Getting consumers excited about Windows Phones has been tricky in the best of times. (At present, they control only 3 percent of the smartphone market). But it's about to get even more difficult. Windows Phone 7.8 and Windows Phone 8, the most current versions of the Windows Phone operating system, will both stop receiving updates next year.
After mid-2014, Microsoft will not release any further security patches of bug fixes for any phones running on either of these systems.
According to a Support update on Microsoft's official site, the days are numbered for both mobile OSes. Windows Phone 8 began its official product life cycle on Dec. 14, 2012, and updates will end on July 8, 2014. Windows Phone 7.8 (actually the newer of the two) will live from Feb. 9, 2013 until Sept. 9, 2014. As Microsoft points out, these dates will vary somewhat depending on individual carriers, regions and hardware.
Setting sunset dates for phones and operating systems is nothing new. As mobile devices become more powerful and users upgrade, there is little reason for software manufacturers to keep working on older OSes. However, both Windows Phone 7.8 and 8 have shelf lives of 18 months: a full eight months short of a wireless provider's standard 24-month contract.
Generally, phone manufacturers try to sync their products' lifespans with how long the average consumer will keep the product. Since most users keep their phones for the duration of a two-year contract, a phone that receives updates for only 18 months is an unusual, and potentially user-unfriendly, precedent.
The phones will continue to function after their sunset dates, but since security updates will cease, the eight months or so following mid-2014 will be prime time for hackers to develop methods of compromising Windows 7.8 and 8 phones. Whether it's worth their time to do so, however, is debatable thanks to the relatively small Windows Phone user base. [See also: Top 10 Reasons to Ditch Your Dumb Phone for a Smartphone ]
A statement from analytics firm Gartner suggests that Windows phones account for roughly 3 percent of worldwide smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2012, although that number is growing. Compared with Android's 69.7 percent and Apple's 20.9 percent, though, a prolific hacker's attention is probably best occupied elsewhere.
Since Microsoft has invested a lot of time, money and effort in the mobile market, another OS will likely supersede Windows Phone 8, but what that will be is not yet clear. It's possible that Microsoft will look to expand the Windows RT platform that its Surface tablet utilizes, effectively streamlining their software, similar to Android and iOS, which work on both phones and tablets.
Whatever happens, early adopters on Windows Phones have until mid-2014 to get the most out of them before the pining for a shiny new bit of tech inevitably sets in. Users looking to invest in new mobiles, however, might be best served by other OSes.
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