How Microsoft stops your Windows Phone getting certain features

As many users know, not all Windows Phones are equal. It's not just hardware we're talking about either - although that of course plays a fundamental role in differentiating handsets from one another. Software features can vary too between manufacturers (with the Nokia Lumia range doing especially well on that front).

But two identical handsets running the same version of Windows Phone can still have key differences, thanks to various restrictions in the OS, some of which can be imposed by Microsoft itself, as explained in documentation seen by Neowin

Before we get into that, it's important to understand a bit of context to feature limitations on Windows Phone. Data Sense is an obvious example that springs to mind. This feature - designed to help users track and manage data usage on their handsets, including per-app monitoring - was announced in October 2012, and was said to be launching first on Verizon Wireless. When the Windows Phone 8 GDR2 update was released, Data Sense became available to all, but still some carriers continued to block it from use. 

Carriers have been blocking features and updates for some time, of course, but a further factor that impacts on availability of some features is geography. Microsoft's new mobile digital assistant, Cortana, is currently available only in the United States, despite handsets now being sold with Windows Phone 8.1 in markets around the world. Cortana will launch in the UK and China this year, but other parts of the world will have to wait longer.

But Cortana is a work in progress; its availability is restricted by the need for further development to make the product work as customers expect in the markets that it will eventually reach. Indeed, in many cases - as detailed on WindowsPhone.com - availability is simply a matter of time rather than forcible restriction. 

But beyond the annoying limitations of carriers and the realities of software development, there is a further mechanism that can - and in some cases, does - restrict the availability of certain Windows Phone features in particular markets. Documentation seen by Neowin, shown to us by a source at one of Microsoft's hardware partners, describes how OEMs must comply with "Embargos" set by Microsoft, which may prohibit or restrict distribution or announcement of certain features within the Windows Phone OS.

For example, on WindowsPhone.com, Microsoft says that Wi-Fi Sense - a feature that allows users to automatically connect to wireless networks, and share Wi-Fi details with trusted contacts - "is not available in the following countries/regions: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand."

The documentation shared with us reveals that this is not simply a case of Microsoft stating that the feature is not available there yet; rather, this is an example of an embargo which Microsoft contractually enforces upon Windows Phone manufacturers.

The same document states that the "Company [the OEM] must comply with all requirements and applicable restrictions... MS may set Embargos on releases of Product [the Windows Phone OS], including Supplements [updates]. MS may place Embargos on distribution of the Product itself or on specific features or components, and an Embargo may restrict distribution of the Product or specified Product feature or component, based on aspects such as Mobile Operator, language versions or geography." 

Our sources indicate that Microsoft may choose to impose embargos to enforce legal compliance in certain regions - i.e. where the law may prevent a certain feature being used - but that it may also do so for what some might view as less crucial reasons. One hypothetical example cited to us was that Microsoft might "bend to the will" of a major carrier or retail group, to force OEMs to remove a feature from Windows Phone in a particular market or region that that particular partner finds 'undesirable'.

The documentation also states that "MS may set, change or remove Embargo requirements or restrictions" as needed, providing notice to the OEM "Company" whenever it does so. 

The penalties for failing to comply with an embargo mandated by Microsoft are high. The documentation states that "for each Embargo issued by MS... if MS finds that Company has not met the requirements outlined in this section, Company will pay, as liquidated damages, $5,000,000 to MS."

However, it is our understanding that Microsoft does not regularly issue these mandates, and that the decision to remove or partially disable a feature in Windows Phone is generally left to the discretion of the carriers and OEMs themselves, rather than as the result of an edict from Microsoft.

Nonetheless, it's interesting to know where some of the power ultimately lies in the company's relationships with its hardware and retail partners. 

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41 Comments

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There is no law in my country that prevents wifi-sense. Oh and I buy my phones outright; not any subsidiary crap. I call ######, Microsoft.

Edited by Crimson Rain, Jul 10 2014, 7:12pm :

Surely Android and Apple must have similar issues. It's nice that Windows Phone is being open here and showing us this stuff... but it also gives what I assume is a false sense that ONLY Windows Phone does this.

pmbAustin said,
... Android and Apple ...

Actually no they don't.
Apple has massive consumer appeal which is why they can dictate terms to carriers that aren't AT&T.
Android is open, so carriers can do more when doing request for purchase orders from handset manufacturers.

I work in telecommunications and I can tell you for a fact that Apple dictate terms to all carriers but AT&T.

I guess I don't follow. You say "no they don't", but then seem to indicate that only Apple doesn't... and that Android DOES, just in a way that is a slightly different mechanism than Windows Phone?

pmbAustin said,
....

