In defense of Microsoft and the 'NoDo' update

Let's start with some disclaimers. First of all I am a Windows Phone fanboy, so I may be slightly biased toward Microsoft. Secondly I am a Windows Phone fanboy, and I want my update right the heck now. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's move on.

Comparing NoDo to Froyo

There has been much debate/discussion/discontent about the so-called NoDo update for Windows Phone 7. Microsoft first mentioned bringing copy and paste to Windows Phone 7 at the launch event in October, stating that the feature would be made available in 'early 2011.' In January at CES Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated:

"Over the next few months we will be delivering a series of platform improvements that show we are taking feedback to heart in an effort to continue to enhance the products we release. The updates will be released automatically and will include a few changes."

The "official" announcement of the update itself wasn't until the Microsoft keynote at Mobile World Congress in February. Ballmer stated that the update would be released in 'early March.' At the end of February, Microsoft announced that they would be releasing a pre-update to prepare Windows Phones for NoDo; complications followed, specifically for Samsung devices, causing Microsoft to temporarily halt the update. Microsoft communicated that the NoDo release had slipped to the 'second half of March' in order to iron out the wrinkles in the update process.

So to recap, here is a quick timeline:

  • 2/14/2011 – Microsoft officially announces NoDo
  • 3/10/2011 – NoDo delay announced
  • 3/23/2011 – NoDo deployed to developer (carrier unlocked) handsets
  • TBA/Varies – NoDo Deployment to consumer devices

From the official announcement of the update to NoDo being pushed to developer devices in five weeks and two days, even with a delay due to bug fixes in the later stages. Now let's compare that to Android 2.2 (a.k.a Froyo). Keep in mind that Android has been around for a couple of years, and Windows Phone 7 is new to the party.

The primary comparison that I want to draw here is the time between the "official" announcement to the point when it hit developer devices. The time between May 20 and June 29 is five weeks and five days; three days longer than it took Microsoft with the NoDo update. I would assume that it takes more than a few months for the core of these updates to go through the code/testing cycle. It seems that Microsoft has been fairly up-front with what their plans are, almost to a fault.

I should also note that Froyo didn’t start hitting consumer devices until over a month after it was on the developer handsets. Now this isn't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, as Android is something of a wild west when it comes to bundled software and OEM/carrier customization. Microsoft should be able to turn NoDo out to consumer devices faster than a comparable Android update, simply because Microsoft is fairly strict on what customizations can be done and uses a standard hardware chassis. But the fact remains, it's reasonable to allow some time for carriers and OEMs to test the update on their hardware and networks.

Another thing I want to point out pertains primarily to people who are looking to purchase a new Windows Phone, and are concerned about the update schedule. If you look at that Android schedule again, the first two devices to receive Froyo were (and are) two of the most popular Android devices. Lesson learned: more popular/better selling devices are more likely to get an early update, especially if there have a power OEM/Carrier combination behind them. Verizon and Sprint pushed the Droid and EVO 4G incredibly hard, and those sales give them incentive to keep the maximum amount of customers happy with the least amount of work.

On the other hand

Many would argue (correctly) that Google shouldn't be the standard we are viewing Microsoft against, it should be Apple. WPCentral readers are savvy enough to recognize the differences between Apple and Microsoft's mobile strategies. Obviously Apple controls the hardware and software aspects of the process, so there is a definite advantage there. Microsoft's biggest problem right now is that both Apple and Google clearly offer more features on their respective platforms. If Microsoft is going to be competitive against Android and iOS, they need to be beating both companies in the update realm, something that they clearly aren't doing.

All indications would lead us to believe that NoDo was originally scheduled to be released in January, and Microsoft insider Paul Thurrott has stated repeatedly that he knows for a fact that NoDo was "finished" in December. Obviously there have been delays that haven't been explained, and to a point that's ok; but Microsoft's playing catch-up here, and a two or three month delay on a relatively minor update is unacceptable.

The most frustrating part of this whole discussion is that the part of the process where Microsoft is completely failing in getting the update to consumers is the part where carriers get involved. I haven't seen any indication of a carrier explicitly 'blocking' NoDo, though Microsoft has said that carriers will be able to block updates for a single cycle. Really though, consumers don't differentiate between a blocked update and a delayed update.

I for one am more concerned with how the "Mango update" is affected, later this year, and I'm not encouraged by the NoDo delays. If Microsoft has this much trouble with an update that includes very few actual improvements, what are we supposed to expect for something that completely changes major portions of the platform?

In conclusion

As I said at the beginning, I am a Windows Phone fanboy, and I want my updates as bad as anyone. Nobody wants an update that is buggy and unstable. Microsoft hasn't made any promises and then delayed an unreasonable amount of time. They never said that NoDo would be released to all devices in March. But Microsoft's got a perception problem, and they've had it for a while. The only way to fix that perception problem is to deliver on the promises they make, and start offering a feature set that is competitive with current market leaders.

We'll be keeping our ears to the ground just like the rest of you, and we'll keep you posted on any developments as they hit. Until then, enjoy one of the most innovative devices on the market. And please, keep harassing your carriers!

Tim Ferrill