Microsoft has become the latest casualty in the eternal struggle regarding timely firmware updates for smartphone users, as it has announced that it will shut down the Where’s My Update portal for Windows Phone owners to cross-reference the update schedule for a particular model and carrier which was deployed last year in order to provide the latest information on the Mango update, which Microsoft handled rather well considering the volume of handsets already on the market.
Instead, the company will move away from the mandatory update model pioneered by Apple for device updates for every device and allow the carriers to determine the availability of future updates, which has the potential to leave many owners out in the cold and moves Windows Phone back to the broken update model that eventually killed Windows Mobile.
Going further in the update posted, the latest maintenance update available in build 8107 update offers a number of fixes for remaining issues with the platform such as the “disappearing keyboard” bug that affects all Windows Phone 7.5 devices, improved email syncing with a Gmail account. Microsoft has also patched a location services bug, a voicemail notification problem, email threads for Microsoft Exchange users, and fixed security certificates.
If this latest update, which seems rather important for a simple maintenance update is left up to the carriers to roll out, it could seriously affect consumer adoption and perception of Windows Phone as timely updates for smartphones have come to be expected.
Microsoft shifting from its originally intended mandatory yearly updates for the entire platform to the carrier dependent model also shows that carriers will take every opportunity to go back to the old model of selling new phones with updates instead of updating existing devices, even if it means stifling a struggling platform to do so with external pressure.
This latest move also does not bode well for the next wave of devices based on the next update in Tango, as now the only way to ensure that devices will be updated in a timely manner is to purchase more expensive unlocked handsets and rely on manufacturers to push out timely updates, much as is done now with Android with varying degrees of success, as relying solely on carriers for updates can be a hit and miss proposition.
With CES beginning next week, Microsoft should do everything it can to reassure both prospective customers and current Windows Phone owners that timely device updates are still important, especially as Nokia is expected to make its big push for Windows Phone in the US with the launch of the Lumia 710 next week on T-Mobile and being followed up with future launches of the phone later this year for Verizon, as well as the Lumia 900 for AT&T also expected later this year.
Ultimately, for Windows Phone to be successful there must also be assurances that a Windows Phone that is purchased today can and will be updated whenever the updates are available. By shifting the onus to update devices on the carriers, the platform is vulnerable to being treated in the same way that Windows Mobile was before meeting its ultimate demise, which would mean that the cycle would need to start again. After the intense amount of time and money spent on Windows Phone 7, Microsoft seems poorly poised to start over with a dedicated mobile OS judging by the pending release of Windows 8.