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Microsoft: Everyone stop running so the fat kid Win RT can catch up

Does the WinPhone update keep you happy?

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Analysis Windows Phone has been a success for Microsoft in 2013, thanks almost entirely to very low cost but good value Nokia devices. But the platform itself advances at the pace of a continental shelf on a work-to-rule. Will the latest platform enhancements in GDR3 help?

Most certainly - but it's all WP users will have to chew on for many months; the major improvements forthcoming in Windows 8.1 Phone won't appear percolate down to users until next summer. So until then, what you see in GDR3 will be all you get. On the other hand, Windows RT – the Win8 variant designed for ARM devices such as Redmond's unloved Surface RT slab – seems to be receiving plenty of attention.

The irony is that Microsoft has shifted into a faster, annual release cycle in the place where a fast release cycle isn't really wanted – on the enterprise desktop. And just where a faster release cycle is needed, it moved the Phone team into a slower, 18-month release cycle. For Windows Phone, Microsoft applies the brakes.

Enterprises, on the other hand, don't want or need an annual Windows refresh and there's nothing in 8.1 that couldn't have been shipped out in a service pack. Whereas in smartphones Microsoft still has much to do to catch up: users have been crying out for search and better notifications.

What we've got, apart from support for devices with larger displays, are a few very useful but still very minor improvements. GDR3 has a "Driving Mode", custom ringtones for text messages, a rotation lock, better accessibility and the ability to close apps. Not with a swipe, alas, as on Meego or iOS7, but an Win95-style close button. While welcome, many of these have been on rival platforms since their inception.

Much of the delay has to do with the anarchy bequeathed to Microsoft by Steven Sinofsky's reign. His three platform "unification" strategy was brave and plausible – but Sinofsky failed to unify the developer APIs behind the scenes.

Instead of Windows being a "write-once, run-anywhere" API able to challenge iOS and Android on mobile – a third ecosystem – Microsoft presented developers with three quite different and incompatible APIs. This wilful fragmentation made Microsoft's job much more difficult than it would have been.

Developers this year have had a choice of iOS, Official Android, unofficial Android, Amazondroid and BB10, alongside Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone. Yes, something that has sold more poorly than BB10 actually exists: step forward Windows RT, with fewer than a million.

Microsoft's Steve Sinofsky with his beloved Surface tablet

Cheer up. At least he's gone. (Microsoft's Steve Sinofsky with his beloved Surface tablet)

The delay allows Microsoft to get two of these platforms in sync. Since Windows Phone is more mature than RT, development of the less mature RT is ramped up while Windows Phone is allowed to take a breather. One rumour posits that Microsoft is aiming for 77 per cent "API unity" between Windows Phone and RT for the Windows 8.1 release.

Quite why Windows Phone users should take priority behind RT, a basketcase of a platform which is likely to become redundant as phones grow, deserves such special treatment is a mystery.

I presume it's internal politics that keeps RT alive - but your answers are most welcome. ®

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