AT&T finally allows (err, finishes testing) updates for two of its Windows Phone 7 handsets

The Windows Phone 7 update debacle is crawling to its final resting place (at least for the current set of updates...for some U.S. customers...on AT&T).  As of April 19, 2011, Microsoft was allowed by AT&T to deliver updates to Samsung Focus and LG Quantum owners (but not the HTC Surround).  Microsoft engaged in some speculation about whether the carrier-specific updates could be received by phones that had been updated though "hacker" means, such as the ChevronWP7.Updater technique delivered by Chris Walsh (who was, allegedly, told by Microsoft that his update method would prevent phones from receiving future updates), when it suggested to the public (contrary to what it told Walsh) that such updating techniques might block future updates.  As an aside, Chris became a verb when phone treated to his update tool were characterized as "Walshed."

Well, I can now confirm that the fears of brickdom were greatly overstated.  My Samsung Focus, which was somehow updated (Walshed) with the ChevronWP7.Updater tool (I am shocked, shocked to learn of "hacker" updates on my phone), recevied and applied the carrier-specific and OEM firmware updates through the normal channel yesterday.  The AT&T address book tool was installed.  The Focus-specific firmware was also updated.

As far as the potential of Windows Phone 7 for the legal set, this OS will need the "Fall" update, called "Mango," before it will have all the tools in place that most attorneys/IT departments/corporations would want for a wide deployment.  New development tools are about to be released, with access to a huge number of new APIs.  Major software developers should be able to deliver much improved productivity tools with the Mango release this fall.  What I can't wait whether the ChevronWP7.Updater tool that evidently worked very well for the current round of updates will be able to pull the Mango update as soon as it is ready.  This would allow phone owners to bypass the many months of "testing" that AT&T will perform.  That's right - I can't wait to read about that.

Microsoft finally admits that carriers can block updates to Windows Phone 7 without using word "block"

Not that anyone believed otherwise, but Microsoft admitted this morning at MIX'11 that the update process for Windows Phone 7 can be stifled by mobile carriers.  The Live Blog at Day 2 of MIX'11 in Las Vegas includes comments from a number of reporters that specialize in Microsoft coverage.  My Windows Phone 7 (running the NoDo update on an AT&T phone thanks to the intervening magic of technology pixies) is fantastic, but it's hard to recommend this train wreck to law firms as the mobilie solution for attorneys.  I'll take a wait-and-see-and-don't-hold-my-breath approach as we run through this firedrill again in the fall with the much more substantial "Mango" update.

If AT&T won't update Windows Phone 7 phones, you can do it yourself

Not that I'd ever advocate circumventing a mobile carrier because, unlike virtually every other mobile carrier on the planet, it won't release operating system updates for Windows Phone 7 (yes, AT&T, you are that carrier), but there is now a handy tool that let's you do just that.

Windows Phone Secrets has a story on this simple do-it-yourself utility.  Chris Walsh wrote the program that allows the update in spite of a recalcitrant carrer and provide the utility at his blog.  Simple Mobile Review provides a documented, step-by-step guide to using the utility.

Conspiracy theories already exist, but the utility Chris wrote was only possible after Microsoft released a support tool for Windows Phone 7.  Maybe it was coincidental that the tool allowed easy bypass of a non-cooperative carrier.  Or maybe Microsoft put a tool out there knowing precisely what could be done with it.  Seems a bit much to say that it was lucky coincidence that a tool capable of circumventing carrier update blocks was so easy to use for that purpose that it took all of one day to write the program to implement it for that purpose.  But I'm no programmer, so how would I know? 

I consider this (and by "this," I mean jabbing a stick in AT&T's eye) to be part of my role as a pro-consumer advocate.  But these tips are about self-empowerment.

Windows Phone 7: What's the deal?

"Murder will out, certain, it will not fail." –Geoffrey Chaucer

Sorry to have been remiss in my posts recently, but a move to a new home has been far longer and far more painful than anticipated.  That doesn't mean that I'm not paying attention to current events; I just haven't had time to write about them.

