Windows Phone Update 3 (GDR3) – What Does It Really Mean?

October 14, 2013 was a big day. Windows Phone 8 Update 3, formerly known as GDR3, hit the street. Many sites announced the arrival of the newest update to our beloved OS, and others offer walkthroughs of the features. However, what does it really mean for the Windows Phone 8 platform?

First there were hints. Then the official announcement came. Before too long, users could find out how to install GDR3 on their Lumia devices here. I quickly jumped at the chance to install the update on my Lumia 925. It was the fastest and most seamless OS update I have ever performed. (And this is from a guy coming from iOS!)

When Microsoft first announced Windows Phone 8, I had high hopes they could beat Android and fully match iOS’ ability to offer operating system updates to all without carrier intervention. It used to be believed that OEM customizations to Android slowed everything down. Windows Phone 8 confirmed it was the carriers that held up OS updates. I had hoped Microsoft could match Apple’s power to dictate terms. Carrier locked devices, specifically those on AT&T and to some extent Verizon, had to wait months before getting the same features and fixes international variants received. I knew this before jumping ship and coming aboard the Windows Phone train. Hence my choice of a carrier and SIM unlocked, French variant of the Lumia 925.

Microsoft struck a huge win on Monday, when they announced the Windows Phone Preview for Developers. The name is slightly misleading, as it is open to basically everyone and anyone with a compatible device. Part of me thinks AT&T knew about this, and delayed releasing GDR2 to their customers as they likely also tested GDR3 as well. God forbid 3.4 out of every 100 phones on their network had something other than carrier approved software. I guess they don’t care about the buggy TouchWiz and LG UIs over Android 2.x to 4.x, nor iOS7’s crazy blue screening on millions of iPhone 5S devices. (Amazing!) We all know network stability has nothing to do with carrier decisions. I don’t have any facts, but I assume money is behind it.

Windows Phone 8 Update 3 is light in noticeable features, but heavy in meaning

  • Support for bigger, higher-resolution screens (not applicable to currently shipping hardware)
  • More powerful hardware (again, not for current hardware)
  • Driving Mode
  • New accessibility features
  • Improved Internet Sharing
  • More useful ringtones (still no individual volume controls)
  • No more twist and shout (rotation lock)
  • Better storage management (really?)
  • Easily close apps (yay!)
  • Wi-Fi access out of the box (for setting up a new device)
  • Better Bluetooth (maybe?)

The above sounds great, but it should have always been part of the OS. What matters is that they offered it to most of their install base today. No phased releases. No official carrier review. No wait. Users that don’t participate in the preview will eventually get an official update rolled out to them. Maybe. Some speculate AT&T will never push another update out to their current line of Lumias. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Or does it?

GDR3, sorry Update 3, is here today. And I suspect additional updates could follow suit. However, I believe the Nokia updates offer a greater selection of user facing features. Nokia’s Amber update was amazing, and Bittersweet Shimmer looks to be even better. However, Microsoft was clear that the Windows Phone Preview Program for Developers only includes Microsoft code. No vendor or carrier features or apps are included. I don’t see Bittersweet Shimmer being delivered the same way. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, Nokia code will be Microsoft code. We have to hope the merger completes early next year, and the efforts of the Nokia software team get rolled into to Update 4 or Windows Phone 8.1 (Blue). Maybe not right away, but one day all Lumia devices (er, Windows Phones by Microsoft?) should be able to get some sort of access to all Microsoft/Nokia software features and fixes.

If the rumors are true, a new Nexus phone will be announced this week. (Maybe even today!) Nexus phones, like iPhones, can always run the latest and greatest OS builds and other software. Now Lumia devices can pretty much say the same. The Microsoft announcement and the release of the Windows Phone Preview for Developers could not have come at a better time. I feel even better about using a Windows Phone than I did before. Part of that is my phone got some new features. Most of it is knowing my phone can still receive new features. The devices coming from Nokia next week will get great new features too. Microsoft seems more dedicated than ever to the platform. Hopefully in a few months, we will all have the same OS and same vendor delivered software and features on our Lumia-like devices. Microsoft will deliver them to the phones of today, and tomorrow.

Now, what about Windows Phone 8.1? Will they leave Windows Phone 8 users in the dust, like Microsoft did to Windows Phone 7 users? I hope not, but only time will tell.

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