Much todo has been made about the recent decision to not provide upgrades to Windows Phone 8 for existing devices. Indeed some of this criticism is warranted but I think before we go further, we need to put this into perspective. Many references have been made to Apple’s rather good track record of providing OS updates for existing devices so let’s start there.
The iPhone released June 29th 2007, the last OS update for that phone was released Feb 2 2010, so it recieved 950 days of upgrade support.
The iPhone 3G released July 11th 2008 and the last OS upgrade it was eligible for was Nov 22 2010, so it got 865 days of upgrade support.
The iPhone 3GS was released June 8th 2009. As of today it is still getting OS updates, but the last one was May 7th 2012 giving it at least 1065 days of upgrade support. iOS6 comes out much later in 2012 so obviously this number will increase.
The 4 and 4S released in 2010 and 2011 and show no immediate signs of losing OS support.
So with those numbers in mind how does Android do? This is a difficult one to peg down, because so many different manufacturers offered varying amounts of support. Let’s take the reference design from Google, the Nexus line, and see how it fairs:
The first “Google Phone” was actually a reference design from Google/HTC released by T-Mobile as the G1. This phone released October 22 2008. The last OS it was -officially- eligible for was released September 15th 2009 giving the phone just 329 days of support.
The next reference design, the Nexus One released Jan 5th 2010, the last official update it recieved was September 2 2011, giving it 606 days of upgrade support.
The Nexus S released December 16th 2010. It recieved its latest upgrade March 29th 2012 and continues to get updates for the forseable future…thus far giving it 470 days of official support.
So now that we have an idea of those OS support histories, what of Windows Phone? The first Windows Phone devices released in Europe October 21st 2010. If we presume that the 7.8 update will release after Windows Phone 8 (speculated as late Sept/Oct) this will mean devices at release will have had approximately 2 years of OS support or 730 days. Other markets released shortly afterwards in 2010 (November for US) so the time frame here is roughly the same. We also don’t know if 7.8 will be the last update, I’m guessing it probably will be though. From a support standpoint however it is very plausible we could see 7.8.x updates into 2013.
This puts Windows phone behind Apple’s support schedule but looking MUCH better than Android’s support schedule. I will not go into the fact that each subsequent Apple iOS releases excluded features for earlier devices. There are still lingering issues however.
One of the common complaints is that people buying Windows Phones in the last few months have been abandoned. Indeed, the Titan II and Lumia 900 were only released mere months ago. The Samsung Focus 2 released only weeks ago. So for these new phone owners, their lifecycle support is drastically reduced to a few hundred days, if that.
There are certain Android device makers that have done the same thing however. Samsung, Sony, and LG to name a few have released 2.3.x devices most recently that are not upgradeable to the latest Android 4.0 release. One difference however is that they are not limited by Google to provide this update, they simply choose not to. Microsoft on the other hand is defining this hard cutoff for device makers, giving no recourse for customers to pressure the device OEM for an upgrade.
This may be the largest fracture for recent Windows Phone adopters, which by recent numbers, make up a huge bulk of the Windows Phone user base. Users who bought launch devices are vastly outnumbered by post-Mango buyers simply from the fact that Nokia is the largest Windows Phone OEM now, and has only released 7.5 devices. How these users will react remains to be seen, however it can be safely assumed that the upgrade announcement has killed sales until the fall.
So in summary:
iPhone 950 d
iPhone 3G 865 d
iPhone 3GS 1065+ d
Google/HTC G1 329 d
Nexus One 606d
Nexus S 470+ d
Windows Phone (first devices) 730+ d (est), possibly continued support?
Microsoft has struck a healthy balance it appears on paper it seems, if not in the minds of their customers. Microsoft can never hope to attain device support tenures to the length of Apple’s, as it does not control device release schedules for the various OEMs. It can and has provided better support than Android reference designs. I would speculate that it also has had a better support lifecycle that the average times for all Android OEMs. Going forward, Microsoft has committed to an 18 month support cycle for devices, but as of right now it is unclear if this means from the release of the major OS revision, or when a device actually ships.
Microsoft needs to do something to relieve the angst held by the late cycle Windows Phone owners. Providing a very complete 7.8 update would go a long ways towards this. By complete, we are talking IE10, Wallet features (even NFC Wallet for the Lumia 610), replacing the maps with Nokia Maps along with the enhanced Local Scout improvements, additional Bluetooth and networking support (VPN), and improved support for Skype et al.
For all devices, OEMs need to also be mindful of curing any and all lingering hardware bugs (Dell compass, HTC memory crashes) so that customers can really feel like they have reached the pinnacle of their device’s performance.
Windows Phone 7.8 needs to see devices going out with a bang, the absolute best they can be, while still providing the smooth user experience we have come to expect.