A few days ago, Microsoft released the long-awaited Windows Phone 7.8 update for all those users who will be stuck on Windows Phone 7 forever because there’s no upgrade path to Windows Phone 8 other than buying a new phone. Now that it’s here, what, exactly, does WP7.8 to the table?
Windows Phone 7’s core consists of Windows CE 6.0, as we already detailed a long, long time ago. For Windows Phone 8, the company made the bold move of leaving the venerable Windows CE behind in favour of the just as venerable Windows NT. According to Microsoft, this brought with it heftier system requirements that Windows Phone 7 devices couldn’t fulfil.
This was a slap in the face of the – admittedly, small – existing Windows Phone userbase, especially since Windows Phone 7 devices were still being sold, and, in fact, are still being sold today. As a sort of peace offering, Microsoft promised us Windows Phone 7.8. Its release has taken quite a bit longer than anticipated, but now that it’s here, was it worth the wait?
Well, first of all, we’re looking at yet another one of them phased rollouts, so it’s very likely your phone hasn’t been updated yet at all. There are a few ways to force the update – the Zune trick, manual .cab files, or the automated .cab install – but if you don’t want to take any risks, it might take a few weeks before you’ll get the update. Even though I’ve already happily moved on to an HTC 8X, I grabbed my unbranded and unlocked HTC HD7 out of the closet to see what WP7.8 is all about. I had to use the automatic .cab tool to update, but it worked.
So, what does Windows Phone 7.8 bring to the table? To be honest, very, very little. Despite the version number jump from 7.5 to 7.8 and the update’s symbolic function as a peace offering, it’s purely cosmetic, and other than resizable live tiles, a few new accent colours and minor changes to the lock screen, it brings absolutely nothing to the table. So, it basically comes down to the only new feature being resizable live tiles – of which the small versions, the new size, look fuzzy because the developers haven’t updated their applications to include the proper resources.
The deprecated nature of WP7 also becomes apparent when looking at applications. You see, just as with the shift from 7.0 to 7.5, developers can’t just submit a single version of their application to Microsoft. Instead, they have to maintain both a WP8 and a WP7.8 version of their application. With Windows Phone already playing a distant third fiddle to the Android and iOS juggernauts, you can’t really blame developers for not bothering with WP7.8 at all, moving to working on WP8 versions only.
And so, Rowi on WP8 is version 3.2.0, but only 2.2.0 on WP7. Facebook – 4.1.0 on WP8, 2.8.0 on WP7. Not only is the operating system itself outdated, the applications are as well. You’ll have to settle for slower versions, possibly with bugs that have already been fixed in the WP8 version. For a platform with few users, this doesn’t seem like an inviting prospect for developers.
Really, that’s all there’s to it. There’s nothing else to add here – that’s how utterly insubstantial the Windows Phone 7.8 update is. There’s no noticeable speed improvements, no defining new features, and – my biggest complaint, which I saved for last – it didn’t address Windows Phone 7’s biggest problem.
I was under the impression that Windows Phone 7.8 would significantly improve upon its predecessor in one particular area: the browser. Internet Explorer 9 in WP7.x was already lagging behind when it was new, and this has only gotten worse with the years. Sadly, Windows Phone 7.8 does not update Internet Explorer to version 10, which is way, way better. In other words, you’re getting an update, but you’re left with an old and outdated browser.
So, all in all, Windows Phone 7.8 is hollow, pointless, and essentially useless. It does nothing to address the total and utter abandonment of loyal Windows Phone 7 users, and doesn’t solve the problem of current Windows Phone 7 buyers already buying outdated, deprecated stuff.
I honestly have no idea why this was released in the first place.
Here’s where I vent:
– Microsoft’s handling of the Windows Phone 7 to Window Phone 8 situation is terrible. In fact, the entire development cycle of WP8 was haphazard and riddled with compromises and broken dreams.
– Microsoft purposely misled WP7 consumers by claiming that WP8 was incompatible. Anyone with software engineering chops knows that to immediately be bullshit. It takes a non trivial effort, sure, but it is my opinion that it was outweighed by the benefits.
– The Windows Phone SDK Platform team are DevDiv-istas and it shows in their design. Windows 8 is a thoughtful OS and developer platform. Windows Phone is a cobbled together platform which is only good if you compare it to other terrible platforms.
Microsoft isn’t a cash strapped start up, they don’t have to cut corners. Its time they start investing the proper resources into Windows Phone.
Silverlight may have been good enough in 2010, but it is 2013. Look at the WP8 SDK, its still Silverlight. The fact that besides the NT Kernel shift and a handful of new APIs, the platform received no significant improvement, is intolerable.
– You’re spot on about the single project for WP7/WP8. Since Microsoft did not invest in bringing the WP8 SDK to feature parity with Windows 8, the least they could’ve done is make it simple to conditionally define differences in one single application platform.
There is no reason I should have to maintain two project solutions, submit two applications, manage two lines of communication, etc for apps that share > 95% common code.
– The porting of WinRT is a token gesture to WP8. Its useless without the WinRT based XAML stack. The only use case for it is when doing C++ DirectX Games, but not really (see below)
– The way you do DX and XAML interop is different for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 DESPITE them both using the Windows Runtime under the cover. Whoever made this f–king decision needs to be fired.
– The fact that they didn’t make Roaming Cloud Storage across WP8 and Win8 (its excellent in Win8) is again a huge miss. Heads need to roll. Ditto for HttpClient. A majority of the code differences come down to HttpClient (which is excellent on Win8) and HttpWebRequest/WebClient on WP8.
– The sorry excuse for a bandaid that is the PCL (Portable Class Libraries). I don’t want to use a black magic hack to get my code to be portable across the XAML stacks. I want there to not be so many XAML stacks. Fix the root cause not the symptoms.
– Windows Phone 7.8 is an example of everything that is wrong with Microsoft. It is a bone that was thrown to early adopters, but it’s the smallest one imaginable. It almost feels like they did enough to make most people shut up. What they consider enough really isn’t enough.
– Xbox Music is a mess on every platform. Whoever f–king screwed this up should be summarily terminated from Microsoft. This entire team is incompetent. It is slow, glitchy, and incomplete. Do NOT replace existing working solutions with broken crappy ones.
I think I’ve spoken for long enough. Microsoft needs to realize that this isn’t a market they lead. This isn’t something they can afford to leave to chance. They can’t let internal company politics relegate Windows Phone to a second class citizen state within the company. There needs to be some accountability for why there has not been more significant traction in this amount of time.
Nokia, god bless them, has been helping Microsoft and Windows Phone tread water for about a year now. Unfortunately, treading water is the same as drowning when mobile is such a crucial part of their strategy moving forward.
They owe it to the OEMs that have invested significant time into the platform to be doing their absolute best to foster growth. I don’t believe this is happening right now.
I often defend Windows Phone and especially Nokia because I think they get a bad rap and people tend to exaggerate their shortcomings and hope for their demise irrationally, however, I am a realist and I do not blindly make excuses for someone who does not deserve them.
This isn’t 2010 anymore. They need to get their act together.
Edited 2013-02-01 19:05 UTC