With the rest of Microsoft switching to a rapid release cycle over the past year, Windows Phone 8 actually slowed down and adopted an 18-month, rather than one-year, release cycle. But despite being hampered by carrier indifference, the firm was paradoxically still able to ship three major software updates to Windows Phone 8 in its first year. And in doing so, the platform was improved at a much faster clip than was the competition in the same time frame.
Now who saw that one coming?
I've written in the past that Apple's special relationship with carriers allows it to update the iPhone much more frequently than is possible with Windows Phone (or Android for that matter). But this past year has been very interesting. With Apple focused on the major changes that it delivered in iOS 7 last month, it spent the year leading up to that release largely ignoring its existing customers. That is, while Apple shipped an astonishing number of bug fixes for iOS 6 in the year leading up to iOS 7, it shipped very few functional updates. iPhone (and other iOS) users were simply left waiting for Apple to de-skeuomorphize iOS.
(You can see this lack of functional updates on Wikipedia's page for iOS 6, where a veritable boatload of updates whose description starts with "Fixes a bug...", "Resolves an issue where..." or similar. But really, who cares about iOS?)
During this same time frame, Windows Phone 8 improved quite a bit, and none of it required a major and completely new OS version. Yes, there were bug (and, I'm sure, security) fixes in there. Yes, many had to wait a few months to get the first couple of updates. But here's what Microsoft has delivered in that first year:
GDR1. As described on Microsoft's now-incomplete Windows Phone 8 Update History page, General Distribution Release 1 (GDR1), or Update 8.0.10211.204, added Messaging improvements, a new way to text replies to incoming calls, Internet Explorer improvements, Wi-Fi connectivity improvements, and more.
GDR2. As noted in my Complete Guide to Windows Phone 8 GDR2, this update (also called Update 8.0.10327.77/8.0.10328.78) was a major one with several major changes and updates to such features as FM radio, Data Sense, Xbox Music, Camera, Google account support, Other storage, Voicemail, group messaging, Bluetooth, Internet Explorer and more.
GDR3/Update 3. As I wrote earlier today in Windows Phone 8 Update 3 Preview, GDR3—now called Update 3, but also referred to as Update 8.0.10512—adds numerous changes and new features, including support for large 5- to 6-inch screens with 1080p resolution, support for quad-core processors, Driving Mode, Mobile Accessibility apps, tethering improvements, better ringtone functionality, screen rotation lock, improved storage management, manual app closing, Wi-Fi access during Setup, and more.
And let's not forget Nokia. The world's biggest (and best) maker of Windows Phone 8 handsets has also been releasing updates this year for the 80 percent of us on this platform who use their devices. In tandem with GDR2, Nokia released its Amber update, which as I wrote in Lumia 1020: A Peek at GDR2 and Amber, includes Nokia Glance, double-tap wake-up, screen color profiles, improvement to the camera capabilities, Smart Camera and Pro Camera apps, and Flip to Silence.
So, yes, it's easy to complain. Yes, I'd still like things to happen more quickly, and I'd love to see Windows Phone settle into a nice, yearly update regimen. I'd especially like the Windows Phone team to stop ignoring their biggest fans. But whatever.
When you look back over the past year, the update rhythm we've experienced on Windows Phone 8 isn't all that shabby at all, and we've got Windows Phone 8.1 lurking in the first half of 2014, too: See Windows Phone 8.1 Rumors Emerge for details. It's important to remember that some Android handsets released a year ago will never get an OS update. And one of the world's best-selling iOS devices, the fourth-generation iPod touch, can't even be updated to iOS 7.
You know, things aren't so bad.