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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Better Way for AT&T to handle Windows Phone Updates

Update (10-21-2013): Thanks to Microsoft,  one of the issues that I brought up has been remedied. If you are a Windows Phone developer, either through the app store or through Microsoft's online App Studio, you can download a utility from Microsoft (it's actually in the Windows Phone store) which will change the update settings in the registry (of the phone) so that the update source for os update packages is now Microsoft instead of your carrier. If you use the utility to change the update source, you can undo the change so that the update source is the carrier again, but you cannot revert to an earlier os update unless you reflash the rom for your phone (rom flashing should be done by advanced users only due to risk of bricking your phone). An important thing to note that the Microsoft utility only covers operating system updates. Any device firmware updates (this is separate from os updates) will still come through the carrier either way. An example of a device firmware update would be Nokia's amber update for its lumia phones running Windows Phone 8.

It's been 1 month and (about) 4 weeks since Microsoft put out the GDDR2 update for Windows Phone 8. Around that time, the update was pushed out to all phones running Windows Phone 8 (depending on the carrier's time) except for Nokia phones. Nokia took some extra time and added some device-specific stuff to the GDDR2 update for its phones and packaged it up as the "Amber" update. Back in September, Nokia deemed the amber update stable and delivered it out to the carriers for them to push the update to devices.

Here in the US, reception of the update by the cell carriers has varied. T-Mobile and Verizon tested and pushed out the update in a timely manner. I am not including Sprint in this since it doesn't have any phones running Windows Phone 8 (the HTC 8XT and the Samsung ATIVS Neo are listed for preorder on Sprint's web site). However, AT&T has taken quite awhile to test and push out this amber update for its Nokia phones running Windows Phone 8. As of the publishing of this blog post, AT&T has still not pushed out the update for Nokia phones. Furthermore, AT&T has been very secretive in the status of its testing of the update. Unfortunately, this is not the first time AT&T has dragged its feet and messed up the Windows Phone update progress. The time taken to test the update, along with the secrecy on progress, is making many customers with Nokia phones running Windows Phone 8 frustrated. A thread on AT&T's community message board titled "Where's The GDR2/Amber Update... Any Schedule?" certainly shows evidence of this.

As a software developer, I know that time is money. I know it's important to thoroughly test software before pushing it out to customers and that it takes some time to test. However, it's also important to be as transparent as possible to your customers regarding progress on testing. If something went wrong during testing and this means that the new software is not stable enough to push out to customers, that is understandable. If this happens, you need to be as clear as possible with your customers so that they are not kept waiting and the tempers of those customers don't flare up to where you lose a customer. I know that I am not the best at being transparent with update progress myself, but I try my best to do it.

So far, any indication of progress on the update testing has come from customers phoning AT&T customer care and asking (in some cases, almost to the point of harassing) the customer care representative they speak to where AT&T is with the update. 99% of the time, customer care either replies with something along the lines of "I don't know" or "AT&T is currently testing the update and will release the update when it is ready". However, there are a few cases where customer care reps have actually given some kind of indication of progress. The last one I know of is that AT&T found a problem with the update back in September and asked Nokia to fix it, pushing back the release date to some time in October of this year.

If AT&T wishes to keep faith in its customers, I have some suggestions for it. The first is if the obligation to push out an update for a device falls on the carrier's shoulders, that there be some kind of "progress page", accessible to AT&T customers (if not the general public), which details the roadmap for testing the update and the estimated release date and where we are on the roadmap. This page would also be updated with messages about (critical) problems which impact the release date update and would include a new estimated release date.

The second suggestion I have is for AT&T to start a kind-of "beta program", where customers can opt-in to get the update (from AT&T, once it gets the update from the OEM, not direct from the OEM) earlier than the offical (stable) release. Those customers that opt-in must accept a (legal) disclaimer that says that as part of this program, you will get the update earlier than everyone else, but there might still be bugs. This would enlist some extra help with testing that would allow AT&T to push out the updates in a more timely manner. This would also benefit those customers who are software developers since we would then be able have the latest update to test our own software programs with. On Windows Phone 8, the emulator suffices for most of the testing, but some things you just have to test with a real device.

Lastly, I would like to end with a call to charity in our speech. From that forum thread I referenced earlier, I see many references to others not using charity in the messages they post in the thread. Lack of charity can cause things to get out of hand. I realize that patience is wearing thin for many customers regarding the update, but when we post on the forum or call customer care, we should always speak charitable even if we are frustrated.

If you agree with me or have something else to say about AT&T's handling of the updates, please post in the comment box below. If you have a suggestion of your own that I should add to this list, please post it in the comment box below as well. Once I get enough support from you readers, I will pass this page (and comments) on to AT&T (support?) so that someone high up in the company can take notice.

While you're waiting for AT&T to finally release the amber update for Nokia phones, I would suggest that you try some delicious Mystic Monk Coffee. Mystic Monk Coffee (use this link or click on the picture below to access the store and purchase) is what you really need when it comes to coffee. Trust me, it's good coffee (in most instances, much better than Starbucks coffee) and you won't regret buying some (just keep it away from your computer keyboard or laptop/tablet). If you like tea more than coffee, they also offer tea. If you have a Keurig machine, the monks also have k-cups for purchase as well (known as "monk shots") Using the link (or picture below) to buy the coffee (or tea) helps the monks out and helps me with my endeavors as well. The coffee (or tea) also makes for great gifts for friends and family as well.

Right now, I don't have any updates for you in the way of app updates for my windows phone apps. Yes, I am working on app updates. The reason for me taking a long time between updates is that I want to do some extra testing so I can be sure that I can squash as many bugs as I can before starting a new major version of my media player app and my boy scout app and things have have been somewhat hectic for me around home. I am just about finished with a prayer app designed for (primarily) Catholics (but other Christians can use it too). If you want to go ahead and get my existing apps now (while I'm working on the updates), please use the following links:

BSA Eagle Tracker download:
Mobile Media Manager (paid version) download:
Mobile Media Manager (free version) download:

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, reasonable suggestions, none of which AT&T will adopt. I just don't think they have any vested interest/financial incentive to improve their customer service to Windows Phone users. We're too small of a user base.