Seriously, the debate over WP Apollo update and its availability for current devices has reached cacophonous levels. None of that is actually needed and I can’t help but suspect that most of it is carefully orchestrated FUD. There was an unusually high level of negative criticism even before the WP platform was launched in Q4 ’10, with bloggers trying to declare it DOA. The vitriol continued till the NoDo update but dwindled thereafter with the realisation that Windows Phones were not selling too well and hence was not a threat to the established players. The sudden rise in vituperation against the platform now, is therefore a clear sign of unease in the minds of Android and iOS aficionados as there is a perceived rise in mind share (even if not market share) of Windows Phones and Nokia Lumia devices.
However, I’m truly surprised at the insipidness of the arguments being put forth in the Apollo update debate. Most of the bloggers, from harsh critics to unbelievers to wolves in sheep’s clothing (no prizes for guessing who), are hiding behind ‘unnamed sources‘ in their negativity, without putting forth any worthwhile hypothesis. Even Mary Jo Foley has her ‘sources’ indicating that Apollo will not be available to 1st and 2nd Gen devices. But sources can be wrong. Not everyone in a large company like Microsoft knows everything. Why, just the other day my ‘source’ at Nokia claimed that Lumia 900 will be available in India in May ’12 at the price of INR 24,000 (approx. $460, unlocked of course). When I expressed incredulity at the price, it was explained that there was a feeling amongst Nokia India executives that they had bungled the 710/800 pricing by launching it at a high price and then slashing it drastically soon after. They didn’t want to do the same mistake with 900 and 610 and hence the low price. Well, that was a perfectly plausible explanation and I almost broke the ‘news’ on WP Sauce, but for my preoccupation in my day job. However, two days later, the source apologised and retracted the earlier claim saying that it was just wrong information. Lumia 900 will come in May alright but the price will be a conservative INR 29,000 – 30,000. (Oops, did I just leak a Lumia launch news?). So, the bottom line is, that sources can be wrong. In the Apollo Update case, the sources are more likely to be wrong than right (more on that later).
I am also surprised at the complete lack of understanding by these ‘negative’ bloggers about how software works vis-à-vis hardware. They are all trying to project that it will be technologically impossible to upgrade the present hardware to WP8 because of the changes being made in software. Nothing can be more ridiculous than that. They have forgotten that the HTC HD2 was never supposed to run WP7 but ROM chefs at xda-developers managed that without even as much as breaking a sweat. They also forget that Android OEMs routinely express inability to update older devices to the latest dessert flavour but then they relent if the clamour for a successful older device grows loud. Most of these naysayers have a technical background (unlike me, my day job is further removed from technology than you can imagine), yet they don’t seem to understand that enabling a software for a certain hardware is predominantly a matter of choice, not of technology. I say predominantly, not entirely, because some features like 1080p video recording are obviously dependant on hardware. But that’s not the issue here.
Let us also examine what changes Microsoft will bring in WP8 and whether any of it poses a technological challenge. The three most important changes (known/speculated as of now) are 1) support for multiple core processors, 2) support for different screen resolutions and 3) closer alignment between Windows 8 and WP8 software. There is already enough evidence in Gingerbread, ICS as also iOS 5, that the first two features can easily be managed simultaneously on a variety of hardware, both old and new. The third major change is largely a software issue and if Microsoft can make Windows 8 to run on a variety of hardware and chipsets/processors including ARM, there is no reason why they cannot do it for WP8 too. All the other changes are also going to be software related tweaks which pose nothing more than a coding challenge to run on existing devices.
Well, if you agree with the aforementioned, that Apollo update to existing hardware is mostly a matter of choice, then lets discuss the probability of Microsoft consciously deciding NOT to exercise that option. To be fair to them, the only time they chose not to enable backward compatibility in any of their software (including DOS, Windows desktop OS, Windows Server OS, Pocket PC/Windows Mobile and Zune), was when they transitioned from WM6.5 to WP7. Let’s be serious – Do you really expect Microsoft to dump backward compatibility once again with the same OS, that too within two years? I have no empirical evidence to suggest so and hence I am sanguine that Apollo will come to all existing devices.
The question does remain though, that why doesn’t Microsoft come forward and issue a statement to dispel the clouds of FUD around the issue. Well, the answer to that is simple. They simply cannot make the announcement now because it is not their decision alone. All the OEMs (and carriers in USA) have to also agree 100% before they formally announce it. The decision to support all existing third party apps in WP8 was theirs alone and hence they have done it unequivocally. The same is not the case for OS upgrade. Unfortunately for Microsoft, Windows Phones have not sold very well and they cannot talk to OEMs from a position of strength. They still could do so if Lumia 900 turns out to be a super hit device, but for that we have to wait a little longer. There is one more reason that is preventing a formal announcement and that is the question of price of the Apollo upgrade. Major version upgrades of all Microsoft software has had to be purchased by the user and there is every possibility that the same will apply to Apollo. Hence Microsoft and all OEMs have to reach a consensus on the price and how it will be shared between them. Nokia, for example, may even want to provide the upgrade for free but the others may not agree. Therefore, my friends, we must wait a little longer to see which way the cookie crumbles. But it will certainly crumble, of that you can be sure.