Nokia's Excuse for Fragmenting Its Ecosystem: "But Mom, Android Did It First!"

By Nathaniel Mott , written on August 10, 2012

From The News Desk

Nokia's Lumia 900 is just the latest of many smartphones that won't be updated to a new operating system. Most smartphone manufacturers skirt around the issue of if and when one of their phones will be updated to the newest operating system. Many prefer to skirt the issue with transparent denials and public relations double-speak. If they decide to announce that a phone is or isn't receiving an update there's no guarantee that they're telling the truth until the update has been downloaded and installed.

Nokia has taken a different tack. Instead of hiding behind a wall of PR people and staying quiet in its corner of the world, the company's executive vice president of smart devices, Jo Harlow, has come out swinging. So, why is it okay for the Lumia 900 – released just four months ago – to be left in the dust of Windows Phone 8? According to Harlow, it's because of Android.

Brace yourself, for there be irrational justifications ahead. (That sentence best read in a pirate voice.) "We've taken a lot of criticism for this, but I also think there's a real reality in the market place," Harlow told Fast Company. "There are very few Android devices that can upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. So, it's a reality as the capabilities move on."  While I applaud Harlow for being open, her statement would be more clear if she just said "Look, everyone else is doing it. That makes it okay."

To paraphrase my mother: "If everyone were jumping off a bridge, would you?" Ignoring the potential for logical loopholes, I'm inclined to agree with my mom's point. The argument that a flagship phone developed by both Microsoft and Nokia won't receive an update to the latest version of Windows Phone because "Hey, Android customers don't get updates either!" carries little weight.

Microsoft originally built Windows Phone 7 to avoid fragmentation. The company dictated the hardware that its mobile OS would support, and if manufacturers weren't happy with that they could look elsewhere. The idea was that someone purchasing a Lumia 900 four months ago should have roughly the same experience as someone that had purchased an HTC Surround two years ago. There were variations in the chassis, but the "guts" of all Windows Phone 7 devices were the same.

Unfortunately it seems like this plan has backfired in unexpected ways. It's okay, if only just barely, for a Windows Phone 7 launch device to not run Windows Phone 8. Many customers purchase their phones on a two-year cycle, and Windows Phone users have enjoyed updates for the entirety of their contracts at this point. It isn't okay for a device released four months ago to be treated the same way, especially when customers have been trained – by Microsoft – to expect at least some updates for their phones.

The fact that Nokia isn't updating its Lumia 900 is a problem. That the company refuses to treat it as such, and its best excuse is "Android did it!" is not only worse, it's childish.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]