At last week’s BUILD conference, Microsoft’s annual event for developers, many expected there would be some announcements related to Windows Phone 8.1, the next version of Microsoft’s smartphone operating system. BUILD is where Microsoft shows off what’s next and it did not disappoint with Windows 8.1 for PC’s and tablets running on Windows. But as fate would have it, there was no mention of Windows Phone 8.1 in the opening day keynote that was entirely dedicated to Windows 8.1. There was no chance that Microsoft was making any significant Windows Phone announcement at the three-day event, especially when the man who heads the Windows Phone division, Joe Belfiore, was away in Finland.
However, things were different last year, when Belfiore took the stage at BUILD and announced Windows Phone 8, which was such a big improvement from Windows Phone 7.5 that older phones would not get updated to the latest operating system. This was a big blow, especially for Nokia, considering the announcement came in June while devices running on the new operating system would only be launched towards the end of the year. In other words, Nokia would have to keep selling phones that had a theoretical expiry date of a few months. What was worse was Nokia still had new smartphones to launch in many markets between June and December that were running on Windows Phone 7.5 and won’t be updated to Windows Phone 8, ever.
Barring Nokia, the announcement did not hurt any other vendors who had also promised to launch Windows Phone devices, considering no one else was so heavily invested in the platform. It did not help that there was no clarity before the announcement whether Windows Phone 7.5 smartphones would be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8 or not. Nokia never clarified it during the weeks leading to the announcement and Microsoft, well, they kept dodging the subject till it was announced on stage at BUILD that older phones won’t get updated to Windows Phone 8. And by older phones, they meant many phones that were still being launched. As a peace offering, Microsoft did announce those phones would eventually get Windows Phone 7.8, which brought some UI features of Windows Phone 8. But harm had been done, especially for those who bought the flagship Lumia smartphone only to get to know that it won’t get the next major software update.
That also incited many critics to dissect the Microsoft-Nokia relationship, many of whom were already baying for Stephen Elop’s blood, brandishing him as Microsoft’s Trojan Horse. It certainly did appear that Nokia was caught unaware and the timing for Microsoft’s premature Windows Phone announcement couldn’t have been worse as Nokia was crossing the difficult half of its transition period. But one would have to be really naive to think that Nokia was not aware of Windows Phone 8′s system requirements and that older phones won’t be compatible with them. After all, Nokia was already working on its next-gen Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8 by then. It was a bullet they had to bite. There was no other option.
Things are different this time around. It doesn’t look like current Windows Phone 8 devices won’t be updated to Windows Phone 8.1. So it isn’t as if there will be a slump in Lumia sales had Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1 at BUILD but it would be available only six months later like it happened last year. Technically, it made sense for Microsoft to unveil Windows Phone 8.1 at its annual event dedicated to developers. But for some strange reason that did not happen.
BTW, newsmedia.. I come to Finland regularly to work w/Nokia on actually *building* great phones. HW/SW together in harmony. #normalcy
— joebelfiore (@joebelfiore) June 22, 2013
As I see it, this time around both Microsoft and Nokia would like to show the world that the two companies are on the same page and are working more closely than before. Also, it could be possible that Windows Phone 8.1 supports some new hardware-dependent capabilities (*cough* camera *cough*) that cannot be showcased without the hardware, which obviously has not been announced yet. Also, with Nokia holding a press conference in NYC on July 11, which is just a fortnight after BUILD, it could be a great stage for Belfiore to grace the stage and show some new tricks in Windows Phone 8.1.
Well, that’s what I think. We will find out for sure on July 11, it seems.