Can't upgrade, won't upgrade: Windows Mobile's user problem

Darn customers and their 'I-just-wanna-use-a-working-phone' desires

Microsoft’s dream of a smooth transition to Windows 10 Mobile needs a reality check. Figures from AdDuplex, which samples devices actually in use, finds that much of today’s active Windows Phone user base won’t be able to make the update.

A three-year-old device, the Lumia 520, is today the most popular Windows Phone in use, according to the agency. Six out of the 10 most popular Windows Phones are two years old.

Why is this a problem? W10M is greedier on system resources than Windows Phone 8.x, requiring 1GB of RAM in which to work comfortably. Only last year did Microsoft ensure that budget models ship with 1GB of RAM, and most popular models in 2013 and 2014 shipped with 512MB of RAM.

In addition, the phone needs sufficient storage to allow an Over The Air upgrade to take place, something that has dogged 16GB iPhones as iOS expanded. It’s doubtful that models that shipped with 4GB (of which the OS would take up over 2GB) can make the cut. That leaves a question-mark over whether many Lumia models will receive a cut-down W10M, or no W10M at all.

Microsoft says it’s “working hard” to make Windows 10 Mobile available for older devices, but doesn’t list the Lumia 520 – or many other popular devices – in its initial list of devices that are upgrade compatible.

“Certain features and experiences will require more advanced future hardware,” Microsoft’s Chris Weber said last week. “Our goal is for the majority of the Lumia phones running Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 to join the Windows ecosystem.”

Lumia expert Steve Litchfield at All About Windows Phone predicts that the near future will be rocky. “I'm still expecting that big sellers like the 520 and 630/635 may be left on 8.1 Update 1 too, or at the very least presented with a cut-down experience on '10', because of the 512MB of RAM. Of course, this probably won't matter to most 520/630 owners, who are very unlikely to be tech enthusiasts and won't even be aware of any further upgrade possibilities on the horizon or under-the-hood technical limitations.”

You could argue that it’s unreasonable for any OEM to support ancient models. But Lumias less than 18 months old (the 535) may well be left high and dry.

Indeed, the superior performance and usability of Windows Phone 8.1 over Windows 10 Mobile, in its latest incarnation, means missing out might be a blessing in disguise. For example, the older “People” app is far richer and more useful than the Windows 10 Mobile version, offering a handy history of your phone, SMS and email interactions with someone, and aggregates their social media contact information.

It was Windows Phone’s smooth performance on budget hardware that finally gave the platform a toe hold on the market in 2013, as Nokia launched an impressive range of low cost models. These appealed to users who wanted the simplicity of a feature phone (thanks to great UX design) and access to a few important modern apps. Nokia also focused its expertise in producing durable and great value low cost phones at the platform. Windows Phone’s market share peaked at 12 per cent in August 2013, a month before Microsoft’s acquisition of the phones unit was announced.

Since then Microsoft has swung the axe repeatedly, cancelling planned budget models. One new “affordable” model was announced at Microsoft’s Surface event last autumn, the first for months. It is priced at £79 on pre-pay contracts – but has only just reached the market. ®

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