Windows Mobile Needs Easier Incremental Updates

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In my last editorial I talked about the challenges facing Microsoft in developing major new versions of Windows Mobile. Today I’m going to talk about the importance of incremental updates… an area where this operating system has completely dropped the ball.

Windows Mobile

When Microsoft decided to name its OS for smartphones “Windows Mobile” it raised certain expectations. People have been able to easily update the system software on their Windows PC for decades, and so it’s not surprising that they expect to be able to do the same with their Windows phones. Problem is, they can’t.

On your desktop, Microsoft releases a patch for Windows and it’s sent to your PC to install. On your phone, changes to Windows Mobile are sent to the maker of the device, who tweaks the code for each of its models, then sends it on the the wireless carriers who have to approve it. Only when the carrier signs off on it for each of the models it offers is the update available to be installed.

And the badness is just getting started: the smartphone customer has to hear about an update on a site like Brighthand, manually download it, and install it themselves. If this weren’t enough, more often than not installing the update requires wiping the device and reinstalling everything on it, whether the ROM update has just a few changes or is a major revamp.

If there’s a more broken system than this, I can’t think of it.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Fortunately, Microsoft appears to be finally planning to do something about this mess. A few days ago, Microsoft began trying to find someone to lead a team that will add easy updating capabilities to Windows Mobile.

The job listing says:

Have you wished to see your Windows Mobile phone with new features “magically” show up without you buying a new one? Do you want to see greater and better quality and cool software delivered to your love ones’ Windows phones from just a click? If this is your dream, this is a place for you. Come join us to make this dream into reality! With the mobile industry’s strong growth and several competitors playing in the field, we are going to have a challenging but fun time to show customers what Windows phone can become in the next few years.

We are in Windows Mobile device update team. Our goal is to enable customers to anticipate and enjoy a predictable stream of new and improved capabilities for their Windows Phone via a Device Update service that is worry-free and easy-to-use.

There’s no doubt that this is great news, but it barely qualifies as the first step of a long and difficult journey.

To accomplish its goal, Microsoft is going to have to work with the device makers to come up with a way to allow the operating system to be easily updated. This isn’t going to be easy.

Microsoft is also going to have to calm the fears of the wireless carriers. The idea of Microsoft stepping around them to directly send updates to their customers will surely make them nervous. Reasonably speaking I don’t think it’s possible to completely take the carriers out of the process, but they should no longer be the major hurdle they are now.

It Can Be Done
An easy and convenient upgrade process can be done. Take Android as an example. When Google puts together an update for this operating system it works with T-Mobile. The carrier then pushes the software out over the air to users, whose phones automatically update themselves. The user’s whole interaction in the process is acknowledging an announcement that that their device has been updated. And then using the new features, of course.

This is going to be a hard job for Microsoft and its partners, but it’s one that’s worth doing. Windows Mobile is simply going to have to offer users quick and easy updates to stay competitive in an increasing crowded market. If it doesn’t, its going to become a dinosaur lumbering slowly after its quick-moving rivals.




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