Will Windows Phone 8 crash and burn?
That’s a pressing question for two companies in particular: Nokia, which bet its survival on Windows Phone’s viability in the marketplace, and Microsoft, which needs a show of strength in the smartphone arena.
But in the days following Nokia unveiling the Lumia 920 and 820 at a high-profile event in New York City, various publications have begun questioning whether Windows Phone 8’s rollout will be smooth as silk or rougher than a rocky patch of country road. The Verge, following up on its report that Nokia had faked some of the footage promoting the new Lumia devices’ cameras, tried to give Microsoft a minor aneurism with a Sept. 11 story questioning whether Windows Phone 8 would launch on schedule; it alluded to “delays and bugs” in testing.
Ars Technica, meanwhile, threw its own darts with a Sept. 6 story highlighting the total lack of information about Windows Phone 8’s release date. “A full SDK will come, but not until the company properly unveils the operating system—which is currently rumored to happen on October 29th,” bemoaned writer Peter Bright. “Presuming Windows Phone 8 devices ship this year—and Microsoft is certainly talking as if they will—that leaves developers little time to update their applications and get ready for the new platform.”
For its part, Microsoft is promising a “near-final” SDK for select developers Sept. 12, with a “full” SDK publicly available later in 2012. In a Sept. 5 posting on The Windows Phone Developer Blog, Microsoft executive Todd Brix emphasized that access to that SDK preview would be limited. That’s a fair bit of uncertainty.
Nokia declined to cite a release date or price point for the Lumia 920 and 820 at its New York City event. During the post-event, when media and analysts traditionally given the chance to poke and prod devices to their hearts’ content, Nokia representatives refused to let reporters manhandle the sleek smartphones. When SlashCloud wanted to perform a side-by-side camera test of the Lumia 920 and an iPhone 4S, a Nokia representative insisted on operating the Lumia instead of handing it over (for the record, the Lumia 920 did seem to produce clearer images in low-light conditions than the iPhone).
A few days before Nokia executives stepped onstage, Samsung also unveiled a Windows Phone 8 device, albeit with a similar lack of pricing or release details. Compare that to Amazon’s rollout of the Kindle Fire HD, which has a definite release date and pricing, or Apple’s iPhone 5, which—at least if history is any indication—will also make its debut with a price-tag and shelf date in place. As these IT giants head into the crucial holiday shopping season, Microsoft’s information vacuum could end up confusing consumers to the point where they turn to rival vendors for satisfaction.
On top of that, Microsoft risks alienating those early adopters who bought a Windows Phone 7.x only to find the device won’t upgrade to Windows Phone 8; nor will Windows Phone 7.x smartphones run Windows Phone 8 apps. Considering Windows Phone’s tiny market-share (2.7 percent worldwide, according to Gartner, minus those few users still relying on antiquated Windows Mobile devices), losing a subset of Windows Phone 7.x might prove a small price to pay if Windows Phone 8 truly takes off. But if Microsoft doesn’t get its game underway, Windows Phone 8 might have trouble right out of the proverbial gate.