A few days after it provideda listing of the new features and changes in the latest Windows Phone software update, which bumps the version number of the OS up to 7.10.8107.79, Microsoft offered a bit of commentary about the update and, more alarmingly, revealed that it would be kicking its useful "Where's My Phone Update?" web site to the curb.
The revelations comes, as they do so often these days, via a blog, in this case the Windows Phone Blog, and not through traditional press channels.
Anyway, there are two bits of information here. The 8107 update and then the discontinuation of the Where’s My Phone Update? site. Here's what Microsoft communicated, with a lot of added commentary.
Windows Phone update 8107
"This week we started to make a new Windows Phone update —8107—available to many Windows Phone customers," Eric Hautala wrote in the blog post. "The update, available to all carriers that request it, is part of our ongoing maintenance of Windows Phone. For more details on what’s included, check out Update History on the Windows Phone website."
All carriers that request it. That's a bit ominous, given that some carriers have shown major reluctance to delivering updates to their customers. And when you look over the list of what's fixed in this update, you sort of get the idea that this update should be made available to all Windows Phone users, not just the ones lucky enough to be using a forward-leaning carrier. Hm.
"In the months ahead, we'll continue to send out firmware and maintenance updates as needed," he adds. "These will be available across the globe—although not everybody will receive or require them. It depends on your country, carrier, and phone model. But remember that you’ll never have to guess when a Windows Phone update is waiting: Just watch for the pop up notification on your device."
I have to think this is a veiled reference to the release (or releases) that some have called Tango. While it's unclear what Tango is, or if it really exists, the consensus seems to be that it is related to lower-end phones in new and emerging markets. That is, it's not something aimed at mainstream Windows Phone customers in first-tier markets like the US and western Europe. This may explain why I've never come across the word "Tango" in any of the internal Windows Phone documentation I've viewed--all of which is related to the US only.
Where's the Where's My Phone Update site? (think about that for a second before sending in a typo fix)
"As we continue our growth, we won’t be individually detailing country, model, and carrier details on the Where's My Phone Update? site any longer," Hautala continues. "And instead of my weekly blog posts, the official Windows Phone website will be the primary place for news and information about our updates, just as Microsoft Answers is there for your support questions."
Reading between the lines, I'd argue that this site is all the more necessary when Windows Phone grows, not less, and that the real reason this is changing is that something else has changed behind the scenes. Bear with me for a moment, because this is pure speculation. But it goes something like this:
Last year, Microsoft got into a lot of hot water when its "NoDo" update, the first software update the company delivered to the platform, was completed but then never delivered to users. Over time, it emerged that a combination of factors were preventing the release: First, Microsoft's wireless carrier partners were blocking the update, a situation which other bloggers incorrectly reported was impossible, and that Microsoft later conceded was the case. Second, Microsoft's hardware maker partners, notably Samsung, had quietly and secretly released multiple versions of their devices, some of which actually broke the updating mechanism. (A certain version of the Samsung Focus will likely never be truly fixed in this regard, even though I've been told the issue is related to a single software certificate.)
Making its partners look bad was not, is not, part of the plan. In fact, Microsoft has never once fingered Samsung or any other hardware company, nor has it dinged AT&T, its "premier" Windows Phone partner, for being among the worst in deploying the NoDo update.
After months of bad vibes, Microsoft said it fixed this issue and then it surprised onlookers by delivering a major Windows Phone update, version 7.5 or "Mango" to virtually all customers in just over a month. This is a feat Android is incapable of, and given its past performance Microsoft was justifiable pleased with its performance. So too where Windows Phone users and fans. (Same group, really.) Mission accomplished.
Or was it? In the wake of that success, former Microsoft executive Charlie Kindel wrote that Windows Phone was struggling in the market because the software giant alienated its hardware and wireless carrier partners by locking down the platform too much and not allowing them to modify the phones as much as, say, Android licensees can do. In other words, by doing the right thing for customers, Microsoft had done the wrong thing for its partners.
Read more about that fascinating issue in Kindel: Yes, Windows Phone Is Superior, But Here's Why It's Not Selling.
So here's what I'm thinking. Microsoft agreed to stop publishing its "Where's My Phone Update?" because it makes its partners look bad, even though the site is obviously valuable for customers. They have taken a small step to reverse the relationship to appease partners on the cusp of year in which Microsoft and its hardware partners will spend several hundred million dollars promoting Windows Phone around the world. About $200 million in the US alone, in just the first half of the year. They're spending $130 million marketing just on one phone, the Nokia Ace.