A Microsoft blog post has set the enthusiast community on fire, with worries that the software giant was somehow changing its Windows Phone software-update policies and would strand users with out-of-date phones. But Microsoft has no intention of changing the way it updates Windows Phone handsets, and it won't allow this platform to devolve into the kind of fragmentation that is bedeviling Android users.
Microsoft: Relax, Windows Phone Software Update Policies Haven't Changed
The post that set off this unfortunate misunderstanding includes two key pieces of information: that some coming Windows Phone updates will be device- or market-specific and thus won't apply to all phones, and that Microsoft is making some changes to the way it communicates information about these updates. The reaction on Twitter and in online forums was immediate and negative. But it was almost misguided, as most have misinterpreted Microsoft's remarks.
Here's what's really happening.
First, the news about coming software updates. Microsoft's Erik Hautala wrote the following comment in the Windows Phone Blog to describe these updates:
"In the months ahead, we'll continue to send out firmware and maintenance updates as needed. These will be available across the globe—although not everybody will receive or require them. It depends on your country, carrier, and phone model. But remember that you'll never have to guess when a Windows Phone update is waiting: Just watch for the pop-up notification on your device."
As it turns out, this isn't a change at all. Microsoft already delivers firmware updates to particular handsets, and other updates that apply only to specific phones. It's possible that this practice will be expanded in the coming months as more and more handset models come to market, yes. But this is already happening.
The second issue regards changes to the websites and blog that Microsoft maintains for Windows Phone. Here, Microsoft is changing the way it communicates to users about software updates.
"As we continue our growth, we won't be individually detailing country, model, and carrier details on the Where's My Phone Update? site any longer," Hautala wrote. "And instead of my weekly blog posts, the official Windows Phone website will be the primary place for news and information about our updates, just as Microsoft Answers is there for your support questions."
Microsoft created the Where's My Phone Update? site in response to user complaints in the wake of the early 2011 software-update crisis around the so-called "NoDo" update to Windows Phone. But those problems are behind it—the company quite successfully updated virtually all Windows Phone handsets to the much bigger and complex "Mango" update in late 2011. And the Microsoft officials I've spoken to have indicated that the NoDo-era software updating issues from last year were solved.
This, combined with Hautala's note about growth—which I take to mean the number of individual Windows Phone handsets in the market—could explain why the Where's My Phone Update? site is no longer needed. And as I speculated in the SuperSite Blog over the weekend, so too could the fact that this site essentially made Microsoft's partners look bad, since it nicely highlighted which were late—often very late—in delivering software updates that customers were eager to get. One has to imagine that not a few of those partners contacted Microsoft about them perhaps not continuing to update the site.
To summarize, the announcements are as follows: Microsoft will continue to provide some software updates that are phone-specific (which isn't a change), and it will no longer provide guidance about software updates via a set of tables on the Where's My Phone Update? site. So really, the only change is that Microsoft is essentially reducing the granularity of the information it's providing about software updates. Put another way, it's not really that big a deal.
Tell that to the Windows Phone enthusiasts who spent much of the weekend bemoaning what they see as yet another capitulation by Microsoft, one that they believe will cause Windows Phone to become more fragmented—because, supposedly, only certain phones will be getting some updates and Microsoft won't be explaining why, again supposedly, on its website. Why, Windows Phone is no better than Android then, they cried. Game over, man. Game over.
As noted above, that's not what's happening. All Windows Phones will still continue to get all the software updates that are relevant to that device. This is exactly as it was before. And as my Windows Weekly cohost Mary Jo Foley discovered—simply by asking, go figure—Microsoft can state this explicitly as well.
"Nothing has changed in regard to how we work with carriers to deliver Windows Phone updates to our customers," Microsoft Senior Product Manager Greg Sullivan told Foley. And based on the conversation she had with Sullivan, Foley reports that Microsoft's policies and procedures around how the company develops updates, delivers them to carriers for testing, and delivers them to customers are exactly the same as they were a year ago.