Windows Phone Updates Are Now Completely Opaque

Windows Phone Opaque

Windows Phone behind a frosted glass

After the “NoDo” update mess, the Windows Phone engineering team took a major u-turn and did several things right. They became more transparent by having a blog and a site dedicated to providing the latest status of a certain update by carrier, by phone model, by country/geography. Secondly, they got together with the OEMs and the carriers to do a coordinated deployment of the first major update, Windows Phone 7.5 (codename Mango).

So, why do I say they have become opaque? This afternoon, over at the Windows Blog, Eric Hautala, General Manager of Customer Experience Engineering announced that going forward they are going to discontinue the constant, weekly updates they were putting out on the blog. Instead, they will provide news of updates on the main Windows Phone blog. Also, that this update (and presumably others, going forward) is going to be up to the carriers to request from Microsoft and provide to end users.

The update, available to all carriers that request it, is part of our ongoing maintenance of Windows Phone

What? The carriers have to request the update? Why would they? If they request the update, they’d have to run a long test cycle to validate the update. Then they’d have to roll it out to their users. It takes a lot of engineering effort on the part of the carriers to undertake these tests. Why would they, unless it is a huge issue like a major security vulnerability or if phones are becoming useless (“bricked”)? Absolutely no reason.

Microsoft has to push the carriers (and OEMs) to push the updates to the phones that are impacted. Sometimes not all phones on all carriers are impacted, but instead of relying on the carriers to request the update, Microsoft should be the one pushing the carriers to force the updates to the users. Unfortunately, unlike Apple, which treats you and I as their customers, Microsoft treats the carriers as their customers. That is not to say that the end customer is irrelevant to Microsoft, but clearly, the customers that pay Microsoft are the carriers and the OEMs.

I have mocked Android before, for being extremely slow in updating phones, but in that case at least, Google has admittedly washed their hands off the entire process by making Android free to use. Their argument could very well be that they have no control over the OEMs and therefore, it is futile to push the carriers who may have to do even longer testing because of the large variety of Android phones that are available. In Microsoft’s case though, all OEMs are known because it is a not a free license. The updates could be coordinated, as we saw in the case of “Mango”, among the various OEMs and carriers. That they have made a conscious decision not to mandate the carriers, shows that behind the scenes, something has changed politically which has led to this decision.

I am disappointed at these moves: first, the move to let the carriers request the update, but second and more importantly, the lack of the detailed communication regarding various updates, going forward. So, going forward, it will not only be unclear if you will receive the update, but also, you won’t know how far along your specific carrier is with the update deployment.

I can only imagine that the transparency did not go down well with Microsoft’s partners since it clearly exposed the OEMs (Samsung in particular) and carriers (Telefonica is an example) which were holding up the updates. However, the end user is the one who gets the short end of the stick here – not because they don’t receive the update, most normal customers don’t even care – mostly because their phone experience suffers. In the most recent update, there is an annoying, oft-occurring bug which has been fixed (“disappearing keyboard”). If AT&T does not pick it up and push the update out in the next few weeks, this Windows Phone user will definitely start watching the next iPhone rumors more closely.

My 2012 Wish List for Windows Phone

Windows Phone

I have been using Windows Phone virtually from launch day, and have been patient with the team about so many things that have been missing from the OS. Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, addressed a lot of my complaints, but now I have another, deeper set of functionality (and wishes!) I’d like to see implemented.

The following is my wish list for Windows Phone for the year 2012. Given that one of the wishes is for more frequent updates, I am hoping some of the functionality gaps are filled sooner than later.

