Windows Phone could use a little fragmentation

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: February 12, 2012

When it comes to Windows Phone, things are finally beginning to look up. The dust has finally settled after the first major software update, Mango; Nokia is now in Microsoft's camp, producing some jaw-dropping hardware to show off Microsoft's sleek Metro UI; and at CES this year, we saw just how dedicated Microsoft is to turn Windows Phone into a success.

Nonetheless, the software is far from polished and weathered, and some very important features are still absent. Mango was a huge leap forward for the platform, and there is plenty of third-party development. But to make Windows Phone the third smartphone ecosystem, Microsoft has work to do yet, and lots of it.

That all begins with the two approaching updates, Tango and Apollo. As we learned at the very end of last year, Tango is expected to drop sometime during Q2 of this year, and Apollo will follow in the Q4. An interesting bit of info on the leaked roadmap, however, is the bullet point under the Tango block, which reads, "Products with best prices." The Apollo update, on the other hand, will be focused more towards "competitive devices" and "business."

Interestingly enough, Paul Thurrott of WinSupersite wrote an article detailing what we can expect of Windows Phone in 2012. Thurrott starts the article off rather bluntly, getting straight to the point, saying:

"This year, we can expect two revisions to Windows Phone, one minor and one major. But unlike with previous versions, these releases won't necessarily supersede each other and will instead coexist in the market as we head into 2013. And that means that both are quite important to the future of Windows Phone, despite their minor and major tags, respectively."

So instead of Apollo coming after and overwriting Tango, the two updates will create a fork in Windows Phone, a fragmentation of sorts. Thurrott explains that Tango, believed to be Windows Phone 7.5.1, will optimize the software for lower memory requirements (256MB instead of the more typical 512MB) and will be aimed at low-end devices, primarily made by Nokia. Apollo, codename for what is assumed to be Windows Phone 8, "will share core technologies with its desktop- and tablet-based stable mates."

What's important here is not what the updates will bring or that one is major and one is minor. It's the fact that they two do not fully overlap one another. Tango will not be replaced by Apollo. Instead, Microsoft will turn Windows Phone into a two-headed beast: low-end, budget-friendly devices as well as high-end, "competitive devices" that more closely relate to the Windows 8 family. What's more is that the devices running Tango – the ones with low RAM – may be incompatible with a large number of applications in Windows Marketplace.

Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, told Pocket-lint that Android is too fragmented and he didn't want to create the same thing with Windows Phone. Yet that is exactly what is going to happen here.

Ah, fragmentation.

In the general use of the word, in terms of mobile operating systems at least, fragmentation is looked down upon. It's a "terrible" thing. And a lot of the time ... it is. Android, for instance, is fragmented because only a small percentage of devices are ever on the current version of software. The majority of users are at least one, or maybe two (sometimes even three), versions behind.

The fragmentation Windows Phone is presumably facing is quite a bit different. As it is described, this will be purposeful fragmentation instead of neglect and the inability of manufacturers to keep up with software updates. And believe it or not, this could be good for Windows Phone.

Save for screen sizes, cameras and aesthetics, there are next to no differences between most existing Windows Phones. Microsoft dictates the minimum hardware requirements needed to Windows Phone and manufacturers walk a thin line. In other words, there is little reason for one Windows Phone to cost $50 with an agreement while another is $250.

By creating a definitive separation of low-end and high-end devices, Microsoft will establish at least some differentiation amongst their own devices – a line that will appeal to the tech savvy and one that appeals more to first-time buyers and novices. And what makes this type of fragmentation less of an issue is that Microsoft still has control over updates, so users (theoretically) will not be left behind on outdated versions.

What do you think about the Tango and Apollo updates, Window Phone lovers? Do you think splitting Windows Phone into two completely different sections is a good idea? Is it necessary? Could this finally push feature phones to the wayside?