Windows Phone 8 to offer more OS customization for manufacturers? [Update]

As we reported earlier, it’s looking increasingly like Microsoft isn’t intending to provide an update to Windows Phone 8 for owners of first- and second-generation WP7 handsets. For those who have so far put their faith in the Windows Phone ecosystem, it’s a great disappointment – but perhaps not surprising, given that the mobile network operators and manufacturers would much rather you buy a nice new handset, rather than enjoying frequent updates that bring new features to your old one.

It’s a difficult balance that Microsoft must find: on the one hand, the company runs the risk of angering its customers, but on the other hand, it must keep its partners happy to ensure that they’ll continue to build and sell new devices. Microsoft has already drawn criticism from those partners over the strict limitations that it places on how the OS can be customized. While Android devices are frequently adorned with custom user experiences such as HTC’s Sense UI and Samsung’s TouchWiz, Microsoft has imposed tight restrictions on how its mobile OS can be customized by OEMs and carriers.

That may be set to change with Windows Phone 8. Netbook News claims to have got its hands on a copy of the “high level agenda” for a Microsoft summit on Windows Phone 8, being held at the company’s UK headquarters in Reading, Berkshire. One of the topics that will be covered at the gathering – where manufacturers and other Windows Phone partners will be present to discuss the next version of the operating system – is that of “Customization & Differentiation opportunities”, leading to speculation that Microsoft will confer greater freedoms on its partners to make changes to the OS and user interface.

Other topics that will be covered at the summit include:

  • Apollo Review
  • Windows Phone Schedules and releases plans/processes
  • New Windows Phone 8 application development capabilities
  • ‘What’s new’ feature review of Apollo
  • Connectivity and APN management
  • Better together with Windows 8

Just how far Microsoft might go in allowing its partners to tweak the Windows Phone UI remains anyone’s guess; for now, frustratingly, there remain more questions than answers when it comes to Windows Phone 8.

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Update: The Verge has uncovered a few more details on Microsoft's plans for Windows Phone 8 carrier customization, based on discussions with sources close to Microsoft. Operators will apparently be able to integrate services - including VoIP and third-party messaging - into the People Hub, essentially making these 'part' of the OS. We've previously heard that Microsoft has similar plans for integrating Skype into Windows Phone 8, and it seems MS is preparing to allow its partners to bake their chosen services into the OS too.

Microsoft apparently also has plans to open up its wallet payment service to mobile operators and allow them to brand those services as part of an integrated experience, much as the networks are already doing with Android devices and RCSe integration. This is a big deal for the wireless carriers, which are desperate to find new ways to maintain customer relevance, to ensure that they're not just turned into 'dumb pipes' for data - and to protect their revenue streams, of course.

By working with the mobile operators on opportunities such as these, it will surely help Microsoft and its hardware partners to win more carrier support in promoting the Windows Phone platform - something that they seem to be lacking a bit these days.

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