Mobile

Why Windows Phone 8's Upgrade Restrictions Are Necessary

Not a single smartphone out right now will be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. If you’re a recent customer, you might be frustrated. Rightfully so. But if you care about the dazzling future of Windows Phone, you should learn to accept it.

What Microsoft is doing with Windows Phone 8 is what it has to do: laying cement for an OS that will last deep into the future — or at least as long as you’ll own your phone. Your Lumia is based on Windows CE, software that was first released during the Clinton administration. It’s ancient, and it’s holding the entire platform back. Windows Phone 8, and its incompatibility with the phone you might own right now, is a much-needed fresh start.

More than that, it’s a fundamental shift, uprooting everything; Microsoft’s packing up the house, putting it on the back of a truck, and moving it out of the dead-end suburban cul-de-sac and onto a gorgeous country estate. Windows Phone 8 will now share common code with the impending desktop and tablet versions of Windows 8. If this sounds complicated, it shouldn’t: by next year, every new Windows computer, slate and phone will have the same modern software DNA, which will give Microsoft-friendly handsets access to the best programming magic available.

This software sea change is coupled with a hardware triumph: multi-core processors (up to a staggering potential 64 cores), 720p hi-res screens to show off Windows Phone’s design crown, NFC for the wireless economy of the future and other future-resistant treats. And it has to because Microsoft screwed this up pretty grandly out of the gates: Windows Phone devices have always been underpowered compared to their iOS and Android peers because of Microsoft’s iron grip. Strictly dictated specs kept the platform out of the horrible hell swamp of Android fragmentation, but they stymied the hardware; even the shining prince Lumia 900 is out of date on the inside. You getting “screwed” is how that gets fixed.

And there’s simply no way to do it without drawing a line in the silicon. From this point forward, things will be great. A radical cutoff mark means no dizzying fragmentation, but rather a clean break from WP’s past and a running start into what’s fast, bright and next. This can only happen with some violence — the next wave simply requires more horsepower than anything out now. Support for old phones would cripple the new ones. Your Lumia would only hold back progress. Sorry. No hard feelings.

You can wax cranky over the fact that the phone you bought won’t be swept up in the Windows 8 euphoria, but it’s hard to justify the saltiness. By the time Windows Phone 8 and accompanying handsets are actually available, you’ll probably be approaching upgrade eligibility. If you’re not, it’ll be worth the wait — and you’ll be in good company with the legions of iPhone users screwed out of the latest, far less monumental software releases. This is just nature. And besides, current WP groupies will still get the 7.8 update with most of the best software stuff from Windows Phone 8 — most of all, that redesigned start screen — that’s more of a compromise than most iPhone owners ever get. Likewise, Windows Phone 8 handsets are getting an 18-month pledge of firmware support. That simply doesn’t exist with Apple or Android.

But all that’s almost beside the point — that point being that Microsoft had to do this. You can pout about being excluded, you can claim you’re being screwed, you can protest over being ripped off, but if you want Windows Phone to continue to not only exist but have a chance to flourish and dominate, you’ll take this as the smart move of a recently genius company trying to save itself and sell you terrific things.