Microsoft upgrade blunder gives people one more reason not to buy a Windows Phone

As if people needed one more reason not to buy a Windows Phone, Microsoft has given them another: A Windows Phone 8 device you buy today may not be able to be upgraded to Windows Phone 8.1. Then again, maybe it can. Either way, Microsoft isn't saying. This is no way to help a struggling smartphone operating system.

Computerworld's Matt Hamblen tried to find out from both Nokia and Microsoft whether existing Windows Phone 8 devices will be able to be upgraded to Windows 8.1. The bumbling non-answers he was given are astonishing.

Hamblen got in touch with Nokia and asked whether Nokia's Windows 8 Phones, including the high-end Lumia 1020 and the lower-cost Lumia 520 would be upgradable to Windows 8.1. A Nokia spokeswomen emailed him this answer:

"We don't comment on future products, but Microsoft has confirmed that smartphones running Windows Phone 8 will be upgradeable to Windows Phone 8.1."

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it? But clarity, apparently, isn't something that Nokia or Microsoft is interested in. Two hours later she sent back a non-clarification with this non-answer:

"Microsoft has confirmed that smartphones running Windows Phone 8 will be upgradeable."

Upgradeable to what? you might wonder. Nokia isn't saying. Either is Microsoft. The company told Hablen that the Windows Phone operating system:

"is upgradeable ... If or how individual devices are upgraded has not been announced."

Thanks, Microsoft. That clears up things.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, was harsh but right on target when he said this to Hamblen about Microsoft's refusal to provide an answer to whether Windows Phone 8 devices will be able to be upgraded to Windows 8.1:

"Of the majors, only Microsoft seems to be hiding the facts or at least not being straight about them. Users have a right to expect a yes or no answer" as to whether their specific devices are upgradeable. In this case, both Microsoft and Nokia are at fault for not being straight with their customers, which seems like a repeat of the same story we saw the last time Windows Phone had a major upgrade."

The upgrade he's referring to is Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 --- Windows Phone 7 devices couldn't be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. And Gold was being gentle with Microsoft here, because he calls the company one of "the majors" when it comes to a smartphone operating system. Windows Phone 8 has a market share of only around 3%. Calling Microsoft a major is a bit of a stretch.

Microsoft is so far behind in the smartphone market that it can't afford blunders like this. Any phone you buy should be able to be upgraded to at least a point release in the operating system -- from Windows Phone 8 to Windows Phone 8.1, for example. People expect that, and justifiably so.

Microsoft should also be honest with people about whether phones they're considering buying today will be able to be upgraded to a minor operating system upgrade in the next several months. Not to do so is arrogance -- and when you've got a 3% market share you can't afford to be arrogant.

If I were considering buy a Windows Phone today, I'd cross it off the list. I'm sure other people feel the same way. Why buy a phone that may not run the newest operating system that will be released in a few months? And why buy from a company that won't answer the most basic question about a phone's capabilities?

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