Ecosystem

  1. Market share: First and foremost, I’d like to see Windows Phone get to a decent market share. The stars have aligned nicely with RIM dying a slow death, and webOS being killed by HP for Windows Phone to be easily positioned as the #3 platform. However, it would be a pity if the 3rd-biggest  platform is at 5% with iOS and Android making up 95% of the market. It would be better if Windows Phone could get to 10-15% or above to really make it relevant. Education at carrier stores, more incentives for carrier salespeople, Nokia’s Rolling Thunder campaign, expansion to new markets, etc. should help.
  2. More Silicon Valley startup involvement: Most startups are not going to devote time to building Windows Phone apps with its market share around 1.5%. It simply does not make financial sense. I would like to see the Microsoft developer relations/evangelism folks to embed themselves in such startups and help them build the next cool appfor Windows Phone in addition to iOS/Android. For that, this evangelist team will have to work closely in Silicon Valley (and perhaps New York) to identify the companies which are doing great things in the mobile space and help them as early as possible in their lifecycle.
  3. Get existing marquee apps at par with iOS/Android counterparts: Microsoft would like us to believe that 90% of the top iOS/Android apps are available for Windows Phone. That may be arguable, but even existing apps like Facebook and Twitter have not seen updates to bring features at par with iOS/Android versions. For example, Facebook app does not support updating Groups or Twitter app (still) does not provide notifications. Also, given that some of these apps have been built by Microsoft, or even worse, by a third party, it is hard to understand who is to blame for the lack of functionality updates.
  4. Abandon the annual minor and major update cycle: Windows Phone has settled into a cycle where they have minor releases once a year and major updates once a year, each separated by about 6 months. While this is great for larger, non-mobile programs, it is absolutely slow in the mobile industry, especially for bug fixes and security updates. Until Windows Phone is  at  par with iOS and Android in terms of overall functionality, I don’t think they should settle down into a 6-month update cycle. Till then, the updates should be rapid, incremental and extremely frequent.

Acer Unveils Its First WP7 Phone – Allegro

Acer has quietly announced a new Windows Phone 7.5 Mango running handset, the Allegro. The Allegro is the first ever Windows Phone handset from the company.

This mid-range handset is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255T single-core processor, and packs 512MB of RAM along with 8GB of internal memory. The front of the handset is dominated by the 3.6-inch LCD with WVGA (480×800) resolution. At the back of the Allegro is a 5MP snapper aided by an LED flash. The phone lacks a front-facing camera though.

All the usual connectivity features like Wi-Fi b/g/n, GPS with A-GPS and HSPA are also on-board. Sensors like Accelerometer, Gyroscope and Ambient Light sensor etc. are also present. The handset will be powered by a  measly  1300mAh battery.

The Allegro will hit the shelves in France in mid-November, and will be priced at around  â‚¬299. The handset will be available in black and white colors.At its current price point, the Allegro is a direct competitor to Nokia’s recently announced Lumia 710. The Lumia is slightly costlier than the Allegro, but offers a bigger screen, faster processor and comes with a microSD card slot as well.

Hopefully, unlike their Android handsets, Acer will meet with some success with their WP7 phones.

(Source)

 

Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” Update Rolling Out Now

Microsoft has finally started rolling out its much-anticipated WP7.5 Mango update, for the first generation WP7 based phones.

WP

Majority of the WP7 (98%) will be getting the update in the next 4 weeks. Owners of HTC Surround, LG Quantum and Samsung Focus v1.3 will get the update within a month. However, owners of HD7S will need to wait a bit more since the WP7.5 Mango update for their handset is still under scheduling, while the update for the Focus (v1.4) is under testing.

Sadly, there is no confirmation whether the Dell Venue Pro will get the update or not. Microsoft also does not mention anything about the European version of the Focus, the Omnia 7.  Right now, the Mango update for the handset is still under planning. WP7 owners can check out the global Mango roll-out schedule from here.

The Wp7.5 Mango update brings many new and much-needed features to the Windows Phone Platform including Multi-tasking, front-facing camera support, Xbox Live Integration, better Social networking integration, Music search and much more. Overall, the Mango update brings more than 500 new features to existing WP7 handsets!

Once the Mango update hits a user’s phone, they need to connect their handset to a PC and fire up Zune Software for PC app, and head to the Update Central section to update the phone. Mac owners need to use Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac for the same purpose.

Mango Update Coming to Every Windows Phone 7 Device Next Week

Though I like Android a lot, there is one thing about it which I absolutely hate — the frequency of official OS updates. While the situation has improved considerably in the past couple of months, initially, almost every Android phone except the latest flagships used to run on an older version of Android, with no update in sight.

The fact that manufacturers and carriers used to screw up and complicate the update process by releasing their own customized versions of Android didn’t help much.

That’s why, when Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7, one of the things that attracted me to the platform was that every phone would run the same software with no modifications. This would ensure that each phone would get an update and that it would get it much faster than Android phones.

When it announced the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update, Microsoft said that it will be available for every Windows Phone 7 device. Today, they have confirmed their commitment to that statement.

