How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

Summary: Microsoft officials (and some of their defenders) are cautioning that too much is being read into the angry feedback from early users. I disagree. Microsoft needs to get serious about WP7 transparency to keep its loyalists around.


Lately, it seems Microsoft can't do anything right when it comes to Windows Phone 7. The latest in a growing list of gaffes happened over this past weekend, following a Microsoft Channel 9 video interview with Joe Belfiore, Corporate Vice President of Windows Phone Program Management.

In his Mix'11 video preview, Belfiore told viewers "I'm getting updates out," and that the first two updates were "live." As many Windows Phone 7 users know all too well, neither of these statements rings true. Most WP7 users still have not received either the February pre-update or the March "NoDo" copy-and-paste one.

There was so much outcry over Belfiore's interview, that he posted an apology in the Channel 9 comments. From his note to viewers and WP7 users:

"We know it’s been frustrating to wait for features/fixes and (probably worse) to hear little from us on specific dates. We are sorry the process has been rocky. The 'where’s my phone update' table is our first step to try to remedy this in the face of technical problems that have made our first wave of updates take longer than we expected.  We know the table would benefit greatly from more detail, and we are hoping to add more to it by working with the Operators who own the 'testing' phase to get more clarity.  If your phone is shown in 'scheduling', it’ll be worth checking the table next week."

That's all well and good -- except that in the U.S., there are only two phones shown in "scheduling": The Dell Venue Pro and the HTC HD7 . The other handset models here are still in the murky "testing" phase. (And Verizon still has still not announced its WP7 plans.)

Microsoft officials (and some of their defenders) are cautioning that too much is being read into the angry feedback from early users. After all, the 2 million or so however many WP7 users out there (the 2 million is sales of WP7 phones to retailers) are largely early adopters, not the consumer masses, the Softies often say.

I disagree with this view. Aren't your early adopters your most valuable asset? They tend to be the loyalists; the ones who demo new products and services for friends, family and sometimes strangers. If you start losing your core audience of loyalists -- especially when you're trying to make a comeback (like Microsoft is with Windows Phone 7) -- you're in a world of hurt.

For every self-described fanboy like @Hamaze who dumps WP7, there are tens or hundreds more contemplating, if not doing the same.

Microsoft needs to rethink its claims of WP7 "transparency" and start answering the questions that its loyalists are asking:

1. Why is Microsoft allowing mobile operators to hold up its WP7 updates? Unlike the case with Android phones, Microsoft develops and deploys the updates for all of the WP7 handsets, Belfiore said in his Channel 9 video. But who cares if mobile operators are subsequently allowed to derail the process?

2. If the coding on NoDo really was completed in December 2010, as has been rumored, what caused a three-month-and-growing delay in its delivery? If there are certain operators (cough, AT&T, cough) that are especially guilty, why not call them out publicly? (Microsoft should have learned this after trying to protect Yahoo as the culprit behind a WP7 data-leak problem.)

3. There's talk that the mobile operators are holding back the Microsoft updates because they're adding firmware modifications to their platforms to lock phones to their networks. Is this true? If it is, why is Microsoft allowing it?

4. What is Microsoft doing -- specifically -- to fix the update process? How can users be sure these kinds of delays aren't going to happen again with Mango?

5. Speaking of Mango -- which Belfiore said Microsoft will be talking about in more depth at the Mix conference in mid-April -- are there going to be any WP7 updates arriving between NoDo and Mango? When I've asked, I've been told no comment. I'm not asking for specifics about the updates, but I think users deserve to know whether or not there will be anything between now and the end of the year.

Microsoft needs to do some serious damage control at Mix'11 around Windows Phone 7. Those so-far-undisclosed Mango features better make the wait until Q4 2011 worth it. And it wouldn't hurt if Microsoft shared a tidbit or two about "Apollo," the 2012 Windows Phone update just to keep a few more believers on board....

