The real Windows Phone problem is with AT&T, not Microsoft

Thank goodness for early termination fees, two-year contracts, and other evil tactics mobile carriers use to lock in customers. Thanks to those roadblocks, I did some research. Instead of impulsively dumping my Windows Phone, I'm quitting AT&T instead. Here's why.

Mobile phone carriers in the United States make it nearly impossible for their customers to make stupid, impulsive decisions. They lock in customers with two-year contracts, early termination fees, and family plans, and it takes months of careful planning to escape from the clutches of an evil (or just awful) carrier.

Thank goodness for that. If they made it any easier, I might have stupidly abandoned my Windows Phone last week, after I read Microsoft’s laughably lame explanation for its latest update woes. Instead, I’ve decided to keep it for another 90 days. Here’s what I’m waiting for.

For starters, there’s an update that was promised back when the first generation of Windows Phones first shipped. It’s full of bug fixes and performance improvements and, most importantly, the copy-and-paste feature that was inexplicably unavailable in the initial release.

The Windows Phone engineering team has actually done its job. That update (aka "Nodo") is ready now. It was finished roughly 90 days after the first Windows Phone devices went on sale, and it’s already been delivered to unbranded phones (also known as "open market" devices) and to many handsets in markets outside the United States. So how come my phone doesn’t have it?

Last week’s blog post from Microsoft’s general manager of Windows Phone Customer Experience Engineering, Eric Hautala, was supposed to answer that question. Indeed, that was the whole point of the post, which was titled "'Copy and paste' update status."

But it was clear from your comments that many of you want a better idea of when to expect your update. Is it on the way—or weeks away? These are natural questions.

Yes, they are. But actually answering those questions is apparently not so natural, because the document that Microsoft came up with is a masterpiece of hand-waving and corporate double-talk. You can practically see the hatchet marks where lawyers chopped away the good stuff.

My colleague Mary Jo Foley already reprinted the original table that Microsoft used to purportedly answer that question. It goes into excruciating detail to provide almost no information, and the design is very curious. On the International "Where's my phone update?" page, there's a column labeled Mobile Carrier. There, you can see that 14 of Microsoft's international partners are already delivering the February update, two are scheduled to begin delivering it shortly, and only three are still testing. For the March update, 15 of 19 partners have completed testing and the process of scheduling/delivering the update has begun. [The preceding paragraph has been updated to reflect differences between the two updates and to correct one minor error. - Ed]

On the United States version of that page, it's a completely different story. The Mobile Carrier column is missing, replaced with a Phone column that lists the handset name. Here’s what that same table would look like if lawyers weren't involved:

Mobile Carrier Handset Update status
AT&T Wireless HTC Surround Testing/unscheduled
AT&T Wireless LG Quantum Testing/unscheduled
AT&T Wireless Samsung Focus Testing/unscheduled
Sprint HTC Arrive New device; includes update
T-Mobile Dell Venue Pro Scheduling
T-Mobile HTC HD7 Scheduling
Three carriers in the United States are selling Windows Phone devices. Two of them are shipping that update on new devices or will be delivering it to customers via Microsoft's update mechanism shortly. The laggard is AT&T, which is still "testing." There's absolutely no indication of when those tests will be complete.

In a statement in response to caustic customer comments on this issue, Windows Phone boss Joe Belfiore comes perilously close to 'fessing up:

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.

That's about as close to the truth as we're likely to get until the lawyers exit the conversation.

This situation brings back unpleasant memories for me. Back in the Windows Mobile era, I purchased another Samsung device from AT&T. The Samsung/AT&T tag team finally delivered an update for that device 14 months after Microsoft shipped it and five months after it was originally promised, in writing. I'm not making that mistake again.

For me, this is a resounding strike three for AT&T, whose network coverage is miserable. Until last November, my home office was a complete dead zone for AT&T. An update to their transmitters last November improved the situation, but only slightly; I can now get a single bar of coverage and occasionally can even make or receive phone calls on the AT&T network, as long as I remain perfectly motionless.

So why have we stuck with AT&T this long? Simple. My wife loves her iPhone, and we're locked into an AT&T contract that ends in June. I love the Windows Phone interface and even with these teething problems prefer it to either an iPhone or an Android device.

Sadly, Sprint's coverage doesn't reach my office, and now that AT&T has announced plans to buy T-Mobile I have no desire to do business with them. I've already tested Verizon's coverage in my office. It's rock solid and strong. They now sell iPhones, and rumor has it that an HTC Windows Phone device will be for sale on Verizon's network within the next few weeks. When our contract is up, it's hasta la vista, AT&T.

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