Apple’s iOS 4.3 Is Here, But Where’s Microsoft’s WP7 Update?

As much as I’m enjoying the use of new apps and the fresh interface provided by Windows Mobile 7, concerns keep me wondering if it really can 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 handset owners.

But I don’t have a Samsung device — mine is an HTC model — and I still haven’t seen the first update, which actually doesn’t add functionality. It simply preps the phone for the next update that will add copy/paste features. At this point, I can’t see how Microsoft (s msft) will get that next update out to all phones on time.

Let me step back and clarify what I mean by “on time.” On Feb. 14 at the Mobile World Congress (MWC), Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer discussed where Windows Mobile 7 was at that time, and where the platform was headed. Microsoft published a corresponding blog post at that time, and here’s the relevant bit:

A free customer update will be made available for all Windows Phones in the first two weeks of March, which includes new capabilities such as copy & paste and faster application performance.

The update timeline isn’t one that I’ve created based on third-party reports or other info. Andy Lees, the president of Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business segment, wrote the blog post that explained Ballmer’s MWC presentation speech.

In my mind, we’re already into the second calendar week of March, although it’s reasonable to consider next Monday, the 14th, as the final possible date for an on-time Windows Phone 7 update copy/paste update. I think Microsoft is unlikely to meet that date at this point, given that some handset owners haven’t yet received the pre-update.

It’s not good sign that Apple today released its iOS 4.3 update for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices, slightly ahead of the company’s own stated schedule. Some older models aren’t supported in this Apple update, but how striking of a difference is this? Apple (s aapl) historically has had few issues with software updates (although it’s not infallible, either) and in some cases, such as the current one in progress, the company delivered before expected.

We really don’t know how many Windows Phone 7 devices Microsoft is dealing with, but we do know it’s a very small number when compared to the crop of supported iOS devices now getting an update. Apple claims to have sold more than 100 million iPhones, that contribute to the 160 million total iOS devices on the market. By comparison, I’d be surprised if even 2 to 3 million Windows Phone 7 devices have been sold to this point. And yet, getting updates to them still poses a challenge, or at least seems to.

As someone who uses devices powered by both operating systems, as well as that of Android (s goog), this isn’t about which mobile operating system is better. To be honest, the update isn’t bringing much to begin with, although what it does bring will be welcome. The situation is more a reflection about which company is most capable of managing its mobile platform and advancing it quickly.

I’ve said before that the Windows Phone 7 system may be moving too slowly, even though the public only has a high-level timeline with which to score the company. With the first real platform update however, Microsoft set a true deadline. At this point on the calendar, I’m not sure how Microsoft is going to meet it, although as the owner of an HTC HD7, I hope they do. There just isn’t room for further missteps in the timeline going forward.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d):