By Adam Z. Lein | July 4, 2012 8:00 AM
Remember back in 2010 when everyone was upset that older Windows Mobile devices like the HTC HD2 were announced as not being upgradable to Windows Phone 7? The same thing happened in 2005 when Windows Mobile 2003 was said to not be upgradable to Windows Mobile 5. It was a lot like how people are so upset about Windows Phone 8 not officially being supported on current Windows Phone 7.5 devices. Yet, if you wait a while, guess what… Windows Phone 7 was certainly ported to the old HTC HD2 (by some creative hackers and the xda-developer community) just as Windows Mobile 5 was ported to older Windows Mobile 2003/2002 devices such as the XDA II even though it was said to not be possible due to hardware differences. Is there any reason for Windows Phone 8 not to come along to older hardware in the same manner? If history is any indication, I think it’s pretty safe to say that there will be some custom ROMs out there that will bring Windows Phone 8 to older devices. It’s almost a given.
If you’re an Android user, you probably rely heavily on the hacker community for operating system updates. There’s no telling how many months or years you may have to wait for the latest version of Android to officially come to current Android phones that were not mentioned as supporting Jelly Bean in the latest Google Android 4.1 announcement. However, instead of branding the just-released Galaxy S III instantly obsolete as soon as 4.1 was announced, we all knew that the hacker community was already at work building a version of Android 4.1 that might someday be compatible with that device.
There is some evidence that Microsoft may have been testing Windows Phone 8 on the old HTC HD7 and HTC Surround as shown by WMPowerUser. So, that would seem to indicate that there isn’t really a huge technical problem in getting the unreleased OS to run on older hardware. Sure there could certainly be performance problems, and of course hardware-related features like NFC, high-resolution screens, etc. will never come to older phones that don’t have that type of hardware.
The big issue with upgrading older hardware to Windows Phone 8 is probably implementing it using the current upgrade mechanism in the Zune desktop software. That is my guess as to where the technical problems lie. Since Windows Phone 8 is using the Windows 8 core, that means it’s using a different architecture and a different file system. All of your current apps and app data will not be readable in the state they’re in right now. You’ll have to re-download apps that have been compiled for the new operating system and re-sync everything from scratch, and that’s really not a consumer-friendly process for an automatic upgrade. It sure sounds like a lot of work for Microsoft to create some kind of software that manages that kind of transition as well. Given that, it seems clear that it’s not worth it for Microsoft to support an upgrade path that’s easy for users since it would be way too complicated to develop.
However, as mentioned before, Microsoft has told us many times in the past that their new mobile operating system would not be supported on older devices, yet the hacker community always finds a way. How long do you think it will take to see the availability of a Windows Phone 8 custom ROM for a current Windows Phone? Do you think it’s possible?