The last major update to Windows Phone before Apollo arrives on the scene – Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh, formerly known as ‘the Tango update’ – brings with it minor improvements for higher-end devices, but some of its best tricks are hidden beneath the surface, optimising the OS for a buttery-smooth user experience on a class of entry-level handsets that are new to the Windows Phone ecosystem.
New devices such as Nokia’s Lumia 610 hit their low price points through the use of fewer premium materials, cheaper components and lower specifications. We’ve known for some time that these lower-cost devices would require some compromise on the part of the user – as we’ve previously reported, some features available in better specified handsets (such as fast app switching and Bing Local Scout) are not available on the cheapest devices, specifically those with just 256MB of RAM.
Microsoft has already admitted that up to 5% of apps currently on the Windows Phone Marketplace will not install on these lower end devices, and there was some concern when it emerged that one app that won’t work on such handsets was Microsoft’s own Skype app. But it seems that things are actually worse than that.
WindowsPhoneApps.es notes that many other well-known and popular apps simply won’t install on the Lumia 610 (and likely on other Windows Phones with 256MB of RAM). Among those apps that refuse to install are the Tango video-calling app, PES 2012 and everyone’s favourite, Angry Birds.
While it appears that Microsoft’s efforts to maintain a ‘premium’ user experience on entry-level handsets have largely paid off, the cost to end-users of being unable to run some of the most popular apps and games on their devices may simply be too high for some. The situation also raises questions about fragmentation in Windows Phone in very practical terms, highlighting the compromises that Microsoft, its retail partners and its customers are facing in balancing up-front cost with longer-term practicalities.
With Windows Phone 8 around the corner, and the apparent likelihood that existing devices won’t be eligible for an update to WP8, Microsoft could end up having to manage three ‘tiers’ in its ecosystem, with its newest and most magnificent devices running the new OS, but with its existing handsets providing two levels of performance under Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh.
This could get very messy.
Update: Various sources, including WPCentral, are reporting that Rovio is working on a version of Angry Birds that is optimised for lower-end handsets with 256MB of RAM, such as the Nokia Lumia 610. It's not clear if this will result in Rovio having to maintain two separate versions of the app, or if the new 'optimised for 256MB' version will also replace the version currently provided to devices with more RAM. Thanks to Sraf and brent3000 for letting us know.