Opinion: Microsoft has a credibility problem with Windows Phone 8

How many times can a company abandon its users and still retain their loyalty? Microsoft may be about to find out.

Microsoft has a history of abandoning its mobile users. It happened when the Windows Phone 7 transition occurred, with Windows Mobile users. Based on the Windows CE kernel, Windows Mobile evolved from the PocketPC OS into a full fledged, if clunky, mobile phone operating system. When Microsoft shipped Windows Phone 7, the company essentially abandoned Windows Mobile users.

There were some very good technical reasons for this, but the upshot was this: Both users and developers had to start over.

Similar abandonment happened with digital music players. Microsoft presented a standard called PlaysForSure, which created interoperability standards between digital music players. Later, Microsoft abruptly dumped support for the standard, abandoning its OEMs for Zune. Zune adhered to the iTunes model, with player and software locked to each other.

Fast forward to Wednesday’s announcement of Windows Phone 8. Microsoft revealed that Windows Phone 8 will require dual core processors, so it won’t run on existing Windows Phone 7 handsets (which use single core CPUs). This, after telling the world that performance and responsiveness are perfectly fine on Windows Phone 7 and single core processors.

As a kind of olive branch, Microsoft did mention an upgrade to something called Windows Phone 7.8, which would at least give Windows Phone 7 users the same new Start Screen interface. Existing apps will continue to run, but new apps that take advantage of Windows Phone 8’s capabilities will not run on phones with this update.

I’m already hearing a lot of rumbling among users who bought Windows Phone 7 when it first shipped. Users are starting to feel abandoned, and it should come as no surprise. Users were willing to put up with one big hardware and OS standard—that made sense, just like the transition from Windows 95 to Windows XP. But a lot of users feel burned about being left behind only a few months after the big hoopla over Nokia’s Lumia 900.

So what should Microsoft do? They should bring users along with them—at a minimum, it should reach out to recent buyers of Windows Phone 7 products.

There’s a precedent for this—the Xbox 360. When the Xbox 360 began suffering extremely high failure rates, Microsoft did the right thing: It extended the warranty well beyond the initial period and replaced defective Xbox 360s, sometimes even after that extended warranty had expired. Microsoft makes sure PC purchasers aren’t left behind, too. In the months preceding a new release of Windows, Microsoft offers coupons for cheap or free upgrades to those buying a new PC with the previous version of Windows installed.

It’s true that Windows Phone 7 units aren’t failing in the sense that they're defective, as was the case with the Xbox 360. On the other hand, the way the transition is being handled today can be seen as a failure on Microsoft’s part. The company should step up to the plate and ease the transition for recent Windows Phone 7 customers, through subsidies our outright replacement for recent buyers. It’s the right thing to do.

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