Microsoft's Windows Phone 7: When bad things happen to good phones

Summary:Microsoft really needed to hit a home run with WP7 to make a comeback in smartphones. So far, I'd say they've fallen short of what's needed. What do you think, WP7 users and potential buyers?

Windows Phone 7 devices began shipping last October to largely positive reviews. I had a chance to check one out and saw enough to like that I seriously considered making WP7 my first smartphone -- and my first Windows phone.

But in the four months since, I've begun to waver. And the latest back-and-forth over the first update for WP7 has made me increasingly WP7-shy.

Here's the back story: Microsoft announced on February 21 that it planned to push out to WP7 users a first "minor" update -- something that seemed to be an updater for the real first update due in early March. As soon as some users began receiving notifications that the update was available, reports of "bricked" WP7 devices began appearing around the Web.

Microsoft issued a vague statement, saying the company was investigating reports of problems caused by the first update. But company officials said nothing about plans to halt or fix the first update.

On February 23, Microsoft issued a new statement, claiming that the company had pulled the first update for Samsung WP7s. Here's the statement from a spokesperson (which I received hours after some European outlets did, and only after I requested any updates on the situation):

"We have identified a technical issue with the Windows Phone update process that impacts a small number of phones. In response to this emerging issue, we have temporarily taken down the latest software update for Samsung phones in order to correct the issue and as soon as possible will redistribute the update."

However, contrary to the official statement, the first update still seems to be available. According to at least two blogs, the update had not been pulled, as of Wednesday morning, and is still available for download. Makram Daou, who runs MobileTechWorld.com, just checked again for me a few minutes ago. Here's a screen shot he took, showing the update is still available for his Samsung WP7 device:

Daou said his only guess was that Microsoft "may have stopped the OTA over-the-air) notification to the devices that weren't notified yet, but didn't actually pull down the update. That's why handsets that have already been notified (like mine) are still getting prompted to update."

I sent another query to Microsoft, asking again what was going on with Update 1. I also asked what the company was recommending to users whose phones have been bricked. I asked when Microsoft planned to reissue a new version of Update 1 (beyond "ASAP"). So far, I've received no word back. See bottom of this post for an update from Microsoft.

My biggest qualm about buying a WP7, as I stated last fall, was that the device -- in spite of the "7" in its branding -- is a version 1 product. Four-plus months after the phones began shipping, Microsoft is getting around to releasing its first updates for them. There are two "major" updates slated for calendar 2011 for the devices -- "NoDo" and "Mango." As Windows Phone Secrets author Paul Thurrott said, if the first update is any indication, I don't have a lot of faith in what's going to happen with the later ones.

Meanwhile, in other WP7 news, it looks like Sprint is about to announce its first CDMA WP7 handset on February 24 (according to various tweets company officials have been sending this week).

That's good news for those of us here in the U.S. who still have no WP7 devices available on our carriers. But given CDMA support isn't slated to arrive until NoDo, and NoDo is expected around March 8 or so, I'm curious when those Sprint devices will ship.

(For the record, Sprint announced on February 24 that the HTC Arrive phones will start shipping on March 20 for $199.)

Those of us on Verizon still have no idea when we'll see our first WP7 phones (other than first half of 2011, last we heard). But given the current update chaos around WP7, I'm thinking it might be a good thing that Verizon still has no WP7s in sight to tempt me....

Microsoft really needed to hit a home run with WP7 to make a comeback in smartphones. So far, I'd say they've fallen short of what's needed. What do you think, WP7 users and potential buyers?

Update (5:20 pm ET on February 23): Just got some answers to some of those aforementioned questions from a Microsoft spokesperson. Here's the latest:

Q: Has the WP7 update 1 been pulled? If so, for which phones/carriers? When will it be reinstated, if it has been pulled?

A: “We have identified a technical issue with the Windows Phone update process that impacts a small number of Samsung phones. This software update remains available to customers with the exception of Samsung as we are in the process of temporarily taking down the update for those phones in order to correct the issue as soon as possible.” Q: How many users are affected? A: Worldwide, we’ve seen a 90% success rate for customers attempting to install this update. Of the remaining ten percent, the top two issues encountered are the result of customer internet connectivity issues, and inadequate storage space on the phone or PC. These account for over half of the reported issues with this update. Q: Is MS doing anything to help users whose phones were bricked? A: All but a small number of customers have been able to restore their phone to the pre-update state.  As a precaution, we are in the process of temporarily taking down the software update for Samsung’s Windows Phones in order to correct the issue and will re-distribute the update as soon as possible.

(Note: I am asking again what those users whose phones were bricked could/should do. Update 2: The word: “If your device is in an unrecoverable state, you should contact your mobile operator or device manufacturer regarding your options for repairing your device.”)

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Telcos, Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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