Yesterday’s breaking news regarding all the detail involved in the future release of Windows Phone 8, code name Apollo, had almost everything we wanted to read. It exceeded our expectations in many ways, since many of us thought this was just another catch-up move where Microsoft finally evolved their mobile OS to run on current generation hardware. It turns out that Windows Phone 8 is more of game changer. Even if it does allow the OS to run on multi-core processors and more screen resolutions, the changes have more to do with software and less to do with hardware. In a way, this goes beyond the release of just another mobile operating system, and I’ll explain why in a bit. The only thing we’d change from the whole list of features moving forward has nothing to do with the OS, but more with timing.
How it changes the game
On top of the hood, Windows Phone 8 may probably not change. Windows 8 has shown us that the Metro UI is here to stay. We may probably see some added features here and there, but the live tiles and the hubs aren’t going anywhere, which is a good thing for many of us. What happens under the hood is a whole different story, and it’s really where the fun begins.
When we learned that Microsoft was evolving Windows 8 to work on ARM-based processors, at first we thought this was just about taking their desktop operating system to the next level. The new era of Tablets was leaving Microsoft behind, and it was only obvious that they needed to re-think their strategy in order to compete. We initially believed that they’d again evolve Windows CE to meet these needs, but they went a step further by re-doing their full desktop operating system from the ground up. Running a full-powered desktop operating system on different form factors made all the sense in the world, since you currently have to compromise with leaving all the hard-core computing out of your tablet. What we weren’t expecting was for Microsoft’s vision to go beyond the tablet and the computer in order to reach the phone.
Having the Windows 8 Kernel on Windows Phone matters, and it matters a lot. Even if Apple uses the OS X Kernel to run iOS, their full version of OS X isn’t optimized to run on ARM processors like Windows 8 is. The idea that developers can easily port true desktop-class applications from your computer to your phone using fragments is genius. The whole apps paradigm takes a step further when the barrier between a mobile device and a desktop computer are removed. This is no longer about how many developers are willing to push your ecosystem, but about why they wouldn’t.
Allowing all the current Windows 7 hardware to run Windows 8 matters even more. If Microsoft made an even bolder move to price Windows 8 at a number that nobody would debate, then the paradigm shift continues. It would take Microsoft just a couple of days to turn the Metro UI into the dominating user interface. The result is that anybody that’s already used to it will most likely continue to buy anything that runs the same Metro UI, and you know what that means. This would truly help the mass market see a Windows Phone, as a phone that runs the Windows operating system they recently upgraded to.
Why is the launch date a feature?
Sadly, what worries us the most about all these great changes is timing. Many of us honestly miss the old Bill Gates days where time was everything. The Windows Phone 7 announcement two years ago was mind blowing, but having it take 8 months to get released killed it. The same thing happened with Windows Phone 7.5. Microsoft clearly hasn’t understood that in the ever-changing world that they helped shape, time is another important feature of your product. Timing is, in a way, more powerful than the best list of specs your engineering team could ever provide.
Probably one of the most disappointing examples of this was the initial demo of Windows 8. As we saw it run on a tablet, lots of us were amazed by the option to split your keyboard in order to enhance your typing experience on the tablet. Many of us thought the idea was awesome, and well, the list included Apple engineers. Just a couple of weeks after that demo, iOS 5 was introduced to the world and it included a split keyboard for the iPad and to this day, we still don’t have a clear release date for Windows 8. Moral of the story is that you can’t expect your competitors to see your great ideas and not act on them if they are faster than you are.
As game changing as both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are, they won’t matter if they’re late. Fitting our old Windows 7 computers with some Metro helps, but that doesn’t mean that the competition won’t probably come up with something better and faster before that happens. Some may mock the amount of tactics that Microsoft’s competitors use to keep their products a secret, but this is the perfect example of why secrecy is important when you’re not ready to roll something out.
Where we hope things will go
Our expectations for Windows Phone 8 have risen dramatically. This is not about the Metro UI any more, but about a full ecosystem of features that truly allows you to use your Smartphone as a productivity tool without compromise. If Microsoft’s bet succeeds, it’ll only be a matter of time before we see the concept of a mobile operating system disappear in favor of a more powerful OS that’s capable of doing it all. Who knows if there will be a Windows Phone 9 and not just a Windows 9 that runs on everything. Tablets and Smartphones will most probably no longer fit a separate category and simply become another form factor of the personal computer.
The ball is on Microsoft’s court now. Time, which is evolution’s most important feature, will tell.