Sure, Microsoft and Nokia are the minnows in today’s smartphone race, but they’re trying to catch up. Unfortunately, they’re kind of slow to do it, as today’s announcement of the next Windows Phone platform illustrates.

Windows Phone 7 is one of the sleekest, most intuitive mobile operating systems around at the moment. The partnership with Nokia has delivered some mighty fine looking handsets running the software as well. But in its attempt to avoid the fragmentation issues that plagued Android, the WP7 operating system has essentially held back hardware. Mandates like a screen resolution of 800 x 400 pixels, a single core 1GHz processor and lack of SD card slot may have been impressive specs when the platform first launched, but were quickly superceded by technology.

Windows Phone 8 tries to remedy many of these issues. The new OS raises the supported screen res up to 1280×720 for a good HD quality picture, adds support for up to 64 core processors (which is still a few years away, at least) and introduces MicroSD card support. It also introduces a few tweaks to UI, with customisable Live tiles in three different sizes and NFC support.

From early screenshots, it looks like a real step forward. Maybe not leaping over the features of iOS or Android as such, but certainly catching up.

But the catch Microsoft has made is the announcement that no current Windows Phone handsets will support the new operating system. Not the Lumia 800, or its 900 brother. Not any of the HTC, LG or Samsung handsets either. In other words, if you want the latest features, you’ll need to buy a new handset later this year when the new operating system launches.

It’s not all bad though. Microsoft understands that this may piss some people off, so it has announced Windows Phone 7.8, an update for the current range of handsets that will add the improved Live Tiles. Given many of the Windows Phone 8 features were hardware dependant, it’s not really a surprise, but it will almost definitely mean that buying a Windows Phone handset now is is a waste of money, given developers will soon be developing apps that won’t work on current hardware.

Ultimately, it’s not going to do the platform any favours. And given the lead Android and iOS already have in the smartphone race, it’s going to test the patience of the Windows Phone faithful.

Web: Microsoft