When you're a bit player in the ultra-competitive mobile phone market, you can't afford to make a lot of mistakes. But that's what Microsoft did this week when it delivered a buggy software update of its Windows Phone 7 operating system to its mobile phone customers, an upgrade that unfortunately bricked a small number of Samsung handsets.
Microsoft quickly pulled the update and owned up to the snafu. In a statement, the company said that it had identified the technical glitch, and that would reissue the upgrade "as soon as possible." The troublesome patch had been delivered when users connected their Windows 7 Phones to their computers via USB cable.
The software bug comes at a sensitive time for Microsoft's fledgling mobile OS, which debuted in October 2010 and is just now starting to gain market share, albeit at a slow pace.
According to research firm The NPD Group, Windows Phone 7 held a 2-percent share of the U.S. smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2010. And while that may sound reasonable for a new platform-after all, Windows Phone 7 bears little relation to Microsoft's older mobile OS--it's a lower market share than that which was enjoyed by Google's Android and Palm's WebOS after their respective launches.
Meanwhile, Android's worldwide growth appears unstoppable. Britain's Sky News Online reports that half of the top ten mobile phones in the UK now run Google's OS, according to comparison site uSwitch.
One bad update won't ruin Windows Phone 7's chances of success, of course, but it also won't inspire confidence among tech's early adopters, the folks who could spread the word-of-mouth gospel praising Windows Phone 7, and the type of support that Microsoft needs to slow the Android juggernaut.
And considering that few consumers are planning to buy a Windows Phone 7 handset, according to a December survey by research firm ChangeWave, Microsoft faces a daunting marketing challenge.
On the plus side, Redmond's recently announced deal with Nokia, which plans to run Win Phone 7 on its upcoming smartphones, may boost the mobile OS's visibility among consumers. Certainly, Microsoft needs all the help it can get. Windows Phone 7 may be a good smartphone OS, but more glitches and gaffs like this week's Samsung phone screw-up could very well doom it to also-ran status.