The first Windows Phone 7 software update could arrive as soon as next week, adding crucial features that were missing when the new mobile OS launched last fall and closing the functional gap between Windows Phone and its more mature competition. Before that can happen, however, Microsoft needs to complete rolling out a "pre-update," or what Microsoft now calls the February update, to Windows Phone users. And that process has begun anew after a problem with Samsung devices was found, halting the download.
"We plan to resume rolling out the February update to Samsung phones," Microsoft's Michael Stroh wrote on the official Windows Phone Blog. "Meanwhile, we're continuing to dispatch the update to other Windows Phone models. As has been the case, the software patch is being sent out on a rolling schedule. You'll see a message on your phone when it's available."
The pre-update was aimed at fixing a bug in the Windows Phone software-updating mechanism, a bug that could have prevented some users from getting the first real update, code-named No Donuts (or just NoDo). The NoDo update will add copy-and-paste functionality, major application performance gains, and better Marketplace search to Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft first announced this pre-update almost two weeks ago, but users with Samsung devices in particular began reporting problems with the installation, including in some cases a situation where their phones were "bricked," or made unusable, by the update. After a few days, Microsoft stopped offering the pre-update so that it could work on a fix.
The company initially said this problem "impacted a small number of Samsung phone" only, but it later revealed that fully 10 percent of those who downloaded the original pre-update ran into problems. Microsoft tried to paint this in positive terms, noting that "90 percent of people who've received an update notification have installed the new software patch successfully." I can't imagine a single consumer electronics company that would find a 10 percent failure rate acceptable, but whatever. (And compared with the Xbox 360, of course, Windows Phone is a sterling reliability success.)
In any event, with the pre-update rolling out to Windows Phone 7 users, Microsoft can now turn its attention to NoDo, which it could deliver to customers as soon as next week. Microsoft actually finished work on NoDo back in December, but the release was delayed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that several wireless carriers unceremoniously blocked the update, creating an embarrassing situation for the software giant. It's unclear why these carriers chose to block NoDo, but conspiracy theories abound.
Although today's Windows Phone devices are all GSM-type devices, NoDo also provides support for the CDMA networking type used by Sprint and Verizon Wireless in the United States. Last week, Sprint announced that its first Windows Phone, the HTC Arrive, will ship to customers starting March 20. And though Verizon hasn't announced its Windows Phone plans yet, I can reveal that the HTC Trophy will be announced this month as well. Both of these phones include NoDo preinstalled.
There's a lot of excitement around NoDo simply because it represents the first functional update to Windows Phone since the platform arrived last October. But NoDo is not a major release, and it includes only a handful of changes and fixes. Windows Phone fans will need to wait for the v2 release of Windows Phone 7, code-named Mango, to get a major functional update. Mango will be finalized by the end of 2011, and while Microsoft recently promised to ship this release to customers by the end of the year as well, my sources tell me that schedule is a near impossibility. Mango will include Internet Explorer (IE) 9 with partial HTML 5 support, better multitasking functionality, and more, Microsoft says.