Spare a thought for the forgotten people. When Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8 back in October 2012, most of us were happy to ogle devices like the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC 8X and revel in the much-needed challenge being posed to the Android/iOS duopoly. But for some of the Windows Phone (WP) hardcore, it was a case of Steve Ballmer bearing false gifts: those who had bought a shiny new Windows Phone 7.5 device in spring 2012 found that they were suddenly stuck with a rapidly antiquating handset running a dead end OS. In an effort to address this apparent injustice, Microsoft came up with a compromise: Windows Phone 7.8. Not a lot is known about the incremental upgrade, so we've given it the FAQ treatment for those of you counting down the days until Live Tiles imbue your life with new meaning.
Windows Phone 7.8 will be the final upgrade of the Windows Phone 7 generation. If you were being unkind, you might say it was a booby prize for those people who bought WP 7.5 handsets and are none too chuffed at being told they can't join the Windows Phone 8 party.
For some reason unbeknownst to us, the arrival of Windows Phone 7.8 has dragged well into 2013 but the wait is now nearly over - the incremental update is confirmed for 31 January.
In short, yes. Windows Phone 7.8 will offer a taste of Microsoft's new Live Tile-based interface, giving users of eligible devices a far greater scope for home screen customisation than they currently enjoy. Other improvements include a new lock screen featuring Bing wallpapers, additional colour themes, and a host of updated logos. There have also been rumours of the Xbox Music Store making an appearance.
It depends. It's not a certainty that all WP 7 devices will be made privy to the update. Nokia has confirmed that its Lumia devices currently on 7.5 will get the boost, and HTC has also committed to furnishing the update.
We don't know. There's no guarantee and in some territories much depends on individual networks and carriers giving the go-ahead.
No. Windows Phone 7.8 is really just an upgrade fror existing smartphones, and new devices will launch running Windows Phone 8. You could nab a WP 7.5 handset like the Lumia 510 (pictured, above) or Lumia 900 if you're really trying to suck up to your bank manager, but with a number of affordable WP 8 devices now available - like the entry-level Lumia 620 - we see this as a null point.
Windows Phone trails Android and iOS by some distance when it comes to app choice, and developer efforts going forward are understandably focused on producing software for WP 8. Apps designed for the new mobile OS won't be automatically backported, but Microsoft has released a Windows Phone 7.8 SDK to help devs transition existing WP 7 and 7.5 apps to version 7.8.
A very good question and one we fully intend to put to Steve Ballmer as soon as he starts returning our calls. Until then, take comfort in the fact that it's a "generational shift in technology," in the words of Microsoft.