With Update Delays, Can Windows Phone Gain Ground on Google, Apple?

Published on March 30, 2011
by Ina Fried

In the time since Microsoft released the first version of Windows Phone 7 last fall, Apple has managed to roll out a new version of the iPad as well as two updates to the operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad. Google has introduced both Gingerbread for Android phones and Honeycomb for Android tablets.

In that same time, Redmond has been struggling to get out just one rather modest feature update.

The update, originally planned for January, adds copy and paste features, along with improved marketplace search and various performance updates. After some delay, Microsoft has released the software for those that have phones not tied to a carrier and has started the process of offering it up to Windows Phones on some carriers.

Among the challenges for Microsoft was that it decided along the way that it needed to do a preliminary update to prepare devices for future updates. To complicate things further, that software update also ran into some problems, particularly with one Samsung configuration, forcing Microsoft to halt the update while it solved that issue.

It’s been a bumpy start for a company that is already playing catch-up in the smartphone race.

Despite the bumps, though, those close to the Windows Phone team say that the company is not only confident it can release a larger update later this year but might even deliver a surprise or two before that update.

For one thing, the team working to deliver the current set of updates is separate from those working on the broader update due later this year. Microsoft has said that update will include a version of the Internet Explorer 9 browsers, improved multitasking and integration of Twitter into the people hub. However, the company has also said that those are just a few of the planned updates.

Nonetheless, Microsoft’s list of promised features leaves some notable gaps between what is part of Windows Phone 7 and what is featured on Android and the iPhone, including things such as visual voice mail, video chat and the ability to act as a portable hot spot. Some or all of these features, of course, could be among those that Microsoft is working on but has yet to announce.

Microsoft hasn’t been more specific on timing, but the company clearly wants the software broadly delivered on new phones and as updates to existing models this year. Simply finalizing the code by the end of December is not what it has in mind and things remain on track, sources said.

And of course, Microsoft also managed to do something else this year–something far more important to the future of Windows Phone than copy or paste. It beat out Google’s Android to secure a spot as the future smartphone operating system at Nokia.

Reflecting that, IDC on Tuesday issued a smartphone forecast with a far rosier outlook for Windows Phone than it had a year earlier. The market researcher now forecasts that Windows Phone will command 20 percent of the smartphone market by 2015, more than either Research In Motion or Apple.

Microsoft senior product manager Greg Sullivan acknowledged the bumps, but said that the company has committed to creating a system in which it handles the updates, ensuring they are delievered to all devices–a claim the Android camp can’t make.

“Having a Windows Phone means you will have all of the capabilities,” Sullivan told Mobilized on Tuesday.

That said, Sullivan said Microsoft is well aware it is still playing catch-up and can’t afford to slow down. “We certainly understand that it is a fast-moving market and we will be able to accelerate the delivery of new capability and innovation on our platform.”

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