Mark your calendars - 11 July 2017 - the last day on which Windows Phone 8.1 will receive any further updates or official support from Microsoft.
The popular mobile operating system, which was the companies third generation of Windows Phone in a period of just four years, was released in the summer of 2014. It carried on many of the features and enhancements of its predecessors, Windows Phone 7 (2010) and Windows Phone 8 (2012), but each successive release left users behind on older hardware that would not be able to upgrade to the latest release.
You can imagine the frustration that caused within the Windows Phone enthusiasts ranks.
When Microsoft started the development of Windows 10 with their plan to have a single core operating system across all devices it was seen as too little, too late by many. Users had moved on at this point because they had been abandoned at various stages of the Windows Phone timeline. The lack of flagship devices for the release of Windows 10 Mobile also impacted adoption and usage numbers.
Of course, we all know about the failed Nokia acquisition and subsequent write downs as well.
However, despite the lack of hardware development continued on the Windows 10 Mobile operating system. The first official release came along in March of 2016, a full nine months after its desktop sibling was made available in June of 2015. In fact, the first new Windows 10 Mobile hardware from Microsoft - the Lumia 550, 650, 950 and 950 XL - were all released to retail running pre-release versions of Windows 10.
Only 18 Windows Phone 8.1 handsets were eligible for the Windows 10 Mobile upgrade at that time. Then, when the Anniversary Update was released in August of the same year, the list of devices were identical except for the addition of the previously mentioned Windows 10 devices and the Lumia Icon and HP Elite X3. That brought the total number of supported handsets to approximately 24. Over the next few months a handful of Windows 10 based devices would be released and bring that number to about 30. Note: Pardon my math if I am off by a handset or two.
The release of the Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update in April 2017 would see that list of supported hardware chopped down severely resulting in just 13 handsets being eligible to upgrade and receive official support for Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update:
-- HP Elite x3
-- Microsoft Lumia 550
-- Microsoft Lumia 640/640XL
-- Microsoft Lumia 650
-- Microsoft Lumia 950/950 XL
-- Alcatel IDOL 4S
-- Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL
-- SoftBank 503LV
-- VAIO Phone Biz
-- MouseComputer MADOSMA Q601
-- Trinity NuAns NEO
The only way previous supported devices would be able to continue receiving "unofficial" support for the handsets no longer being supported would be to enroll them in the Windows Insider Release Preview Ring and they would get the monthly Cumulative Updates in that channel. Not a perfect solution but it allowed those dedicated users to stay on Windows 10 Mobile for a while longer - especially since Windows Phone 8.1 support was going to hit end of life just a few months later anyway.
We are now 11 builds along for both PC and Mobile devices in the development of the next update to Windows 10, known by its code name of Redstone 3 and the official designation as the Fall Creators Update.
There is however, a significant issue with the continued development of Windows 10 Mobile. Currently testing builds for mobile smart phone hardware are no longer in the Redstone 3 branch but have been moved into a different branch called Feature 2. There are regular updates for this branch on mobile devices but it is only getting minor fixes and no new features.
Many believe that this could be the end of the road for Windows 10 Mobile and that the currently supported hardware will get this branch as an update around the September time frame when the Creators Update is released for PCs. If that happens then you can expect a couple of years worth of cumulative and security updates for those supported handsets and then the end of support for Windows 10 Mobile.
That would create a very short era of just roughly 10 years from the release of Windows Phone 7 in 2010 and the final support for Windows 10 Mobile sometime in 2019/2020.
Now what we need to keep an eye on is where things go with Windows 10 On Mobile which is what I believe is the future of mobile computing on Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system.
More to come...