Monday, January 28, 2008

Blackjack / WinMo 6 Upgrade: More Baby Steps Toward Smartphone-as-Computer

I upgraded my Samsung Blackjack to Windows Mobile 6 via the new official ROM, and the upgrade pointed out a few things indicative of where the mobile industry is going.

I was actually surprised that Samsung released the upgrade -- it had been promised for the better part of a year without showing up -- rather than just force customers to buy the new Blackjack II. Eventually I realized why they had gone through with it, and why doing a full-version upgrade (not an update) of the OS on your smartphone will become commonplace: This wasn't done for me. It was done for enterprise customers who bought (or committed to buy, or were thinking of buying) hundreds or thousands of the devices.

Consumers -- especially the kind who buy smartphones -- are interested in getting a new phone every year or two. The whole free-with-contract-extension system helps that keep that flowing.

Businesses, however, buy their handsets differently (often via a more complex deal) and account for the costs of maintaining a "fleet" of mobile devices (management, email, VPN support, etc.) differently as well. For a business, cycling the devices every year or two could well be prohibitive because of the overhead, not just the equipment cost itself.

I've never been tasked with executing a smartphone rollout for a large business. But if I were, I would probably want to create a system where the average device had a lifespan from 2 to 4 years: 2 years for the high-level execs and the techies who need more power, up to 4 years for employees who travel but are not particularly sophisticated or needy when it comes to mobile email. Beyond 4 years or so, the hardware gets so outdated it's not worth the legacy hassle; it's time to buy something new.

So a regimen of solid, easy-to-install full-version OS upgrades becomes a sine qua non for device makers (Samsung) and software companies (Microsoft) who want to sell into the 3-4 year lifespan device market. RIM figured this out a long time ago, and have pushed the envelope when it comes to keeping old models (e.g., Blackberry 7250) alive for years, offering not just OS-level upgrades, but software radio protocol upgrades: an early-model 1xRTT 7250 can become a 3G EV-DO rocket with just a firmware update.

Windows Update ... on Mobile 6

Now, with Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft can also deploy updates to our phones via Windows Update. So they can be more proactive than the hardware maker or the carrier when they need to fix a serious bug or security hole, or release a new feature.

Although other devices have provided updates before, the Windows Mobile Update feature is breaking new ground because the OS runs on so many devices made by so many companies ... and on nearly every carrier on earth. The updates had better not brick too many phones; on the other hand this could be a strategic advantage in the smartphone wars.

Other Stuff

There's lots more to say about WinMo 6 and device evolution ... from Internet Sharing to more Bluetooth support to the GPS "intermediate driver" ... and those were covered well when the OS was initially release.

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