AAWP's Q4 2017 to-do list for the Windows phone enthusiast

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As I proved last week, rumours of Windows 10 Mobile's death have been mightily exaggerated. As an OS and with updates provided, for many people we're looking at patches, updates and fixes to both OS and UWP applications for another two years (or 18 months for 'classic' phones) now. Having said all that, it's fair to say that 'retirement' is a good analogy and there are some serious caveats that we should all be aware of going forwards.

Battery bay

No phones, no spares, no repairs

This is something that I haven't had to face yet, thankfully, despite owning about a dozen decent Lumias(!) But Microsoft stopped making the Lumia 950 range mid-2016 and previous flagships like the 930 and 1520 weren't manufactured after the end of 2014. In each case, there should be a repair system able to find spare to repair in and out of warranty phones, but the dismantling of Nokia's extensive repair chain by Microsoft has left something of a gap. In theory, B2X is contracted to handle support and repairs, but I was utterly unimpressed when I tried B2X out with a simple enough query. And I've now heard from several users whose Lumia has failed in some way and B2X has claimed that it can't get the spare parts anymore. Data points welcome from readers here if you have a story to tell in this regard.

So, while I might chat here about 'two more years of productive life' for Windows 10 Mobile, if your phone breaks and you have nothing to run the OS on, then its existence is somewhat moot. Maybe you can get a second hand Lumia 950 (or similar) from eBay or PSCForum or similar? Maybe you're still happy to fork out for a new Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro (or 4S in the USA)? Though note that the stock of these won't last forever, I'm guessing this will run out before the end of 2017.

On the other hand: these phones have proved pretty reliable on the whole, thanks to the simple mechanical design. If you don't drop them or smash them then there's no reason why they shouldn't last the full support period.

No firmware updates

While I've talked at length about OS updates, i.e. new builds and security fixes and so forth for Windows 10 Mobile itself (until into 2019, as I've said), there precisely zero chance at this stage of firmware updates for Lumias or the Alcatel phones - low level code updates of this kind do require dedicated resources and I sincerely doubt that Microsoft or Alcatel is willing to put the effort in at this stage. HP will no doubt do further updates to its Elite x3, if only to keep companies happy and sort out issues with various accessories, but the Elite x3's cost means that very few users own it.

On the other hand: there aren't any massive firmware bugs or issues that I know about - my Lumias have been surprisingly stable. And any issues usually come down to application or OS bugs, sorted via traditional updates.

Applications will increasingly be an 'issue'

Although I've discussed the 'app gap' numerous times on AAWP, most recently here, the issue perhaps becomes more so when considering longevity. We've been seeing 'old' Windows Phone 8.1 applications getting pulled by their developers - or simply falling into disuse and being pulled by Microsoft. Now, these applications are usually 3 to 5 years old and designed for an OS version that was End-Of-Lifed earlier this year, so it's not at all surprising that they're going away (though the tech media still love to leap on high profile examples), but they're only occasionally being directly replaced by UWP applications for Windows 10, meaning that more and more Internet services are having to be accessed in the Edge browser.

We've long since passed the point where Windows 10 Mobile could be a viable competitor to a true 'consumer' OS like Android or iPhone, in that all the long tail shopping, travel, parking, payment, etc. applications just aren't being developed for W10M.

On the other hand: there's still a lot that can be done with the OS, especially if you don't actually want your smartphone to replace your wallet.

...and what about after 2019?

Well, as things stand now, security updates and general OS patches will cease for all currently supported smartphones. I.e. Lumia 950, 650, IDOL 4 Pro, and so on. It's possible that a 'feature3' branch will appear, kept at its core in lock step with Redstone 4/'1803' or whatever appears on the Desktop in Spring 2018, and this would reset the support deadline again, to Spring 2020. We just don't know, it may depend on the commitments Microsoft still has to various Windows 10 Mobile company deployments.

On the other hand: that's all in the future, and quite a long way in the future. The smartphone world moves at a tremendous pace, so by the time 2019 comes round you'll definitely know Microsoft's future plans for mobile and you'll know 'which way to jump'. A folding Surface Mobile phablet? An official 100% Microsoft-ified Android phone? Who knows? 

Your late 2017 to-do list then...

Put all this together and here's your late 2017 to-do list:

  1. Look after your Windows 10 Mobile phone. Case it, coddle it, protect it. Repairing it is going to be a real problem.
  2. Look out for companies selling off Lumia 950, 950 XL, Alcatel IDOl 4s/4 Pro, and even Elite x3 phones - clearance sales still list some of these, they're worth snapping up still and they shouldn't cost you a fortune.  

  3. Along similar lines, if your Lumia has a replaceable battery then seek out a genuine 'spare' sooner rather than later. It's hard to point to a reputable supplier here, but you can usually go by price - the more you pay, the less likely it's a fake. [I did look again for spares on Amazon UK, as a data point, and found these for the Lumia 950 XL at £14]
  4. Make sure your phone is on the 'right' ring/state for long term updates. For the above mentioned models then 'production' status is fine, for 'classic' Lumias then there's still a way to get them onto Creators Update and support into 2019 - but be quick before Microsoft closes the loophole (via the CU Slow ring, see notes and link in this feature). Failure to do this will see your phone staying on Anniversary Update, from mid 2016, and so your updates will be patchier and will also stop mid 2018.

    And if you still use Windows Phone 8.1 then.... don't. It's not supported anymore - update it to W10M if you can; it won't be as fast, but it'll be supported and it'll ultimately do a lot more.
  5. Look around at hardware on other platforms and see what you fancy. You won't get live tiles or UWP applications, etc. on Android, but a move might be less painful than you might imagine. There's no hurry, we're talking of a timescale of a year or two here. Just keep your eyes peeled. And in the meantime, I'm going to be writing a series of articles documenting how I get on going all Microsoft on a 2017 Samsung Galaxy S8+, hopefully a useful data point. What will I gain, what will I miss?
  6. Keep AAWP in your bookmarks, in your RSS reader, keep that AAWP Universal application on your Start screen, we've still got content planned!

IDOL 4 Pro