Remember Windows Phone 7? Of course you do, you might even still be using it. Figures released in July 2014 indicate 17.7% of all Windows Phone users are running the original version or one of its upgrades. This represents around 8.5 million of the 50 million Windows Phone devices in regular use (based on figures from AdDuplex) at the end of 2013.
While this is obviously an estimation, it remains a significant number of devices.
With the impending end of support, the regular closing of significant apps and the inability to upgrade devices to Windows Phone 8/8.1, the time has come for users to explore alternatives to Windows Phone 7.
Windows Phone 7: What Went Wrong?
Windows Phone 7 was to many a feature phone writ large with smartphone sensibilities, a problem that wasn’t really overcome until Windows Phone 7.8 was released – slowly – in 2012.
As a Windows Mobile user from 2005-2009, I was surprised at how common tasks were seemingly impossible, or at best difficult, on the new platform, launched in late 2010.
Blogging, remote desktop and the ability to easily apply email settings with CAB files were among the many tasks that were possible to achieve with Windows Mobile 6. Many hacker developers on this platform went on to work on Android, which gives you an idea of the culture that surrounded Windows Mobile.
By contrast, Windows Phone 7 was “locked down” and released without the necessary APIs to enable app developers to create useful tools. This was one of the main reasons why developers steered clear, resulting in a platform with a limited selection of apps.
The result was a phone that relied on the all-important 7.5 and 7.8 updates to be really usable.
Sadly, by the time Windows Phone 7.8 came along, Windows Phone 8 was already available. With greater features and no upgrade path, it was in 2012 that Windows Phone 7 was really put down.
1. Support Ends In September 2014
The fact is, however, that Windows Phone 7 is a has-been, an unsupported a mobile OS. Even the final update, Windows Phone 7.8, will no longer be maintained by Microsoft as of September 2014.
This doesn’t just mean no more updates. It means that Microsoft will no longer have to provide support pages on its website, and effectively serves users with notice on use of the update servers – a factory reset might leave you with the basic Windows Phone 7 on your handset rather than Windows Phone 7.5 or 7.8.
Naturally, Microsoft wants its mobile users to be running Windows Phone 8.1, which as of July 2014 was an 11.9% segment of its market.
2. Microsoft Pulls Skype From Windows Phone 7.8
Microsoft’s purchase of Skype has been a story of strange decisions, from ending the peer-to-peer nature of the service to launching a Windows 8 app which is less pleasing to use than eating a plate of rice at Al Weiwei’s house.
Their latest blinder is to kill off the Windows Phone 7 version of Skype, due to a new software architecture being adopted for the popular VoIP app. This isn’t something that is coming – it’s already been implemented, and it isn’t an ending of support, it’s a deactivation of the servers that provide data to the app. Conversely, Android 2.3 and iPhone 4 versions of Skype still work.
It would seem that Windows Phone 7 isn’t important enough to be included in this new era for Skype, despite the significant 17.7% portion of the Windows Phone market that it represents.
What might Microsoft end support for next on Windows Phone 7? Exchange email?
3. No Cortana, Limited Voice Support
This might seem trivial, but in truth voice search and command is one of the most important segments in current mobile development, alongside wearable technology and automotive integration. While Windows Phone 7 has some voice support (as explained in our Windows Phone 7 guide), it is limited compared to what is available on other platforms.
Cortana is expected to hit the next version of Windows. Xbox One already has voice command tools, also expected to be developed further as the three operating systems converge.
Is Cortana the real reason why Windows Phone 7 was not given an upgrade path to Windows Phone 8? We’ll probably never know, but the lack of a robust voice tool is genuinely a good reason to move on – just look at what Cortana can do for you in the car.
What Can You Do?
We’ve outlined above three good reasons why you need to upgrade your Windows Phone 7 device, but what should you upgrade to?
Regular MakeUseOf readers will know that I’m a long-standing Windows Phone user, currently using the 8.1 Developer Preview (although my current day-to-day phone is the HTC One). However, I would not advise any Windows Phone 7 owner to take the Windows Phone route again. After all, you’ve already been stung once. Why would you risk it again?
On the other hand, if you haven’t been upgraded to Windows Phone 7.8 yet and have a few months before you need to make a decision, then I would advise you upgrade to it as soon as possible. If your carrier network has been slow in upgrading you, there is a chance that you could use the SevenEighter app to force the update. You might also check what differences and similarities there are between Windows Phone 7.8 and Windows Phone 8.
Ultimately, however, Microsoft has royally screwed Windows Phone 7 users. Unless you completely fell in love with the OS, there would be no need to be loyal to Microsoft, so don’t be put off switching to iPhone, Android or BlackBerry.
Are you due an upgrade from Windows Phone 7? Has the latest news about the platform left you angry? Let us know how you feel in the comments.