At the Windows Phone blog, they announced that every WP7 device will be getting the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update in the next week or two. Just make sure you update your version of Zune for Windows or Windows Phone 7 connector for Mac, you’ll need it soon.

Samsung Focus Flash Announced; Mango Update Coming To AT&T’s WP7 Handsets This Fall

Along with the Samsung Focus S, AT&T and Samsung also announced the Focus Flash. The Focus Flash is a smaller and cheaper sibling of the Focus S. The Focus Flash comes with a 3.7-inch Super-AMOLED screen with WVGA (480×800) resolution.

Samsung_Focus_Flash

Like the Focus S, the Focus Flash is also powered by a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon (MSM8255T) processor, along with an Adreno 205 GPU and 512MB of RAM. The back of the phone sports a 5MP camera, with a VGA camera in the front accompanying it.

The Focus Flash will run on the latest version of Windows Phone a.k.a WP7.5, which is also known as Mango. The press release from AT&T does not mention anything whether the Focus Flash will support its upcoming 4G network or not. AT&T  did not mention anything about the internal memory capacity of the Flash as well.

Along with the Focus S and Focus Flash, AT&T also announced that it will be among the first operators to roll out the WP7.5 a.k.a Mango update for its current-gen WP7 based phones like HTC Surround, HD7S and the Samsung Focus. The Mango update will be hit these devices sometime in fall.

The Focus Flash will be available sometime in Q4 this year.

HTC Radar Announced; Runs on Windows Phone Mango

HTC have just announced a couple of Windows Phone Mango phones at their on-going event in London. Firstly, the company  announced the much more portable, Radar. The handset comes with a 3.8-inch S-LCD screen with WVGA (800×480) resolution.

The Radar is powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, while an Adreno 205 GPU handles the GPU department. The handset has 512MB of RAM on-board, along with 8GB of internal storage, of which only 6.54GB is available to the end-user. Since, WP7.5 Mango does not support microSD card slots, the extremely low internal memory is going to be a concern for many future Radar owners.

Other than this, the Radar features the usual run-of-the-mill Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS with A-GPS, 3G/HSDPA support, and a bunch of sensors. Like the Titan, the Radar also comes with a decent camera, albeit with a lower resolution. At the back of the Radar is a 5MP camera with F2.2 lens, accompanied by an LED flash. There is also a VGA camera in the front. The phone is also capable of playing back and recording 720p HD videos.

Like the Titan, the Radar runs on the latest version of Windows Phone, Mango. Beside the improved SoC and cameras, the Radar is just another run-of-the-mill handset. Most of the caveats of the first generation WP7 phones like the lack of full HD video recording, no display resolution higher than WVGA, and no microSD card slot still remain.

HTC did not announce anything about the availability and pricing of the Radar.

HTC Titan Announced; Sports a 4.7-inch S-LCD Screen!

Along with the HTC Radar, the Taiwanese company also announced a giant Windows Phone Mango based phone, the Titan. The Titan sports a 4.7-inch screen, with a disappointing WVGA (480×800) resolution screen. Like all other recent HTC handsets, the Titan also has a unibody aluminium design.

The handset is powered by a 1.5GHz single core processor from Snapdragon, and comes with 512MB of RAM and 16GB of on-board memory. The usual Wi-Fi b/g/n, GPS with A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1, and sensors like Gyroscope, Proximity sensor and Ambient light sensors are also present.

The back of the HTC Titan sports an 8MP camera with a t/2.2 aperture, accompanied by dual-LED flash. The Titan is among the first Windows Phone to sport a front-facing camera. The handset is also capable of recording and playing back 720p HD videos.

Except for a faster processor and an improved GPU, the Titan is just another run-of-the-mill Windows Phone. The only major difference is that the handset runs on Mango right out of the box, while other WP7 handsets will get the update sometime this month.

Overall, the Titan lacks a lot of features, which is now a common place in the Android smartphone world, including HDMI out, microSD card slot, FM radio and 1080p video recording.

While the improved 8MP camera on the back and a front-facing camera in the front is a welcome addition, a dual-core processor and/or more internal memory would have been highly appreciated by Windows Phone users.

 

Windows Phone Mango RTM: What is still missing?

wp7

 

Today came the exciting and unexpected news of Windows Phone Mango’s Release To Manufacturing (RTM). The Windows Phone team has completed the release and handed it to mobile operators and handset makers to start testing the latest update to Microsoft’s mobile operating system reboot.

