Will carriers play a role in Windows 8 tablet updates?

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Carriers are notorious for controlling – and often holding back – software updates on smartphones and tablets. Traditional PCs, on the other hand, are completely free of carrier oversight. Windows 8, however, blurs the line between these two. As a result, one has to wonder whether carriers will play a role in the Windows 8 update process. I have no doubt that Microsoft will retain control over software updates on desktop and laptop PCs, but could carriers somehow manage to assert control over updates for devices sold on their networks?

Now, that’s not to say that this is going to happen for sure. Microsoft could very well end up maintaining control over the entire update process. But a small part of me worries that carriers might attempt to throw their weight around, even if it’s only for ARM-based Windows RT tablets sold with a data plan. Currently, Windows Phones cannot receive an update without carrier approval, which sometimes leads to long delays. The latest Windows Phone update, for example, has been done for months, but it still has yet to appear on AT&T; unless, of course, you purchase a new smartphone. Apple has managed to avoid this nonsense with its clout, while Android’s update delays are even worse for both smartphones and tablets. On the flipside, there have been instances where Microsoft has worked closely with carriers to promptly deliver updates to every device on the market, as with Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango.”

So far, Microsoft and its partners haven’t said one way or another whether carriers will play a role in the update process. And, to be fair, not all tablets are subject to carriers, so it’s possible this won’t be an issue at all. Windows 8 bridges the gap between tablets and traditional PCs. I just hope carriers will stay out of the way and let Microsoft manage the update process.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/ Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.

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