Microsoft Plans Meek Summer Update to WP8
Slow and steady appears to be the strategy with tweaks to Windows Phone 8. Microsoft will be adding FM radio in the summer, and the software will also support CalDAV and CardDAV protocols so users can sync their phones with Google apps. However, that strategy may not help the company keep up with the rapid pace of change in the smartphone software market.
05/15/13 9:34 AM PT
It appears that Microsoft won't be rocking the Windows Phone 8 boat very much until 2014.
Microsoft spread some crumbs Tuesday about an update to its mobile operating system coming this summer, and the offering is pretty mild. Another scheduled update for the fall is expected to deliver more of the same.
The summer update is just a "momentum release," said Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft. It's mostly bug fixes, quality improvements and changes to accommodate new products entering the market.
There'll be one more maintenance update, or General Distribution Release (GDR) in the fall before something more major is released about the time Windows Blue, the next major update of Windows 8, is released, he said.
"These are minor updates, but the OS was just released last October," he told TechNewsWorld.
Adding FM Radio
Major changes typically aren't packed into GDRs. "There's not a lot of room in the GDRs to really put major new features in," Sanfilippo explained. "The team has a limited set of resources to work with and they don't want to destabilize the OS too much with these types of releases."
"Microsoft wants to keep everything stable out there now," he said. "Those devices are still relatively new in consumers' hands, and they don't want to disrupt the experience for them, but they want to make sure that new devices work as well."
No major updates are expected until the "Blue" version of Windows Phone 8 is released at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2014, Sanfilippo added. "Then we might see some interesting new features that would really make a difference for the overall experience on Windows Phone."
Among the additions included in the summer GDR will be support for CalDAV and CardDAV. Those technologies are necessary to allow Windows Phone users to sync their calendar and appointment items with Google's Web apps, which cut their support for Microsoft ActiveSync earlier this year.
Microsoft is also adding FM radio support, although it will be a carrier option. Data sense monitoring and the ability to pin tunes to Xbox Music have also been added.
Strategy Hits Wall
Microsoft's Windows Phone 8's development pace may be good for the stability of the operating system, but in the fast paced mobile arena, it may hurt its chances to become a significant player in the market.
"When Android first came out, its update cycle left the device cycle in the dust," Michael Morgan, a mobile devices analyst with ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld.
"With Windows, they're doing gradual, measured updates," he said. "They're working at a Microsoft pace, at a desktop development pace. That's not going to cut it. They didn't come into this game ahead. They came in behind. You'd think they'd be sprinting to catch up, but I'm not seeing that."
Microsoft's marketing strategy in the smartphone market has proven to be flawed, which is creating doubt in some minds about Windows Phone 8. "Microsoft's strategy was to get some feature phone users and turn them into smartphone users," Morgan said.
"Those people have already been captured, especially at the price points where Windows Phone 8 devices are entering the market" he noted. "So their strategy has hit a wall. It makes me continue to fear for the future of Windows Phone 8."
Windows Phone 8 has also suffered from poor marketing efforts, said Gartner Vice President for Mobile Computing Ken Dulaney.
"They've done a terrible marketing job," he told TechNewsWorld. "They buried Windows Phone 8 into the Windows 8 announcement, which was really the Surface announcement. They tried to do too much, and they really have to get serious about phones if they're going to make it."
Delaney argued that Microsoft needs to return to the market it deserted when it introduced Windows Phone 7.
"They need to do more for business users," he said. "Here's Microsoft that's been strong in business throughout its history getting beat by Samsung in business support."
In hindsight, Microsoft's smartphone strategy appears to have been flawed. "When they went to Windows Phone 7, they went full consumer and abandoned their business efforts," Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "I think we'll find that that was a mistake."