Right in time with its latest Windows Phone update 8108, which Microsoft released earlier this week, Microsoft's Eric Hautala has also announced on the official Windows Phone Blog, that Microsoft is going to change the way it plans to talk to its Windows Phone end-users. As before (with Windows Mobile), Microsoft doesn't see the end-users as its customers but the carriers and device manufacturers and therefore it made the latest update "available to all carriers that request it", not to end-users who might want or need it. But Microsoft is handing over the update decision to its carrier- and manufacturer partners again. Hautala continued to explain that "we [Microsoft] will continue to send out firmware and maintenance updates as needed".
And mentioned that "These [updates] will be available across the globe - although not everybody will receive or require them. It depends on your country, carrier, and phone model".
It's indeed true that not every single update, which might contains minor bug fixes only, is required at the time the update might be available or not, for instance many end-users don't need Exchange patches or fixes because they access their E-Mails through POP3 or IMAP4. But how can Microsoft or its partners know if a user might not need it later anyway? If a bug was discovered, shouldn't the fix be rolled-out to everyone as soon as the patch is available, doesn't matter which country, carrier or phone model?
And it seems that carriers and manufacturers will get more freedom to chose which updates they are going to roll-out or not because so far, Microsoft had a great site in place called "Where's My Phone Update?". But according to Hautala, Microsoft "won't be individually detailing country, model, and carrier details on the Where's My Phone Update? site any longer, as Microsoft continues its growth".
Sure, Microsoft's point would be understandable is Windows Phone would really grow as strong as Android (which it doesn't with a few manufacturers only) but nevertheless, it was a great service for end-users to better understand if or when an update was on the way or not. It might even went into buying decisions from which manufacturer or carrier customers bought Windows Phones. From now, nobody will know if an update is really be on the way, delayed or simply skipped (by the manufacturer or carriers) which sooner or later will backfire to Microsoft since the end-user might think that Microsoft isn't taking care by not releasing fixes.
Last but not least, as if the above wouldn't be worse enough, there are a few changes on the way for the official Windows Phone blog and website. Instead of his weekly blog posts, Hautala said that "the official Windows Phone website will now be the primary place for news and information about Microsoft updates", just as Microsoft wants its Microsoft Answers as the single point of end-user support questions.
That's another surprising move by Microsoft, to cut-off the direct communication through its blog at a time where social media is the number 1 channel to interact with end-users, at a time where Windows Phone is still not a self-runner but needs both - major above the line (ATL) and bellow the line (BTL) backup as well as direct interaction with the end-users and at a time where most of its former Windows Phone MVP (Most Valuable Professionals) were "laid off".
In any case, the only hope is that Microsoft doesn't leave its path which allows carriers and manufacturers to skip one update only where the next update after is mandatory then. Unfortunately, Hautala hasn't said anything if this is still the case, as it was before, or if Microsoft is also going to change this.
UPDATE [08.01.2012]: Mary-Jo Foley of ZDNet had the chance to speak to Greg Sullivan, Senior Product Manager on Windows Phone, and according to his feedback, "nothing has changed in regard to how we work with carriers to deliver Windows Phone updates to our customers".
Cheers ~ Arne