Stephen Elop, chief executive of Nokia, announced in January the company’s flagship handset, The Lumia 900, that was considered the exemplar of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Phone.
Just six months later, Microsoft announced a major Windows Phone update that it said would not be available to Lumia 900 owners.
Nokia sold two million Lumia handsets in the first quarter of 2012 but the company’s top device has essentially been rendered out of date within a year, as reported by The Telegraph.
Microsoft on Wednesday said that any Windows Phone that customers buy in the next few months won’t run the next version of its operating system.
This emphasises the growing problem of so-called ‘fragmentation’ when relatively new devices are unable to run the latest version of the software that powers them.
For software developers, this problem means they can’t be sure how, or even if, their applications will run successfully on the latest handsets.
However, Microsoft is promising a more modest update for current phones — Windows Phone 7.8 — that will at least allow existing customers to get Windows Phone 8’s more customizable start screen, according to All ThingsD.
Meanwhile, part of Apple’s dominance of the smartphone app market can be explained by its approach to limiting fragmentation, as Apple typically ensures that the latest version of its iOS software is compatible with iPhones that are up to two years old.
The same is with Android: chief among Android’s challenges is fragmentation: the splitting of Android into multiple incompatible variants. This has significant repercussions for users, developers, network operators, manufacturers and Google itself.
It now remains to be seen how the announcement of Windows Phone 8 — several months before the first devices are ready — will impact sales of the Nokia Lumia and other Microsoft-based phones.
Nokia posted this statement on its U.S. Twitter account on Wednesday: “We will bring the elements of WP8 to Lumia 900 that aren’t tied to the new hardware.”
The idea of some models being more equal than others is not attractive for manufacturers trying to encourage reluctant users away from Google and Apple. For Nokia, sales down more than half in the first quarter, it could be critical.
“The message we have to get through to consumers is this thing is a great value today,” Nokia SVP Kevin Shields told AllThingsD just after Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 announcement.
Nokia also pointed out that it plans to upgrade a number of its own Windows Phone apps in an effort to keep interest in its current devices.
The company’s camera, maps and music programs will all be updated starting in the coming days; the company will also debut a new tool for tracking one’s data, text and voice usage.
Graham Stapleton, the Chief Operating Officer of the leading retailer Carphone Warehouse, says: “What was once a battle of hardware between the manufacturers, has now become a battle of software. Both customers and developers can look forward to reaping the benefits in the coming months, as Windows Phone 8 brings some much needed variety and depth to the market.”
He added: “There are some very exciting devices due this autumn sporting the new operating system, and they will be fundamental to its success.” By implication, the existing devices are now far less attractive because they will soon be usurped.