11 Comments

Summary:

The first Windows Phone 7 update launched on Monday, and some handsets are now rendered useless due to the new software. Nokia recently chose Microsoft’s platform as “the third ecosystem” in smartphones, but the update problem shows that the third spot is still up for grabs.

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The first Windows Phone update from Microsoft began to trickle out two days ago, but is causing issues with at least one particular phone model, the Samsung Omnia 7. Owners experiencing the problem, who are reportedly just a small percentage, are left with a useless handset due to the glitch. In order to address the issue and to limit the number of affected customers, Microsoft has temporarily disabled the update process for Samsung devices according to the WinRumors blog. That’s the right approach, but what does this problem say about the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem? Considering Nokia recently chose Microsoft with the expectation of WP7 as the third ecosystem, it’s concerning at the very least.

To be sure, remotely updating phones is challenge for carriers and equipment makers alike. However, this update isn’t bringing any end-user functionality to Microsoft handsets. Essentially, it’s a staging update meant to prepare devices for the first true functionality update, which is expected to bring a copy/paste feature when it arrives by mid-March. Even as such a minor update, the software upgrade is causing issues. If I owned a Samsung Omnia 7 handset with this problem, I’d have one word to describe the situation: inexcusable. Handsets are now considered by many to be a consumer electronics device that must work without fail, so the free passes on snafus are quickly fading.

Getting back to the challenge of these updates: It’s a problem for nearly everyone in the industry at some point. Apple had issues with the iOS 3.1 update in 2009, which caused some iPhone 3G phones to crash or run slowly. Earlier this month, Samsung released and then pulled the Android 2.2 update for its Captivate handset. So the issue is clearly not one that only Microsoft is susceptible to. But as iOS and Android run away from the mobile platform pack, Microsoft is relegated to fighting for the third spot along with Research In Motion, Hewlett-Packard with its webOS, and others such as Samsung’s Bada platform. That means Microsoft has little margin for error in a tight race. The first update causing issues out of the gate, even to a limited subset of devices, doesn’t send a positive message about Microsoft’s mobile ecosystem.

And that appears to be the very reason that Nokia picked Microsoft over Google, RIM and perhaps other players in order to try to revive its status among smartphone buyers. In the official press statement, jointly attributed to Nokia’s Stephen Elop and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, this point is made clear:

Today, the battle is moving from one of mobile devices to one of mobile ecosystems, and our strengths here are complementary. Ecosystems thrive when they reach scale, when they are fueled by energy and innovation and when they provide benefits and value to each person or company who participates. This is what we are creating; this is our vision; this is the work we are driving from this day forward.

There are other mobile ecosystems. We will disrupt them.

We’ll see how the first part of the statement plays out, but the final sentence has already come true as some Samsung Omnia 7 owners are surely disrupted today.

Ironically, the timing of this issue has me concerned personally. Over the weekend, I was giving some thought as to who will be the third horse in the smartphone ecosystem race. RIM and HP still have no new products that interest me, although both are outing devices with updated operating systems soon. So I turned to Microsoft. The HTC HD7 I reviewed in November has the large display that I like, so I found a new one on eBay and won the auction at a reasonable $390 for the handset. I’m not having buyer’s remorse yet, especially since the device just shipped today, but given the update slip-up by Microsoft, I’m wondering if my wager would be better off on another pony.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Digital Ninja, Mobile Ninja and Bonapp, GigaOM EcoHub. GigaOM EcoHub said: Windows Phone Update Issue Causes Stumble for Third Mobile Spot: The first Windows Phone 7 update launched on Mo… http://bit.ly/fzwUXJ [...]

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  2. “…essentially, it’s a staging update meant to prepare devices for the first true functionality update, which is expected to bring a copy/paste feature when it arrives by mid-March. Even as such a minor update, the software upgrade is causing issues.”

    Tofel, you have to remember that often these “back-end” services, like updating, are the riskiest to modify. Updating e-mail services, or even adding cut and paste, is unlikely to brick a phone. And if the update doesn’t work, you can just not use the function until it is fixed. Break a system like ROM updating, and you can easily make a phone into a brick, just as Microsoft and Samsung are finding out.