Windows Phone Mango has several hundred new features which have been covered at various places across the web, including some of the v1 annoyances it has resolved for me personally. Here I want to make a few comments on what still remains to be added. Granted, these are smaller in some ways than the gap that Mango closed, it is still worth talking about what Windows Phone lacks in terms of features and functionality already available in (or announced for) iOS and/or Android.

  1. VPN functionality: Windows Phone still does not support connecting to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), typically used to connect devices to corporate networks from outside the company. iOS offers native VPN support as well as support for VPN client apps.
  2. At-rest encryption: Encryption of the storage on the device is a huge issue for corporate IT departments in being able to support a mobile device. As smartphones get more and more capable of performing computer-like tasks, and as they start storing more and more company data, they also become a huge liability in case the phones get lost or stolen. At-rest encryption protects the data on the device in such cases. Microsoft has said that the isolated storage on the device is only available to the specific app and that is how they quasi-protect the data, but I don’t think IT departments think that is enough. iOS for example, has encryption built into newer devices since iOS4.
  3. Complete backup/restore: As part of the recent NoDo update, Windows Phone introduced phone backup, but it is crippled in that only Zune desktop can execute it, and it cannot really be triggered manually (on demand). iOS (iTunes) on the other hand, does provide a way to backup and restore on demand.
  4. Multiple Windows Live ID’s per phone: Windows Phone links the device to a Windows Live ID which you enter during setup. This is the ID used to connect to the Marketplace for purchasing apps and other content, but more importantly, it is also the ID used to access other in-built platform services like Zune Pass music subscription and Windows Live-connected services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and obviously, Windows Live Messenger and Facebook chat. What if I want to share my purchased apps with my wife but we want to have our own Windows Live-connected services on our phones? It is impossible today without sharing a Live ID, but SkyDrive, IM, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are services which don’t translate well with a shared Live ID. On the other hand, iOS/iTunes allows you to use a different ID to purchase apps/content from the store, than from the one you associate with the device. So I envision that in Windows Phone you still enter a Windows Live ID at setup, which will tie the ID to all your platform services like SkyDrive, IM, Facebook, Twitter, etc., but when it comes time to purchase apps or content, you can choose which ID to use. 
  5. DLNA, Play To: When Windows Phone launched, DLNA capability was used by LG as a differentiator for their phones. Now that the initial launch dust has settled, it is about time Windows Phone included DLNA/Play To feature across the OS. This will be a good response to AirPlay which is one of the few really magical technologies that have come out of Apple. If I could beam my recently captured photos/videos from my Windows Phone to the TV via the XBOX or a TV-connected Windows 7 PC, it would be awesome. 
  6. [Updated 7/29/2011] Voice commands for Music/Zune: How could I miss this one? One feature that seems to be missing from Mango is the ability to use the excellent voice commands for Music playback (including of course podcasts), including controls like pause, play, stop and skip. I hope at least this one is a surprise feature in RTM which we have not seen in the beta builds.

Do you have anything else you would add to this list? Let me know!

Nokia’s Windows Phone 7 ‘Sea Ray’ Taken Out Of Testing Shell

It would seem that Nokia is having a hard time keeping things under wraps when it comes to their recently leaked Windows Phone 7 device, the ‘Sea Ray’. First unveiled by CEO, Stephen Elop in a “super confidential” showing, the Sea Ray carries the same design cues at the Nokia N9, save for a few external changes such as camera component arrangement as well as the addition of camera key.

In what appears to be an assembly factory, the ‘Sea Ray’ is removed from a bulky disguise case, taken for a quick hardware tour and is turned on. A new “7” boot animation as well as many other subtle UI changes indicate the device is running the ‘Mango’ build of Windows Phone 7. The usual front facing capacitive buttons, Back, Home and  Search are present along with a covered microUSB port on the top, a domed power button and 3.5mm headphone jack. Presumably the third side button below the volume keys is for locking and unlocking the device.

Although this won’t be the first device to have Mango on it, the Sea Ray is rumored to be Nokia’s first Windows Phone 7 device to launch and is said to be available in the coming 2012 year. A step off of the proverbial ‘burning platform‘ and into cold waters. A ray  of light in a cold and dark sea. Hopefully it can keep the company afloat.

Via WPCentral