One current event that has been on my radar involves Microsoft's new mobile phone operating system, creatively called Windows Phone 7.  I was very excited by the previews I saw.  I dumped my iPhone for one of these phones on release day.  The operating system is, in my opinion, much more elegant than the iPhone OS.  I still like it.  One problem: the phone updates that Microsoft promised to release before the end of 2010 still aren't here.  Whose to blame?  Microsoft?  The various carriers?  Handset manufacturers?  The truth will out, as they say.

Microsoft was painfully silent about what was happening.  It didn't say anything about what was happening or where the blame who  Then the Interwebs began to pound away (e.g., this post on the Windows Team Blog and this AT&T discussion thread on Facebook, and, yes, I gave both of them a hard time).  Then Microsoft announced that all was well with the "NoDo" update and announced its release.  Problem is, nobody was receiving least on AT&T.  Then some industrious snooper found a  page on that clears things up a bit - the Where's My Phone Update page.  Notice (if you care) how the AT&T phones are all in the "testing" phase, while other phones have update delivery scheduled.  I call horse hockey on AT&T.  It isn't "testing" this update.  The update was done in December.  I believe that I am officially being jerked around.

Very poor form, AT&T.  You deserve all the contempt you receive on this issue.  So do you, Microsoft, for being such wimps about a project that you can't afford to let flop out the gate.  One might even say that I might not have purchased the phone or would have paid less for it had I known the truth about how updates would (or would not) work to add missing features in a timely manner and fix bugs. I feel like I am the target of unfair competition...

Windows Phone 7 powered phones now available to U.S. consumers

I have next to me one of the first crop of Windows Phone 7 handsets available to United States consumers (clarification: Windows Phone 7 launched internationally before it launched in the U.S.  2nd clarification: you could have purchased a European Windows Phone 7 handset from a supplier of unlocked handsets and had a phone prior to November 8th.)  The handset is the Samsung Focus.

First, a few comments about the Windows Phone 7 OS.  It is premium operating system; that much is beyond dispute.  Microsoft deserves credit for that.  It makes iOS look a bit stale by comparison.  There are elegant choices around every corner as you move through the phone's menus.  In fact, there are too many for me to even attempt to describe them, so I won't do what others have done.  Here is a detailed review by Paul Thurrott, who was provided early access to the development phones while writing a book about the new smartphone OS.

Almost everything I have encountered is very polished.  The glaring failure in my view is that the browser on Widows Phone 7 doesn't render this blog quite right.  Some buggy rounding error or css margin/padding handling screws up the alignment of the banner.  Shameful.

Will this phone prove useful to legal professionals?  I think so.  There are a few features not yet in the phone, like cut & paste, but that should be remedied with a pair of updates expected in the next few months.  The application store is sparse compared to the iTunes App store, but the top tier developers are, almost without exception, preparing their applications for Windows Phone 7.  And the secret sauce that most phone users would never know is that the development tools for Windows Phone 7 are reported to be far better than what Apple currently offers.  When you add in the fact that WP7's development platform tools are similar to those available for desktop Windows programming, it is much more efficient to port existing applications onto WP7.  If Microsoft continues to support its developers, the applications should follow.

As for the Samsung Focus itself, I will say this for it.  It has an amazing screen in all its bright, 4" AMOLED goodness.  Compared to my prior, personal-use phone, the iPhone 3GS, it blows it away.  The current iPhone 4 screen, with its slightly higher pixel density, look extremely sharp, but it is small.  The screen was the deciding factor in my decision.

On the other hand, the other materials used in the Samsung handset are just shy of pathetic.  The phone is almost entirely plastic.  It is beautiful and thin lying on a desk, but when you inspect the details, it doesn't look like it was made with materials that are appropriate for a full-powered, modern smartphone.  I wanted to test drive this operating system on AT&T.  I had two choices for phones at launch, the Samsung Focus and the HTC Surround.  The HTC surround has a ridiculous sliding speaker mechanism that makes the phone pointlessly thick.  If HTC had made that phone without the speaker, I probably would have chosen it over the Focus.  At least HTC used brushed metal detailing around the screen.  How can these handset manufacturers watch Apple drive itself into the smartphone world, now in the 4th position after just 4 years, and not respond to Apple's design dominance with better handsets?  I know that there are enough good designers in the world to allow at least one to work at each handset manufacturer.  And Apple can't have a monopoly on things like aluminum - the Earth's crust is chock full of it.  Unless I used it all drinking Diet Coke.

