to use them."
Microsoft's primary goal with Windows Phone 7.8 is to let users of older devices take advantage of the customizable Start screen that is one of Windows Phone 8's new features. The update will also include more color and theme options, a password feature to prevent "accidental device wipes" for Exchange-connected phones, and the ability to customize the lock screen with a Bing image.
Windows Phone 7.8 devices will generally be lower-cost, Myerson said. "This is incredibly important for broadening the reach of Windows Phone across the globe and ensuring we have the right product for every market," he wrote. Microsoft earlier this year announced that it was intensifying its efforts to expand Windows Phone's potential user base by targeting developing markets, as well as the low-end device segment.
Microsoft provided a brief video demo of Windows Phone 7.8 in June, but has otherwise remained mum about the release. Recent rumors, now debunked after Myerson's post, had put the update's availability date for sometime this month.
Rumors are also circulating surrounding the first update to the flagship Windows Phone 8 operating system. Citing an unnamed tipster, Web site Winsyde reported on Monday that the Windows Phone 8 update will be called "Apollo+" and is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2013. ("Apollo" was Windows Phone 8's code name before it officially launched.) Separately, The Verge, also citing unnamed sources, said the update will be called "Apollo Plus" and include VPN support. Microsoft will reportedly preview the update during February's Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, The Verge said.
The first Windows Phone 8 devices hit retail shelves just this month, but according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, sales of Windows Phone devices have already quadrupled compared to the year-ago period.
"Windows Phone 8 has been on sale for a few weeks and is also off to a great start," Ballmer said during Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday (webcast here). "The new Windows Phones from Nokia and HTC are getting rave reviews and have initially sold out in many, many places around the world. We're working with our partners, we're ramping supply, launching in new markets, and we're already selling four times more phones than the same time last year."
Windows Phone currently captures 2.4 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, according to the latest figures from Gartner. However, Gartner's measurements have not yet taken into account Windows Phone 8 sales. The research firm projects that new Windows Phone 8 devices will give the platform's market share a boost over the fourth quarter.