Why Apollo is for everyone.
There's been quite a bit of speculation about the WP8 Apollo upgrade flying around in the last couple of days. I use the term speculation purposefully, because there are no official statements. Even with official statements, there would still be leeway for interpretation. So here's my take on the whole situation.
Apollo will bring a lot of important updates to windows phone to make it "competitive" with other platforms. There is most certainly support for...
Higher resolution screens
and likely, NFC
All of that is great and all, but those are "nerdy" additions to the platform. Windows phone hardware has been tightly controlled up to this point, limited to the relatively low 800x480 resolution at a variety of screen sizes, and no multi core processors, not to mention processors that clock in at a maximum of 1.5Ghz (Titan II, I believe?). When WP was released, these specs were somewhat competitive. I'll use the Samsung Galaxy S as an example, which ran on samsung's own hummingbird processor clocked at 1Ghz, featured 512MB of Ram, and 800x480 resolution, what one might call a "flagship" phone at the time. On similar specifications, Windows Phones have remained competitive and still run well, despite the flurry of features added by mango. Even generation 1 devices like my Samsung Focus can hold their own with all the dual core beasts of today.
Let's take a look at the mobile landscape now. The iPhone and Android phones have long since moved on to dual core processors, 1GB of RAM, and, most importantly, higher resolution screens. Windows Phone is still puttering along, but on the same old hardware it always has been, and is finally getting some attention with the Nokia finally arriving in America with the Lumia 900 and 710 stating a strong case. So, what changes in Apollo are supposed to hold back all the phones that have been released? What advantage do the other platforms have over Windows Phone?
I believe those may be the wrong questions. How about, what advantages does Windows Phone have over the iPhone, or, more importantly, Android?
The strength of windows phone is actually something that has been cited as a weakness by bloggers and commenters alike. The strength of windows phone lies in the standardized hardware that graces most of our phones, most importantly, the screen resolution. I believe that ALL windows phones will receive the Apollo update because the standardized hardware allows Microsoft to know the baseline for expected performance. In essence, if it runs on Gen 1 hardware, it can run on anything else.
The variation of Android hardware makes for a difficult experience. You can still purchase single core devices running with minimal amounts of RAM and at a variety of resolutions. From the perspective of Google, this makes it extremely difficult to understand what your baseline for performance is. Is the Galaxy S still a viable device to run ICS? Are we going to cut off support for devices that were released at that time, or do we have to support them? Should we continue to support lower resolutions? Slower SoC's? Essentially, it's a mess to make sure that new iterations of android will be able to run on hardware that is less than 2 years old because the hardware isn't even close to standardized. You can play that off as a positive for the consumer (choice is king, right?), but it comes back as a nightmare for the developer of the OS.
Obviously, some enhancements from Apollo can't come to current windows phones because they like the dual core SoC, high-res screens, and NFC chips that it would require. But, what's stopping the old hardware from getting the new software enhancements? Absolutely NOTHING. Apollo doesn't represent a switch a new processor architecture, and is more than capable of running on current hardware.
Earlier this year, Microsoft released some rather encouraging footage of WoA running on an old windows phone. And when I say windows phone, I mean the WM6.5 Asus Galaxy 7 (A supposed Omnia killer!). To put this in perspective, this is the same Win8 kernel that will be running Apollo, WoA, and W8... running on a 528Mhz Qualcomm cpu, with 256MB of ram, on the all important resolution of 800x480.
Suddenly, the minimum requirements for windows phone become very important. how about that 800x480 resolution, 1Ghz SoC, and 512MB of RAM (save the new lumia 610, of course)? Looking pretty good, all of a sudden. These phones will be perfectly capable of running Apollo. Microsoft is more than capable of porting UI enhancements and other software changes to old handsets because they have already proven it can be done. Look at what they could do with hardware from December 2008. Apollo will cater to all phones, but also have the room to allow for new superphones and flagships with all the gadgets and doohickeys that the forums have been missing.
That's my take on the situation. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think. If I'm wrong, I'll gladly eat my words.