The conversation around Android is a little different. Telco geeks praise all things G, so they are not scrutinized nearly as hard as evil Microsoft.
Plus the way Google licenses Android means that it's up to the OEM to disclose a feature set to carriers during RFP. There is no hard line for the entire OS that Google has to enforce, so no, Android (Google) doesn't have the problem.

It still sounds like it does, exactly, it's just that individual OEMs have to comply and disclose, and not google. I don't see how you can say Android doesn't have the same issues... because if 95% of the phones out there don't have to conform to stuff like this, why would Microsoft & Windows Phone? That makes zero sense.

Kinda stupid how they try to do it on phones/tablets, but not on PC's. It's the same things, and it might be even easier to impose these restrictions on PC's.

What really annoys me is that carriers impose all these limitations on phones but not on PCs/tablets when really it's the same concept. PCs/tablets use internet from an internet service provider (often the same provider as mobile providers), but they can't impose limitations (except for bandwidth) on my PC/tablet. Phones (which are essentially tiny PCs) use mobile/data from a carrier (service provider), but that service provider can restrict features? It's so stupid. I'm guessing the only difference is it's because the carrier is actually selling the device whereas they don't sell PC's (though sometimes they do sell tablets). I think for Microsoft to get around this, they should sell carrier-free unlocked phones in their Microsoft Stores and let the customers bring it to whatever carrier they want.

What amazes me is that none of this applies to tablets or PCs which is crazy to think that phones hold such restrictions only because of carriers and their byzantine policies.

Javik said,
But Windows Phone would never get fragmented! :laugh:

a missing feature isn't the same as API fragmentation such as it is the case on android, and OS compatibility fragmentation such as it is also the case on android. WP really only has one case of fragmentation 7.x -> 8.x, but that is the de-facto standard in android while for WP was a one time deviation needed only because they freaking switched a kernel.

so no, WP 8.x has yet to become fragmented. it just works and the fact every 8.0 device is 8.1 upgradeable (should carriers not block it) is something android could only dream of.

neonspark said,

a missing feature isn't the same as API fragmentation such as it is the case on android, and OS compatibility fragmentation such as it is also the case on android. WP really only has one case of fragmentation 7.x -> 8.x, but that is the de-facto standard in android while for WP was a one time deviation needed only because they freaking switched a kernel.

so no, WP 8.x has yet to become fragmented. it just works and the fact every 8.0 device is 8.1 upgradeable (should carriers not block it) is something android could only dream of.

Actually, for the most part Android apps are API compatible so most 4.x apps will also work on versions as far back as gingerbread. So old Android phones are still useful. However old WP devices will be pretty much useless paperweights once Microsoft kill support for them.

So this article states the reasons for limitations/embargos as:

a) annoying limitations of carriers.
b) the realities of software development.
c) to enforce legal compliance in certain regions.
d) one hypothetical example cited to us was that Microsoft might "bend to the will" of a major carrier or retail group.

OK so A through C are out-side of Microsoft's control (for the most part), and D is a scenario you made up. Even in your hypothetical you still say "_might_".

So "How Microsoft stops your Windows Phone getting certain features", is by issuing embargos. Which I would think are a normal concern for most multinational companies.

The tone here is definitely "Big bad overlord MS is blocking you from the features you have a RIGHT to, and you can't stop them!"; when in reality the story is "MS conducts business by the national laws it has to, in the same way most other companies also have to, and they leave their agreements open-ended in this realm, as to help avoid unpredictable future legal changes".

No. Read again. The WiFi Sense embargo is active and enforced - it is a live restriction. It is not a scenario we made up.

The hypothetical stated was a further example of how an embargo might be enacted.

The tone that you've described is entirely in your head - in fact, the whole point of explaining the context of Data Sense and Cortana was precisely to explain that it's not all Microsoft's fault in simply being a "big bad overlord" in preventing you from getting these features. We anticipated that some people might simply blame everything on Microsoft and added that context to clarify that some of it is also due to other factors.

Explaining that Microsoft has the contractual right to add its own restrictions isn't portraying Microsoft as the bad guy - it's merely explaining the facts, in the broader context that we also explained. I'm sorry that you've chosen to read it another way, but the way that you've interpreted it is not the way it was written.

"The WiFi Sense embargo is active and enforced - it is a live restriction. It is not a scenario we made up."

I didn't say it wasn't real, but you give no actual proof of reason for it, and the possible reasons you do seem to give are the ones I quoted originally; none of which are under Microsoft's control (they have no real control in your hypotheticals :) ).

