Microsoft's issues with Windows Phone 7's software updates suggest a platform still feeling out its path to maturity. Will consumers give it the benefit of the doubt?
This week, Microsoft began pushing through its long-awaited
"NoDo" update for Windows Phone 7, although device owners in the United States
could have a longer wait before receiving theirs.
The "NoDo" update includes cut-and-paste and improvements to
Messaging, WiFi and Outlook. It tweaks the "stability of switching between
camera and video modes," according to information posted on Microsoft's Windows
, and the experience of syncing Facebook accounts.
The big question is when it'll arrive on peoples'
smartphones, something Microsoft tried to answer this week with a pair of
charts detailing the update status for customers in both the United
. Each chart breaks down the update path into three categories:
, i.e., the update is undergoing network and
, i.e., Microsoft is scheduling the update
for delivery-a process the charts suggest will take "10 days or less."
, i.e., the smartphone should receive the
update-at some point. "Because updates are typically delivered to customers in
batches," the chart explains, "it might take several weeks before you receive
notice that an update is available to you."
According to Microsoft's chart for the United States, the
HTC Surround, LG Quantum and Samsung Focus are all apparently in "Testing" for
both the February software update (designed to pave the way for future updates)
and the March "NoDo" update (includes both cut-and-paste and feature tweaks).
The Dell Venue Pro and HTC HD7 are at the "Scheduling" stage for both updates.
The HTC Arrive comes with both updates, excluding it from the list.
Perhaps tellingly, no Windows Phone 7 devices in the United
States have reached the "delivering" stage
for either the February or March update. By contrast, on the worldwide chart,
all open-market phones are apparently in the process of delivering the March
update, and the majority of countries' smartphones are delivering the February
update (on top of reaching the "scheduling"
milestone for the March one).
Microsoft's February update, designed to help with future
updates, stalled a small number of users' smartphones and led to roughly two
days worth of drama on Microsoft's online help forums. In the wake of that,
Microsoft seemed more cautious in how it proceeded with "NoDo," even pushing
the release date back from the first two weeks of March to the latter half of
"After careful consultation with the team and our many
partners, we've decided to briefly hold the March update in order to ensure the
update process meets our standards and that of our customers," a Microsoft
spokesperson wrote in a March 10 e-mail to eWEEK. "As a result, we will plan to
begin delivering the update in the latter half of March."
Does Microsoft have a problem here?
Some eWEEK readers think so.
"Does Microsoft have trouble attracting competent
employees?" wrote one commenter on a
Windows Phone 7 article from earlier this week
. "Why are they moving so
slowly? I'm ashamed to be an early adopter, having been fooled into thinking
Microsoft was serious about mobile this time."
Or another: "Copy/Paste will be the one and only feature
Microsoft achieved since WP7 went RTM in Aug 2010, until Mango in 2012.
While that's not necessarily a representative sample of
Windows Phone 7 users, it suggests Microsoft could be on the verge of a
perception issue with its newest smartphone platform. Rarely have its rivals
encountered such highly publicized problems with updates, although a subset of
Android users regularly complain of how their carriers are slow to upgrade
their devices to the latest version of Google's operating system.
The updating issues also threaten to counter Microsoft's
earlier claim that the tightly enforced Windows Phone 7 platform will avoid the
fragmentation and inconsistent software updating that helped wreck the
now-antiquated Windows Mobile. If different devices on different carriers push
through different software updates at different times, it undermines the
perception that Microsoft-and not the carriers and manufacturers-is ultimately
the final arbiter of its own software's roadmap. That Microsoft executives have
spent months pillorying Android for its own fragmentation issues is an irony
that will surely be lost on nobody if the Windows Phone 7 family becomes
And a problem at this early stage-or the perception of a
problem-could have major repercussions for Microsoft as it attempts to claw
away market share from those well-entrenched
rivals. Windows Phone 7's task in its first few quarters of release was to
build political capital with consumers and businesses, something achievable
largely through pitch-perfect execution.
"To bring the platform rapidly to a level of parity with
other major mobile platforms, Microsoft will need to deliver several key
features in the first quarter of 2011," IDC analyst Al Hilwa wrote in a
December 2010 research note. "Down the road, Microsoft's success will be
measured by the speed at which it can broaden its country, carrier and device portfolios,
and the pace of deliver of new capabilities in its software."
For the second half of 2011, Microsoft has scheduled updates
for multitasking, Twitter integration, and other vital features. Much depends
on the company executing these in a consistent manner.