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


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Overreacting

    The people are overreacting. I'm waiting for the NoDo update, but not missing it like crazy. For waiting on the update, back to the iPhone? No way. Surley MS can do it better, but please, bashing for every nosense doesn't help.
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

      Thank You
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track


      Indeed. +1.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

      Well put and as a Focus user, I completly agree.
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track


        Very happy with my Focus as well.
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track


      I don't think people are over-reacting. Ok, well, maybe a little.<br><br>But the concern or, in some cases, outrage largely isn't about the contents of the update itself. It's about the process.<br><br>One thing that a lot of early adopters saw as a selling point for WP7 was the "feature" of frequent updates. They were very willing to live with the OS's limited functionality because they believed that said functionality would make its way into the handset at a quick pace. <br><br>The fact that most consumers haven't seen any updates at all is somewhat disheartening. The additional speculation that the process might be out of Microsoft's control is even more troubling. <br><br>I don't trust my carrier. Many people don't trust their carriers. While we may have faith that Microsoft is trying to win over customers by making a better product, we don't have that same faith in our carriers.
      Winning Guy
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        @Winning Guy

        I agree, that the update proess could me smoother. I don't see the reason why the update is send in batches, because you get a notification and then the update is made locally, not over the air.

        Perhaps they should do it like Apple, announce nothing, give no release dates, when the update is ready invite the press, make a big show and release the update.
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track


        I believe the update is set up in batches to catch potential problems while it has only been deployed to a small number of users. Last month, there was an issue where an update was causing problems with some Samsung phones. Had the update not been in batches, there could have potentially been many more users adversely affected.

        And about doing it like Apple...

        The challenge with that comes with the fact that Microsoft sold frequent updates as one of the benefits of having Windows Phone. It would be very difficult to sell it as a feature, and then provide no information about it.

        Microsoft is in a tough spot right now. I do believe that in time, when they get the update process worked out, things will be better. Windows Phone is a great product, but the bad press they're getting right now has to be hurting adoption rates. And while Microsoft could say that they are at the mercy of the carriers because the carriers are the ones with the clout and power in the mobile world, that doesn't really fly very well with many consumers. Especially since a lot of consumers don't like that the carriers have so much power.
        Winning Guy
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        @Winning Guy -- Exactly. Apple has more than 100M iOS devices deployed yet they are consistently more agile than MS. They are not only doing more updates (regardless of if you look at iOS at launch or now), but bigger ones.

        As someone who wanted to be a WP7 device, I think I'm going to pass on this round and get the EVO 3D device instead. If MS can get their act together, I'll be back in two years, but at this point I've lost faith.
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        @Winning Guy

        Sounds good, except you're making this stuff up. Microsoft has never said they're doing the updates 'in small batches'. Look at what they have said. They've said that various phones are currently being tested by different carriers, etc. Which means the individual carriers are blocking the updates either because they really are still testing them (for four months and counting?) or because they just feel like it. Whether Microsoft wants to use the word 'blocking' or not.

        As Paul Thurrott has pointed out so often--Apple has released more updates in the last year than Microsoft has. And also released more updates in its first year than Microsoft has. Given that Microsoft is starting out BEHIND you'd think they'd be trying to, you know, CATCH UP?

        Doesn't seem like that's happening. And given that with each day they're just falling further and further behind this isn't encouraging. Seriously, they're locked to a single screen resolution that soon will look anemic, they've got no tablet plans, etc. How are they going to evolve the platform to keep up with Apple & Google if they can't even get simple updates out the door?

        I think its time to write them off. And yes, just over this.
      • yep, the process and what this means of future updates

        @Winning Guy Yep, agreed about the process. The bungling and slowness wouldn't seem to bode well for future updates past this.

        Presumably, those future updates will contain more substantive changes. How long will it take for work to be completed on those and will the roll out be as slow and screwed up? What if there are critical security bugs, esp. zero-day ones (aka being exploited in the wild)?
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        @Jug: Apple does sometimes announce iOS update dates and/or time frames, but they don't tend to announce them for minor releases.