I will almost certainly replace the Focus next year with a handset befitting the OS on it - something more like the LG Optimus or HTC Mozart that were released in Europe.   I'm sucking up that extra cost so that I can report on my experiences with the newest OS on the block.  Until then, I will concentrate on the great screen.

On October 11th much will be revealed about Windows Phone 7

At a New York launch event, Microsoft will officially announce the upcoming release of Windows Phone 7-based handsets.  According to Engadget, which has been invited to the event, T-Mobile and AT&T should both have some handsets to show off to members of the media.  Verizon and Sprint will have to wait until early 2011 for CDMA handsets.  As for AT&T and T-Mobile, handsets should go on sale around November 8th.

COMPLEX TECH: Windows Phone 7 news rundown

I'm exceedingly interested in the potential of Windows Phone 7 as a mobile platform for information access.  It has the potential to replace the iPhone as the standard for innovative platform design.  And it might ultimately do a better job of allowing clear access to many types of information that those in the legal industry currently access through other smartphone platforms.  If you aren't up to speed on this release that may be less than 2 months away, here is a sample of recent news: 

  • As reported on Engadget, Microsoft shows off a few major applications that will be available at launch or soon thereafter and releases the final set of developer tools.  If you aren't a tech junkie, this won't mean much to you, but, no matter what you may think of Microsoft, the fact is that Microsoft makes some of the best developer tools out there.  The ease of application development will open Windows Phone 7 to a large number of potential developers. discusses the developer advantage.
  • Here is a thorough preview of Windows Phone 7 from Engadget.
  • And has a massive, multi-part examination of the phone by Paul Thurrott, who will be releasing a book about Windows Phone 7 at or right after launch.
  • HTC will be releasing Windows Phone 7 hardware.  This may be video of what to expect.
  • Samsung will also have Windows Phone 7 hardware available at launch.
  • Verizon will likely carry Windows Phone 7 hardware, but possibly not until 2011.
  • Some pre-release applications already look like they will provide a superior experience on Windows Phone 7, such as Seesmic.

I didn't upgrade to the antenna-on-the-outside iPhone 4.  I'm keeping the powder dry for a phone running Windows Phone 7.  Looks like the restraint will be rewarded. 

Windows Phone 7 looks like it will be right in the thick of it at launch

History seems to be repeating itself.  I've been using an iPhone for several years now.  I have been very happy with it, but I decided to hold off on the iPhone 4 until it users put it through its paces.  Turns out to have been a good choice.  I don't need a phone that drops calls because you hold it in the wrong place, and I'm not enamored of a company that won't just admit to the issue and say that they are examining some potential solutions that don't require the phone to be in a case.

Enter Windows Phone 7.  Microsoft's long overdue return to the smartphone space looks like it will make an incredible splash.  Can Microsoft muscle into the market that iPhone owned and Google is now crashing into like a freight train?  I don't know, but I like what I have seen enough from Microsoft to begin taking steps that would make a move from an iPhone to a Windows Phone 7 to be relatively painless.  I expect that most of the applications I use on a regular basis will appear, in some form, on Windows Phone 7 in the first six months it is out.

The operating system looks amazing.  No doubt about it.  It is clean and modern.  What I don't know yet is whether the hardware will live up to the operating system.  You can't deny that Apple makes great-looking hardware.  The iPhone feel and build quality is first rate.  If I find a Windows Phone 7 handset on AT&T that looks as good and feels as solid, then I am sold.  HTC could do it.  We'll have to wait and see on the others.

I am sick of iTunes.  It is now the least responsive major program on my otherwise unstoppable i7-toting computer with its 8gb of ram and the 64-bit Windows 7 OS to use it all.  I would be filled with joy to find an entirely new ecosystem to live in as far as media and mobile applications are concerned.  Windows Media player and Zune software could fit that requirement nicely.  Now all I need is a good Windows Phone 7 handset...

If I make the jump to Windows Phone 7, I will regularly post about applications that would help the mobile litigator on the go.