Microsoft says it's taking over updates for Windows 10 Mobile devices

It's not exactly Android-style fragmentation, but Windows Phone users are perennially frustrated at carriers dragging their feet on operating system updates. That's all changing with Windows 10 Mobile, the company says. And this time they mean it.

When Microsoft introduced Windows Phone, nearly five years ago, the company promised that it would control the update process, bypassing the carriers if necessary.

The reality of the update process, through major updates to Windows Phone 8 and 8.1, hasn't held up to that ideal, especially with U.S. carriers involved.

Microsoft's Denim update, for example, was announced last September but still isn't available on AT&T's Lumia 830, T-Mobile's Lumia 635, and a handful of other phones. Verizon was the first to release Denim as an over-the-air update, but only after it had continuously rejected the previous (Cyan) update, leaving owners of their flagship Windows Phone device running a badly outdated version.

It's not exactly Android-level fragmentation, but it's a problem.

That's all going to change with Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft says. And this time they swear they mean business.

The original news was buried in a post from the Microsoft Ignite blog, introducing Windows Update for Business :

Here at Microsoft, we take our responsibility to keep Windows secure seriously. We ... proactively update supported devices with necessary updates to address issues. And today, we're announcing this continuous update process applies to all Windows 10 devices, including phones. [emphasis added]

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to me that that statement applies to all Windows 10 Mobile devices, personal and business, and that the new mobile update process will be consistent with the update process for Windows 10 on PCs. Updates will contain security and reliability fixes as well as new features.

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If your phone is running Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft says, it will get all updates, with Microsoft making the final call on when to push the update button.

That doesn't mean the carriers are completely out of the loop. The Windows Insider program will continue after the launch of Windows 10 Mobile, which means anyone who registers with the Insider program can get early access to updates with new features. The carriers will be an integral part of the testing program, I'm told, probably getting access to builds well ahead of the Insider rings. I suspect they'll get builds at the same time as Microsoft's in-house testers, the Elite Dogfood group, and input from carriers will be a significant factor that Microsoft will use to decide when an update is ready to go out to all devices.

But those updates will be delivered simultaneously, to all devices on all carriers, meaning much less opportunity for fragmentation.

This new approach sounds very much like what Apple does with iOS on iPhones and iPads, with new versions going out through Software Update independently of carriers.

The story is a little less rosy for anyone with an existing Windows Phone 8.1 device. In theory, all of those devices will be eligible for free upgrades to Windows 10 Mobile at launch. But for that upgrade, the carriers will still be pushing out the updates. That means it's possible some Windows Phone 8.1 owners will still be awaiting their upgrade in mid-2016.

Given recent history, Windows Phone customers have every right to be skeptical.

And of course Microsoft still has to ship Windows 10 Mobile, a milestone that they don't expect to hit until this fall.

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