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    1. Oh, I’m fully aware that low-level or key updates to the core platform are risky, but that’s really not the point. Yes, the update is minor from an end-user standpoint, but considerably more important to Microsoft.

      The issue here is one of confidence going forward and Microsoft challenging others in terms of mobile ecosystems.

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  3. Have few minutes to spare? help a student with his dissertation survey! The topic is about “why people prefer specific brand of smartphone?” Here is the link http://bit.ly/flmLq6 Thank you!

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  4. Hamranhansenhansen Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    I can’t believe I’m going to defend Microsoft, but they are doing a better job with updates so far than Android. With Android, they solved the update problem by just having no updates.

    Apple is the only one doing updates right, and everyone else is doing them wrong, because they involve the carriers. I’ve owned 2 iPhones over 3.5 years and received dozens of updates, trouble-free, the day they were released, many adding significant new features. Yes, there was a problem with iOS v3.1 problem on a small number of iPhone 3G’s, but users were able to either Restore their phones with iTunes, or go to an Apple Genius who would either fix it or swap it.

    Also, Apple updates the firmware and software in tandem, because they are both hardware and software maker. There are only about a million Windows Phone devices, and only some are Samsung, yet there were at least 3 Samsung firmware versions to install onto, some of which failed. That is not just a Microsoft failure, but also a failure of the generic market. That is economic convenience trumping technology. Microsoft doesn’t want to take responsibility for the hardware, so they have a Jenga game of a hardware platform.

    Also, Windows Phone 7 is not fighting for third, it is fighting for 8th or 9th.

    OK, my defending Microsoft is over.

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    1. Android solved the problem by just having no updates? Not understanding that comment at all: numerous updates have been available for nearly every Android device at one time or another.

      Having said that, I agree that cutting carriers out of the equation is key and something that Apple has smartly made work. Google tried that with the Nexus One — I still get OTA updates from Google for my N1, for example — but the majority of Android updates do come through carriers.

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  5. Android has had it’s fair share of problems with updates bricking phones and as Kevin Tofel pointed out, even Apple has had their own issues with updates.

    I’ll join Tofel in saying I have no idea what Hamranhansenhansen is talking about.

    The Android ecosystem has minor updates all the time and while major updates are staggered as carriers make their own hardware specific adjustments to the base code, I would never say there are “no updates” as that is entirely false.

    Is the issue with the Samsung Omnia a huge one? No, not really but as Kevin points out, all eyes are on Microsoft right now and so far a lot of what they have promised hasn’t come true. For example, they told us that there would be one hardware base requirement and thus Developers would not have to worry about testing on a ton of hardware. In comes Nokia and we are told they will be allowed to create cheaper phones with lesser quality hardware. Ok, now Windows Phone has the potential for the same fragmentation they point to with Android.

    Then there is the whole “updates come from us so you don’t have to worry about waiting for carriers”. Ooops, sorry, our bad, carriers do play a big role by providing hardware specific testing which it seems didn’t fully happen in this case.

    This sounds like the beginning of the same broken promises from Windows Mobile.

    The biggest irony I see in this is that Windows Phone 7 Developers have pointed out that Microsoft uses the Samsung Omnia/Focus for testing App Submissions. You would think if that were the case that the Omnia wouldn’t be the issue here.

    Part of me says “hey, it happens to the best of us” but another part of me wants to point out exactly what Kevin Tofel is saying, all eyes on Microsoft and the broken promises are trickling in way too fast.

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  6. Maybe this is obvious, but Microsoft had bloody well get their act together on Windows Phone 7 ASAP. And if I were Nokia I’d be a little bit nervous.

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  7. [...] I’ve criticized Microsoft’s lack of speed in terms of updates, not to mention a botched update that happened earlier this week, but getting CDMA support out in the first quarter of this year is a solid step forward. I know [...]

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  8. [...] take  the third mobile platform spot. Take for example, the recent operating system update issue: Microsoft had to cease sending the software to specific Samsung handsets, although that situation is reportedly resolved and updates are once again flowing out to Samsung [...]

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  9. [...] Windows Phone 7 devices in the first two weeks of March [LINK?]. That effort first stumbled with reports of a preparatory update causing particular phone models to be inoperable. The right thing to do was to pull back the software for additional testing, which Microsoft did. [...]

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