Microsoft charges forward with Windows Phone 8; leaves Windows Phone 7 users behind

Microsoft is doing its best to stay in the mobile spotlight this week. Just two days after the big Surface announcement they held an event to introduce Windows Phone 8 to the development community.

The event ran two hours but was focused on the stuff developers need to know, and while it seemed like a major upgrade I found my attention drifting fairly often. I'm not sure if I was having a 'glass half empty' kind of day or what, but a lot of what we saw either seemed like features they should've had long ago or just things that weren't all that exciting.

So while it's great that Windows Phone 8 will support multi-core processors I can't help but wonder how it took so long for Microsoft to get that support into its product. Ditto support for multiple screen resolutions (800x480, 1280x768, and 1280×720).

The biggest fact that stuck with me is that current Windows Phone hardware will not be upgradable to Windows Phone 8. That just made me feel bad for the folks that have taken a chance and tied themselves to a Windows Phone 7.5 device on a two year contract. When Windows Phone 8 rolls out this autumn these early adopters will be forced to sit on the sidelines. The one bright spot is that legacy hardware will get Windows Phone 7.8 which will have some of Windows Phone 8's features.

I don't mean to be down on Windows Phone 8 though. I just think I won't be wowed by it until developers (who were the intended audience for yesterday's event, after all) get their hands on it and start building interesting apps. Internally the big change here is that Windows Phone 8 has the same "Windows Core" that Windows 8 will have, which in theory will make porting apps between the two relatively easy, as well as opening cross-device possibilities. As a gamer my mind immediately jumps to ways that a game can live on both your laptop and your phone, letting you take a bite-sized chunk of a popular PC title with you. But we'll see how that works out.

There's a new Start screen that lets you size tiles and (if you desire) really pack in a lot of 'at a glance' data, or optionally keep things big and clear by using just a few tiles. This video does a great job of showing off this new capability:

For web browsing, Microsoft is bringing IE 10 to Windows Phone 8 and with it (they claim) full HTML5 support as well as a fast javascript engine. Microsoft is also ramping up voice controls, offering a demo that had a user launching Audible and skipping through chapters of A Game of Thrones via voice controls.

There was more (as I said, it was a two hour show) but those were the items that caught my interest. Developers are probably excited about in-app purchases and new NFC capabilities but again these seem like obvious things to have these days. I think I'm just having a grumpy day.

Windows Phone 8 will arrive this fall with Samsung, HTC, Huawei and of course Nokia rolling out the first wave of hardware and it sounds like all of them will be based on Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus processors.

I'm not a Windows Phone user or a Windows Phone developer and that might explain my rather tepid reaction to the event. I'd love to hear from people who are more invested in the platform than I am: what'd you think of the event? Are you excited for Windows Phone 8? If you were on the fence about Windows Phone, how does this announcement impact you? It seems to me like Microsoft just killed its sales until the new hardware rolls out. Agree? Disagree? Please leave a comment! I'm really leaning on the community to gain clarity around this new release.

In case you missed the event you can catch up on more details by watching a recording of the event at the MSDN Windows Phone Summit site.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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