        For the most part, they have delivered on their promises in terms of the date/time frame. However, they did badly bungle iOS 4.0 with iPhone 3G. I heard of many people complaining big time at my former work about it besides all the press coverage.
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        @Winning Guy
        Yes, the process is broken and unless a big noise is made, microsoft will keep doing the same. Microsoft cannot blame carriers, it took microsoft 4 months to give the update to carriers and microsoft is the one saying it'll take microsoft "several weeks" to deliver an update even after all testing is done. What are they doing, walking door to door to deliver the update.
        It's not the copy paste that I care about, it's the hundred other features that are missing and if it's taking greater than 5 months to get one update (I haven't even got that yet) with 2-3 added features, how long will it take for microsoft to deliver to address all the missing features and bug fixes? That's what's making many people angry, frustrated and disappointed
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track


      So.. the people that went WP7 to escape the operators' hold on updates as in Android have found... that the operators STILL have a stranglehold on updates.

      Well, if I were a WP7 user who wanted to escape the 'Android Malaise' I'd be somewhat upset by now.
    • Windows Phone 7 is a complete and utter disaster

      @Jug - The early adopters are not "overreacting". Problems are many.

      These updates are few and far between. And they bring very little. Every other phone platform has had Copy/Paste and full multitasking for years. Microsoft will only bring multitasking in Q4 2011, but because of carriers, it won't be in folks' handsets until Q1 2012 (another year away from now).

      The other problems with Windows Phone 7 still are unfixed. Looses camera settings. No strong passwords. Can't tether. Can't set a custom ringtone. The list of unfixed problems goes on and on and on.

      No wonder the early adopters of Windows Phone 7 have had enough and can't take it any more.
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        I've had my LG-E900H for some time was a fun update from a lg chocolet...the zune way too easy...I have friends that at the same time bought the iPhone4 and there still trying to figure out music and photos...Im a PC. My Phone had trouble getting the up date..but its great...
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

      @Jug : The problem's not really the "people reaction" but rather the "market backslash".

      Let's not remember several key points:

      1) First and foremost, Microsoft&mdash;on hindsight&mdash;did themselves a disfavor by opting for a "7" badge on Windows Phone. It might have attracted a couple of the initial sales, but its at risk of tainting a hard earned brand ("Windows 7") they created to overcome another "point-release" fiasco ("Windows Vista").

      2) More can be going on, behind the scenes, on this upgrades; else, they would have not experience such troubles. It appears that the initial release (let's call that WP 7.0.0) was not fully baked on some phones (e.g. Samsung Focus) as it appears that this was the first OEM to join. Dell, on the other hand, delayed the Venue PRO (even changed it's name) and now it seems that this was the reason. So if people start perceiving that they were tricked on an incomplete system (Honecomb? anyone?) sales could drop dramatically.


      3) If these two are the "simple" upgrades and fared so miserably, what can be expected of Mango, which is gonna feature multitasking and&mdash;some believe&mdash;a kernel upgrade to Windows Embedded Compact 7?

      So better overreact and Vista's under-reaction. Else, just watch the "Windows 7" brand die a painful (and undeserved) way.
      • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

        @cosuna Not to nitpick? <i>tainting a hard earned brand ("Windows 7") they created to overcome another "point-release" fiasco ("Windows Vista?).</i>

        Windows 7 is a point release of Vista. Vista is NT 6 and ?Windows7? is NT 6.1. Windows Phone 7 Series OS is also a point release, it is Microsoft?s kin version 1.1. Kin failed because it was a feature phone priced like a smart phone, This is why some are skeptical of the quality of WP7SOS phones.
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track


      At the moment it works better than any other phone on the market. I can wait for a free update ;-)
    • RE: How Microsoft can get Windows Phone 7 back on track

      I don't get it. Why would anyone want to go through the headaches of this still born W7 OS when iOS offer a better experience, stronger features, much larger app base, better reliability, timely accessible updates and more system maturity. Really the only thing you get with W7 is MS on the label which is not exactly a selling point for most people. Oh well to each there own.