By: Gigaom
April 18, 2012 at 09:53 AM EDT
All current Windows Phones will/won’t get WP 8
Depending on who you believe, Microsoft will either offer Windows Phone 8 as an upgrade to all current Microsoft-powered handsets or it won't provide the software to any of them. Windows 8 could be the issue here, but Microsoft needs to publicly state its intent.

Depending on who you believe, Microsoft will either offer Windows Phone 8 as an upgrade to all current handsets running on Microsoft’s mobile platform or it won’t provide the software to any of those phones. Confusion is quickly rising over the situation as there’s no official word from Microsoft yet on any future upgrade plans.

The two main reports come from WMPowerUser and The Verge, with the former suggesting the positive outcome: All existing Windows Phone devices will get the upgrade. The information comes from a Microsoft evangelist, Nuno Silvia. I checked the official MSDN blog and Silva has been an active member there since 2008, writing 27 blog posts with regards to programming using Microsoft technologies. Here’s his statement on the upgrade, via a video interview with a Microsoft enthusiast site:

“Q: In terms of devices, who today have one is it expectable[sic] that…

A: What Microsoft said/stated and what I’m allowed to tell you is that all actual devices will get upgrade to the next major version of Windows Phone (we’re talking about Apollo)

Q: When you say actual devices. Are all that came out to market?

A: Are all that came out. Since the first generation that were bought. The LGs and SAMSUNGs.. OMNIA 7 which were the first devices with Windows Phone reaching the market.”

This information is the complete opposite of what The Verge reported, citing a trusted source, who suggests that there is no 8.0 upgrade path for devices running Windows 7.5. The Verge also shared an official statement from Microsoft: “We have stated publicly that all apps in our Marketplace today will run on the next version of Windows Phone. Beyond that, we have nothing to share about future releases.”

Mary Jo Foley, a long-time writer on all things Microsoft, hinted back in March that only future handsets will see Windows Phone 8, which lends some credence to The Verge’s source. At that time, Foley heard that Windows Phone 8 would not get pushed out to existing phones.

I have to wonder if the decision isn’t settled internally at Microsoft yet. It knows that it runs a huge credibility risk for its mobile platform if it decides to not upgrade existing Windows Phones. To its credit, it appears to be eliminating any application fragmentation issues between versions in either case, which would be an improvement over similar challenges faced by Google Android owners.

Ultimately, if the apps for Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 would work on Windows Phone 8, a lack of OS upgrades would a minimal problem, at best, for most users. That leaves only new or enhanced functionality that existing Windows Phone owners might be missing. I don’t foresee the handset’s Metro user interface getting a total overhaul, so there shouldn’t be much of a difference in the look and feel. The bigger problem may be deep hooks in the new Windows Phone system with Microsoft Windows 8 on the desktop and tablets.

Still, handset owners are fickle — and I include myself in that light criticism. We want the latest and greatest of everything when it comes to both hardware and software. So if Microsoft doesn’t offer an upgrade path for its current user base, it will turn into a public relations issue. And that’s not something the company needs as it tries to stand out as the third viable mobile platform.

Regardless of how this plays out, I can’t understand why Microsoft wouldn’t offer the upgrade, at least for phones that debuted recently, such as the Lumia 710 and 900 (see our review here), or the HTC Titan II. The platform is well optimized to run on minimal hardware and the recent handsets should have plenty of horsepower to handle whatever Windows Phone 8 requires. If these won’t meet new minimum hardware requirements, Microsoft planned poorly; a definite possibility.

My hope is that Microsoft quickly addresses the confusion and states its intent for upgrades: Bad news (even if it’s not so bad) doesn’t get better with age.

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