It always amazes me how my HTC HD7 with its ageing single-core processor feels more fluent, fast, and responsive than my dual-core iPad 2 or Galaxy SII. Well, technically it doesn't amaze me at all, because Windows Mobile PocketPC SP2 CE Embedded Compact Ultimate already ran very fast on PDAs ten years ago, but still.
Microsoft is taking it all a step further at MWC, announcing that the system requirements for Windows Phone 7.5 have been lowered, instead of raised. Microsoft's mobile offering can now run on (single-core) 800Mhz Qualcomm 7x27a chips, with just 256MB of RAM. Several phone manufacturers, including Nokia and ZTE, have already announced new phones based on these new specifications.
There don't appear to be too many casualties in terms of functionality here. Both Bing Local Scout and automatic picture uploads to SkyDrive have been axed due to limitations on background data traffic. Not exactly what I'd call defining features, so I personally don't see much of a problem with killing them.
As far as applications are concerned, Microsoft did a lot of testing to find out which applications would suffer a performance hit - and blacklisted those applications from being installed on these lower-end devices. According to Microsoft, about 5% of applications in the Marketplace have issues, mostly related to hitting the lowered RAM limit. Since there's 65000 applications in the Marketplace, we're looking at 3250 applications. Their developers have been contacted by Microsoft.
"First, we reviewed anonymous data provided by actual users who opted-in to the feedback mechanism on their phones. These data told us (anonymously!) how much memory each app consumes in real-world use. If we found that in more than 3% of cases an app uses more memory than we provide with the new paging mechanism, we opted it out automatically and began the process of engaging the developer directly," Microsoft's Joe Belfiore details, "We combined this programmatic approach with a comprehensive, hands-on assessment of the most popular applications in Marketplace and tuned our paging algorithm to balance high app-compatibility with enabling the largest number of most-popular apps."
Developers have the ability to hide their applications from these lower-end devices as well, in case you simply think your application doesn't run well enough. This should prevent negative reviews and such.
I would love to have a more detailed look at what, exactly, Microsoft has done to lower the system requirements, but for now, the PR speak will have to do. Still, it provides an interesting contrast with the rest of the industry, which is moving to ever more powerful devices.