"Explaining that Microsoft has the contractual right to add its own restrictions isn't portraying Microsoft as the bad guy", I agree, it's not. But it's _not_ explaining "How Microsoft stops your Windows Phone getting certain features".

Microsoft doesn't stop you, the (real) reasons you listed do.

"Documentation seen by Neowin, shown to us by a source at one of Microsoft's hardware partners, describes how OEMs must comply with "Embargos" set by Microsoft."

Ooooh, the mystery of ill-gotten documentation, tell me more. It must have proof that MS is actively stopping me from getting features like you suggest, right? Nope. Looks like a standard business contract.

I also dig how you quoted and capitalized "Embargos", as if it was some new-fangled internal thing that Microsoft made up. :/

So, with this document in hand and sources within the OEMs, can you tell us WHY WiFi Sense is under an embargo in those countries? Did MS just "Decide that", are they "bending to the will of some group", or is there legal, or technical reasons that it is?

Otherwise, this story starts with an attractive bang, and ends with a whimpering "nothing going on here; but it COULD, ammirite?"

I think you are being a bit dense here...if a vendor breaks the Microsoft embargo, that's a 5,000,000 $ fine, not sure why that's so hard to understand that they are limiting features by slapping a huge fine on it.

gregalto said,
I think you are being a bit dense here...if a vendor breaks the Microsoft embargo, that's a 5,000,000 $ fine, not sure why that's so hard to understand that they are limiting features by slapping a huge fine on it.

then again, they only do that because they are required to do so due to some carrier or law. let's not kid ourselves, MSFT doesn't have any interest in putting work into a feature only to restrict it if it would work just as well as it does in the US. that is a pipe dream. In the case of data sense, I can totally see that being controversial since carriers may simply not want to charge you for what you actually use, or there may be free waivers or special deals.

overall this is nothing but carriers getting in the way of users. but what else is new.

then again, MSFT is evil bla bla will never die off because people just love the idea of it even if reality doesn't match it.

I'm sure Apple and Google/Android (and the herd of Android handset vendors) probably have similar rules. I imagine there were significant discussions held between Apple and China Telecom and China Mobile to let the iPhone in. Similarly, I would presume the Android handset vendors are the ones who need to jump through hoops on a country by country basis.

With all that out of the way, DataSense (and it's facsimiles) should be available on every phone from every carrier. The only reason a carrier would block it is as elenarie said - so they can scoop up overage fees.

One question we should all be demanding from carriers--or from Microsoft--is WHY carriers prohibit certain features. I can think of no valid reason why. VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER.

but don't the users have the ability to check the usage online or through other ways?I check the usage in my vodafone account and by sending a text message to the carrier dedicated service number and it corresponds to what Data Sense measures; unless maybe when they provide you with "unreal" numbers.

answer: lack of a congress that will crack down on carriers imposing BS policies on devices you own for services you pay for and basically letting the carriers do whatever they want to whoever they want.

until a certain party which everybody knows who they are doesn't get sent to the lawns of Washington to look for a new job, carriers will hold all the power they want.

Robert Wade said,
One question we should all be demanding from carriers--or from Microsoft--is WHY carriers prohibit certain features. I can think of no valid reason why. VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER.

Because every one does things different.

Just like their stupid mess with the Bing. Xbox, GfW, and Store services, they will never get Cortana right either. Never.

Apparently, according to MS, people do not move between countries, because we all know that Europe is a country, and only use their mother language. Nobody in Europe outside the UK speaks English, so there is no reason to provide English services to non-English-native countries.

elenarie said,
Just like their stupid mess with the Bing. Xbox, GfW, and Store services, they will never get Cortana right either. Never.

Apparently, according to MS, people do not move between countries, because we all know that Europe is a country, and only use their mother language. Nobody in Europe outside the UK speaks English, so there is no reason to provide English services to non-English-native countries.


What?

It's a beta service that is being worked in and languages added. What you smoking!

And it will remain a beta service except for a few countries... I doubt that it will even reach 20 countries by end of next year...

duddit2 said,

What?

It's a beta service that is being worked in and languages added. What you smoking!

He might not be too far off. Companies around the world (homing in on Microsoft here is a little weird), regardless of size, struggle with languages that travel, or are common second-languages.

It's basic stuff like how English spoken in Singapore and Norway are, code-wise, the same as 'UK English'. Building a VR library that can grab onto all those different accents and dialects is a massive undertaking, and one that a lot of businesses just don't bother with.

