The recent Windows Phone 8 announcement made it clear that Windows Phone 7 hardware would not be receiving the update, but as a form of compromise, the new user interface design would be made available to as a point update to existing hardware.
The new interface will feature 3 tile sizes, available to developers (the previous ‘large’ tile was only available to major software partners) and removes the ‘gutter’ on the right side of the phone, making use of the entire screen real-estate.
Ben Rudolph (Ben the PC Guy) has a nice hand-on demo with the WP7.8 update showing how the new homescreen will work on existing hardware – a Lumia 900, you can check it out in the video below.
He describes it as a “Nokia Lumia 900 running a VERY early build of Windows Phone 7.8” so the performance and features will not be final, but it gives a good idea of how it will work. Given many of the other WP8 features require hardware that isn’t present on current devices, such as NFC and higher resolutions screens, I can understand why Microsoft is making a clean break here and only bringing in WP8 to devices that can fully support the entire range of new features.
It does leave anyone who purchased a Windows Phone 7 or 7.5 device without an upgrade path, but realistically, how much of the general public buys a device looking for its abilities to receive all future updates? Outside of the tech-savvy group, not many, and I bet a good proportion of current Windows Phone users have no idea what version they’re running now, let alone what the next version is or when its coming.