The Name Game: Windows Phone 7.8
I’ve been stewing on this ever since Windows Phone 8 was announced last week. I’ll save any discussion of WP8 itself for a future post when we have more public info, but wanted to tackle Windows Phone 7.8, the update for existing devices.
Before I begin, let us for the sake of argument, agree that there was no way to bring Windows Phone 8 (eg. the new core) to the old hardware, and that we’re looking at what to call the more modest update.
Now, some have begun to wonder what Windows Phone 7.8 is. From what has been announced (and I have no further insight beyond that announcement), 7.8 appears to mostly be a culmination of the new WP8-style Start screen and bug fixes. The first, and natural reaction is to demand why Microsoft is not upgrading the devices to WP8. If the lowly 3GS can get iOS 6, why can’t I get WP8? This is spurred on by calling it WP 7.8- clearly, if the number isn’t as high, it’s not as good, right? But it must be better than 7.5 (“Mango”).
There has been an excellent challenge to call this new variant “Windows Phone 8 CE” or a similar WP8-derived moniker. The argument goes that by simply calling it a version of Windows Phone 8, you will have silenced many non-technical critics who look at the number and the most central feature. Indeed, this is the strategy that Apple has employed in the past, claiming that old variants of iPhones (previously the 3G, and now 3GS and 4) will receive the new OS, but delivering a pared down experience.
My take? It’s disingenuous to call the update anything with Windows Phone 8 in the title. By calling it 7.8, the Windows Phone team has chosen a consumer-friendly nomenclature, rather than a PR-friendly one. When a developer targets his application, it’s obvious what 7.8 means vs 8. In common discussion, where suffixes are easily lost (especially by sloppy salesmen), the nomenclature will remain pure. Buyers know what they’re getting, even if it isn’t obvious when they first use the phone, and that’s the way it should be.
As tough of a pill as it is to swallow, given the constraints, the WP team has made good on “Putting People First”.
(Disclosure: I’m a past and future Windows Phone team member, but these opinions are my own. I had no impact on, or prior knowledge of, the nomenclature/marketing decisions discussed here. This post should not be read as the “behind the scenes” of the decision process, but the views of an informed member of the public.)