Will Microsoft deliver a Windows Phone 8 update or won't they?

Yesterday was quite the rollercoaster ride in the bubble word of tech-media. First there was a Microsoft employee stating on camera that yes, all Windows Phones will get the an update to Windows Phone 8 aka "Apollo" which is expected to drop on the fall. Then came a story on the Verge from our old boss and friend Dieter citing a trusted (but unnamed source) that no phones will be getting the update.

Well, that's certainly a 180 on the issue.

And what does Microsoft have to say? Well, not much of course. From a Microsoft spokesperson we were told the same thing as every other site:

“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.”

Their contention is that Silva, the Microsoft Evangelist on video claiming all phones will get the update, was possibly mistaken or confused when talking about updates versus app compatibility. (Microsoft recently confirmed app compatibility with Windows Phone 8).

As our own Rafael Rivera said on Twitter: "Come on, we seriously believed a developer evangelist from Portugal had close guarded core information on Windows Phone? ". Indeed.

A few months ago we personally heard from someone with direct contact at Microsoft that jives with what the Verge claimed: no phones will get the update. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley has also heard the same thing lending more credence to the claim. However, since none of us share our sources for all we know we're all citing the same person, which doesn't really confirm anything so long as they want to remain anonymous.

So why is there such a discrepancy in these stories?



Possible explanations

For one, there are a lot of complications involved including whether or not carriers will support such an update (if it were possible). Because of that Microsoft may not want to publicly commit to stating all phones will get the update as that could tick off carriers who don't want such public pressure. See AT&T as an example.

Second, we've heard from a Microsoft employee (but not confirmed) that Microsoft only started internally testing Windows Phone 8 on March 30th. In industry jargon this is called "dogfooding". If that's the case then hardware testing on various devices has just begun leaving Microsoft in a position of wanting to update all phones but not being able to yet guarantee compatibility.

In fact, a build of Windows Phone 8 (8.0.9662.0) showed up in the app "I'm a WP7!" but alas, it was only on an emulator not actual phone hardware yet.

A third more grandiose explanation goes like this: Current Windows Phones will get an Apollo-like update while new Windows Phone 8 devices will be running something different, a truly new OS (at the kernel-level) that requires new hardware e.g. higher resolution screens, dual-core CPUs, etc.. This seemingly could explain why folks like MS_Nerd and Microsoft Evangelist Nuno Silva state that all phones can get the update while other sources say otherwise.

Problem with this explanation is there is no hard evidence that this two-pronged route for the future of the OS is true. It just sounds plausible (and perhaps hopeful on our part). Of course with Microsoft not saying much on the topic and very few details on what Windows Phone 8 is like or based on, we're left to just speculation and hand-wringing.

And that's the problem.


Why so quiet, Microsoft?

Normally, not announcing features or upgrade paths for a major OS overhaul is not that big of a deal, heck Apple does this all the time. But with devices like the high-profile Nokia Lumia 900 just being released (and going international soon) it certainly puts a lot of pressure on all the parties involved. In fact it would be very hard for any of us to have to defend such a prominent device if it were not getting the update (and frankly, we don't want to have to face the customer blow back from such a decision).

Microsoft, to their credit, is keeping Windows Phone 8 under wraps quite effectively. With Mango being announced and demonstrated so early before its release, Microsoft may have revealed their cards too early allowing their competition to mimic some functionality. By keeping WP8 close to their vest, they can hopefully ensure a surprise reaction from Google and Apple.

Even when we spoke with AT&T recently, they had no idea what Microsoft's plans were for Apollo and were waiting on Redmond for an answer.

Our official opinion on the matter is we'll wait till Microsoft commits publicly to the future of Windows Phone 8. But knowing the pressures of the Lumia 900 and the nature of modern day tech-journalism, we bet we'll be getting a lot more back and forth over the next few weeks.

Buckle up, kids.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.