'Small' Windows Phone Update Has Big Impact

Owners of some Windows Phone 7 (WP7) mobile handsets were supposed to be getting an update this week that was meant to make it easier to keep the phones updated in the future.

Instead, some with Samsung devices ran into serious trouble that left their phones unusable -- colloquially referred to as "bricked" since the phones are as useless as bricks -- and in need of replacement.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced the update Monday.

"This first update for Windows Phone is designed to improve the software update process itself. So while it might not sound exciting, it's still important because it's paving the way for all future goodie-filled updates to your phone," Microsoft spokesperson Michael Stroh wrote in a post to the Windows Phone Blog.

The company plans at least two updates to WP7 handsets this year, but this was not one of them.

Soon after beginning distribution of the update, though, complaints from users began coming in. Tech enthusiasts' site Ars Technica was one of the first to report that Samsung Omnia7 phones were experiencing "difficulties" installing the update.

In fact, in one scenario, on step seven of the 10-step installation process, the phone freezes and must be rebooted, which gets the user's phone functioning again, but without the update, Ars Technica said.

A second scenario is much more debilitating, however. In that case, on step six, the phone's firmware becomes corrupted and the phone itself is bricked and has to be replaced.

"We have identified a technical issue with the Windows Phone update process that impacts a small number of Samsung phones," a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an email.

"This software update remains available to customers with the exception of Samsung, as we are in the process of temporarily taking down the update for those phones in order to correct the issue as soon as possible," the spokesperson added.

Microsoft has been mounting a major effort to make its second attempt at entering the smartphone market over the past two years. Given how late WP7 devices entered the mobile arena, though, many analysts believe that Microsoft doesn't need to do anything that would turn off customers and potential customers.

CEO Steve Ballmer debuted WP7 at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona a year ago, and the company launched the system in early October and began to sell to the public in the U.S. in early November.

When Microsoft reported earnings for the holiday sales season in late January, the company claimed to have sold some 2 million units to network operators and retailers.

In early February, Ballmer also announced a deal to put WP7 on smartphones from mobile handset giant Nokia (NYSE: NOK), a move to boost its marketshare vis-à-vis Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS, Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry, and Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android over the middle term, given that the first Nokia phones running WP7 are not expected until next year.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.


Microsoft, smartphone, Samsung, Windows Phone 7, updates