By Dave Evans
I don’t think there is a more volatile issue concerning Pocket PCs than upgrades for the Windows Mobile operating system. The subject usually becomes very heated. On one side we have people who feel the absolute need for the latest and greatest, and will buy a new device in a heartbeat to get an upgraded version of Windows Mobile, as well as new hardware. They could care less about an upgrade. This happens to be the same side the OEMs are on. Go figure. On the other side we have all those who feel that since Pocket PCs have a flashable ROM that OEMs should provide upgrades to a much wider selection of devices, and are disappointed when an OEM does not offer an upgrade for their device. I think some of us feel that since we are told that because a device is upgradeable that it is the OEMs obligation to do so when a new OS comes along.
I guess the best place to start with this is to clear some of the confusion,
, since I think it is this confusion that is at the core of the problem. My understanding of the licensing agreement Microsoft has with its partners’ states that ROMs must be flashable. It does not say that OEMs must offer upgrades to Windows Mobile as each upgrade becomes available. At first that does sound confusing, but it’s not, really. The primary reason for having a flashable ROM is to enable the OEMs to issue fixes and patches as needed. Just think where we would be without that feature? I know, I know, there are a whole whack of you out there about to bang away on the keys saying that they should put out bug free devices from the get go. Well, that ain’t going to happen. When I’m king of the world I plan to see that it does. Meanwhile, we continue to receive updates from our OEMs through ROM flashes. I can’t overstate the importance of this feature.
Now since the ROM is flashable it does mean that the complete OS can be updated. However for the OEM a number of issues must align in a positive manner before they undertake this task. Let’s pretend for a minute that we are one of the OEMs considering offering our customers an OS upgrade. What factors do we have to consider? Well first, will the new OS work properly on the device(s). What will it cost to develop this upgrade? What will it cost to deploy it? How will we deploy it, download, or ship a CD? And what will that cost? What will it cost to support it when users have problems upgrading? What will this cost us in sales of our new line of Pocket PCs? Now weigh all this against what the cost will be to our relationship with our customers if we don’t provide an upgrade path?
Another mistake I think some of us end users make is to compare Pocket PCs to the procedure on desktops. Windows Mobile is much more integrated on a Pocket PC then XP is on a desktop. Windows Mobile is tweaked much more for each device, whereas XP is more generic. For this reason it is much more involved for an OEM to produce a ROM for a Pocket PC then it is to upgrade a desktop. This is one reason why you will not see Microsoft offering upgrades directly to the end user. Another reason why you won’t see that happen, is because we are not customers of Microsoft. OEMs buy the licence from Microsoft, and we buy the device from them. There is an unwritten law in business, never mess with your customers customers. It isn’t right, and nothing good would ever become of it.
I think a good number of OEMs such as HP, and Dell have taken a good look at these issues and have come to the conclusion that if they are going to continue offering Windows Mobile devices they must do it in a profitable manner. Giving away or selling cheap upgrades instead of selling new hardware is not very profitable. At the end of the day they need to show a profit or drop the platform and put their resources into something that will be more satisfactory to their shareholders.
We may not like that conclusion, but personally I’m willing to sacrifice those cheap upgrades if it means that OEMs are going to be more entrenched in the platform. If it is a successful money making market then we should see more and more manufactures join in, and bring with them even more cool new devices. If it’s not then we aren’t going to have much of a future with Windows Mobile devices. It’s not such a bad price to pay, is it?