Can we get real about phone updates?

cardsYesterday Eric Hautala posted on the Windows Phone blog about the latest Windows Phone update, dubbed 8107, which, according to the Windows Phone website, addresses the disappearing keyboard issue, a Gmail sync issue, the location permissions issue, and a few others.  However, along with news about the update, Hautala also announced that the detailed information on “where’s my update?”, broken down by region and carrier, would no longer be updated, nor would there be weekly updates on the Windows Phone blog about the status of the updates.

A number of tech bloggers and commenters to the post are apparently quite upset about the changes, demanding that Microsoft hold the carriers accountable, and claiming that not holding the carriers to task by publishing their update status will lead to greater fragmentation of the Windows Phone ecosystem.

To that we’re going to have to say…. get real.  It’s time we face some facts, not only as Windows Phone users, but more in general as smartphone users – carriers and OEMs have a vested interest in NOT upgrading older phones to the latest and greatest OS.

Carriers hold all the cards.  You can’t have a phone without a cellular network, and even if Windows Phone had 80% of the market share, the carriers would still hold all the cards.

The “where’s my phone?” update pages were born out of necessity.  After Microsoft flailed at a NoDo update, finding out after the fact that the hardware ecosystem for Windows Phone, even with careful specification rules, was far more fragmented than they were aware.  Microsoft needed to reassure customers that they would be getting updates, and to give them some idea of when.

But now, those pages serve more as a scorecard for carrier/OEM performance, not a particularly smart move when the carriers not only hold all the cards, but have other alternatives, other phones to push.

Microsoft has done quite a bit to try take at least some control of the update situation, and it’s far better here than it is on Android.  And there’s much still to be done, perhaps by separating bug fixes and maintenance issues (a la the disappearing keyboard) from feature updates, requiring the first but making the latter optional.  But for now, carriers are in firm control, and poking them with a stick isn’t doing Microsoft any good.

So bye, bye “Where’s my update?”.  Here’s a reality check for you: carriers are going to be slow to want to update your old (paid for) phones, when they would much rather get you to buy a new one (extending your contract at the same time).  And, *shocker alert*, Microsoft wouldn’t mind selling more licenses of Windows Phone, either.

If you have a first generation Windows Phone (one that say, hasn’t been updated in a while), and now a year later you just can’t wait for that new Nokia 900,  guess what?  Nokia will be happy to sell you a new phone, your carrier will be ecstatic to take your early termination fee, extend your contract, and get a brand new phone in your hands, and Microsoft will have made another sale.  As much as it’s a game, that’s the way the game is played.

Updating old phones is the way the game *isn’t* played.  All those Android 2.0 and 2.3 users, the ones that didn’t buy their way out of their contracts, are coming up on the end of their 2 year commitment.  Do you think they’ll be holding out, waiting for an Ice Cream Sandwich update?  No, they’ll be lining up, somewhat begrudgingly perhaps,  to buy a new phone, updated to the latest and greatest, knowing they’re caught in an endless cycle that makes far more sense for the carriers, the OEMs, and for Microsoft than it does for consumers.  Go figure.