If the initial Windows Phone "pre-update" is any indication, Microsoft was wise to hold off on updating its new mobile platform for so long: Some users have reported that this update has "bricked" their phone, which in some cases might require them to actually replace the device. And Microsoft has allegedly suspended delivering the update to some users because of this problem.
"We have identified a technical issue with the Windows Phone update process that impacts a small number of phones," Microsoft reportedly told IDG News in a statement that has been republished without verification across the web. "In response to this emerging issue, we have temporarily taken down the latest software update for Samsung phones in order to correct the issue and as soon as possible will redistribute the update."
The back story behind the first Windows Phone update is complex, but it goes like this: After promising to update Windows Phone frequently and as needed, Microsoft instead silently moved to a more monolithic updating schedule in which it will bundle numerous fixes and additions into larger updates. The first of these updates was completed in December and would have added copy-and-paste support, faster application performance, and better Marketplace search. But two or more of Microsoft's wireless-carrier partners inexplicably blocked the update, leading to months of delays. The software giant recently said it would be able to deliver this update in the first half of March. But sources at the company have told me privately that even this schedule was uncertain at the time this declaration was made.
After recently discovering a glitch in the software-updating mechanism in the Windows Phone OS, Microsoft this week decided to deliver a different first update, or what I call a "pre-update." This update fixes the Windows Phone OS's software-updating mechanism, allowing the coming update (the one with copy-and-paste, and so on) to install reliably.
Some have conjectured—incorrectly, my sources tell me—that this pre-update does nothing but allow Microsoft to claim to have delivered an update to users. (Carriers are allowed to block software updates for Windows Phone, but only for "one update cycle." So by delivering this "update," it could force the real update to ship to all users.) Not that it matters, as Microsoft's pre-update is broken anyway. Users are reporting various issues with the update, including various installation failures, one of which apparently "bricks" phones, making them unusable and non-restorable. That's right: This pre-update, which some believe is a do-nothing ploy to goad the carriers, can actually render a Windows Phone useless.
Microsoft's inability to deliver even a single software update to Windows Phone over the first four months of its lifecycle was a problem, sure. But this event, caused by a tiny software updater, suggests much bigger problems with Windows Phone and could be the trigger for an all-out PR disaster. Windows Phone is a solid platform with innovative user interfaces and features. But it needs a better start than this.
If you are a Windows Phone user nervous about installing the first update, or, less fortunately, one who has experienced problems, please refer to the following two Microsoft troubleshooters:
Microsoft also maintains a Twitter feed for Windows Phone support.