It's not as easy as some of the ignorant might think--there's this off-the-mark notion that voice recognition just has to be designed to listen-and-learn and it can be personalized to the individual user's dialect. That's cute, and so completely not possible with any consumer product right now.

While, yeah, Cortana is still in development, the industry can be observed and it's a safe projection that it will ultimately have some percentage of the same problems other VR services have. Optimism is great, but thinking Microsoft will solve all the ails of voice recognition technology with this product is naïve.

duddit2 said,

What?

It's a beta service that is being worked in and languages added. What you smoking!

I am not sure if you are aware, but, a language is not exclusive to a single country.

" Software features can vary too between manufacturers"

this is such a big no no today. if manufactors want control, they can do it with hardware-features, but not software related. software should offer the same options for all devices in the same version.
i actually like the ms phone interface, but the way they are behaving - again! - will keep me my android phone muuuuuch longer.

This has ZERO to do with Microsoft behavior. This is all because of carriers. Place blame where it belongs.

Apple was 1st to market and had the luxury of demanding certain conditions. Android dominates the market so they can also do whatever they want. WP is still a minor player so they have to appease whatever carrier BS is forced upon them.

Xabier Granja said,
This has ZERO to do with Microsoft behavior. This is all because of carriers. Place blame where it belongs.

Apple was 1st to market and had the luxury of demanding certain conditions. Android dominates the market so they can also do whatever they want. WP is still a minor player so they have to appease whatever carrier BS is forced upon them.


In Which world and Which market was Apple ever the first :o

Xabier Granja said,
This has ZERO to do with Microsoft behavior. This is all because of carriers. Place blame where it belongs.

Apple was 1st to market and had the luxury of demanding certain conditions. Android dominates the market so they can also do whatever they want. WP is still a minor player so they have to appease whatever carrier BS is forced upon them.


Apple first on the market? This is new to me...

Cosmocronos said,

Apple first on the market? This is new to me...

you must be new to the world then. where was android the day the iphone 1 went on sale? hmm care to answer that?

technically, there were other smartphones nobody cared about... I only heard about Windows Mobile and Symbian but I guess there were others.

But then even though Apple were not the first, they were the first everyday people knew about and wanted to buy and I guess that's what matters

-adrian- said,

In Which world and Which market was Apple ever the first :o

Apple did not make the 1st smart phone, but they made the 1st commercially successful smart phone and changed the direction smart went / evolved. They may not be so innovative now, but they do get credit where credit was due.

So it proves Apple copied all and made it to market successfully? Of course then it was time for sueing! Steve Jobs' own words: “We have been ‘ShameLESS' about stealing great ideas”.

Panorama + Folders = Android
Notification Bar = Maemo
The name "Apple" = The Beatles
Slide to Unlock = Neonode N1m
Mouse GUI = Xerox
Reject calls with SMS = Symbian
iMaps = Google Maps (Opps)
Fingerprint sensor (Cracked) = PCs (Safe)
Multitasking = webOS
Copy/paste = WinMobile
Ping = Facebook, Twitter
iPad = Samsung´s Photoframe
iPad Mini = Dell Streak
iPod = Creative Technology and Walkman
‘iPhone' the name = Linksys' iPhone®
‘iOS' the name = Cisco's Internet OS (ios)
Original iPhone = Samsung's S700 Mp3 Player
iPhone 4 & 4S = LG's Prada
iPhone 5c = Lumia 620
Pinch to zoom = Samsung
iMessage = BlackBerry Messenger
iCloud = Dropbox + Onedrive
iOS Minimalistic = Windows Phone.
Smartphone Optical Stabilization = Nokia
Siri (Clippy) = Xiaoi Bot + Nuance
App Store = Ubuntu Software Center
Multitouch Smartphone = Bought another company
Bigger Screen smartphone = Everybody else
MacBook Air = HP's Sojourn
Macsafe = Asian Crockery
Thunderbolt = Intel
OSX, iOS = Unix
Newton = Psion Series 3, HP 95LX
Apple Logo = Genesis 1:6, 3:6
Aluminum = Cheapest Metal
Plastic = ($$$ Reinforced Polymers)
Security = Buy a new one...

neonspark said,

you must be new to the world then. where was android the day the iphone 1 went on sale? hmm care to answer that?


Actually I am afraid you are the one new to the World.... The day the iPhone 1 went on sale I was happily using my HTC TyTN powered by MS Windows Mobile, WM 6 specifically, an OS I have used since I bought the Motorola MPX 200 which, for your information, was a Smartphone launched in in 2003.