Windows 10: The Return of Windows Mobile

Right now I am in the middle of working on another piece about Windows 10 and mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) and some things have come up to make me try to a specific post about Windows 10’s mobile ambition.

Windows 10 may have some users and writers exclaiming the return of the desktop or fixing Windows. Some may still be clinging to old ways by slapping mess like Classic Shell on for the old productive feeling. In the midst of this keyboard euphoria one thing lingers over the head of Windows; mobile.

Its a bit tiresome to recount how Microsoft went from a nice share of the old mobile market (15%) to struggling to maintain share in the new one (4%). Or how a platform widely used by many with some of the best tools for development struggles to attract the endless wave of developers creating apps for the next mass computing platform which is mobile. And I am not even going to go into how all of it has created an ecosystem in which many only look at when devices sale for pennies,

Sometimes you get the sense that Microsoft is not fully committed to Windows lately. As if they realize mobile is the future of computing but maybe Windows has no place in it. So they make it easy for Windows developers to build Android applications and port their own apps to Apple’s iOS and soon to Android. Office for iPad is out now but the tablet version of Office for Windows won’t appear until Windows 10 launches in 2015.

So to paraphrase Satya Nadella, the question that must be answered is what place Windows? In consumer and in mobile, on tablets and phones what will Windows 10 offer the enthusiast and the novice. How will it stand out and how will it delight in a market that has iPads and Chromebooks; where the power and complexity of Windows is seen as a detriment.

So while I think Windows 10’s primary job is  appeal to desktop users it has a second and no less important job and that’s to rejuvenate the OS as something on mobile. If you want my opinion what Terry Myerson, head of Windows, does with the Metro side will be more of a statement on Windows’ future than the Start menu.

I do not have any answers on how to reverse or fix Windows phone outside of getting apps and maybe adding features. I have my view of what could work. Now I know some people who will and have suggested quitting, going Android (that ALWAYS work), making Windows look like iOS and Android aka Windows Mobile redux, or concentrating solely on business. I am not going to suggest these are bad plans (they are ) but they wouldn’t be what I suggest. The thing is what Microsoft needs to do is to finish Windows and COMMIT. If you look around at those of us left and what we’re thinking, we are seriously feeling like motherless children. There is this overwhelming sense that Microsoft has conceded and is retracting to the safety of the PC. We all are seriously doubting the investment in Microsoft’s platform.

Don’t get me wrong Windows 10 is great and all but what about the people who picked up Windows Phones and Windows RT devices? The ones who got them and honestly grew to rely on them to get work done. The rumor has been that both Windows Phone and Windows RT will combine in 10. What little evidence I’ve seen show a possible OS that is more Windows Phone than anything else. I worry about how this new version works on tablets; universal apps will scale but I’m concerned they will develop like Android. Android is fine on phones and tablets up to 7 inches after that it becomes painfully obvious developers aren’t concerned. Windows faces a form of this with dead apps; one time applications that are never picked up.

So what should be done?

Some of the solutions are obvious and I think are coming: refresh the design language, refine design elements, make the OS work better in portrait and smaller screens. To this I’ll add make it feel like a complete mobile system. Windows 8 was a great touch OS unless you needed something in settings or the Control panel. Windows Phone is cool but sometimes it is to minimalistic for its own good. I think Microsoft should concentrate on making this OS

Make it complex make it simple make it powerful. Windows will be Windows and that comes with complexity but it also comes with a level of flexibility and power that isn’t easily matched . Instead of necessarily hiding it, manage it. This does not mean going nuts with the controls, but it does mean letting it do more. Windows 10 tablets and phones should have multiple user accounts, multitasking, and the ability to have multiples start screens.

Concentrate on the new productivity mantra or as I see it, “Windows: Get Shit Done”. Be it tablet or phone Windows should be replacing Blackberry as the thing that makes users productive. It makes no sense to even let businesses to consider Android.

Be customizable (to a point). Most operating systems adopt features from other OS’es, Windows is no different. The two biggest ones I would add are Widgets and custom launchers. While Live Tiles give you some widget functionality I think in 10 we should have a tile size that lets us see and interact with our information. Adding launchers and other small customizations (wallpapers) gives a sense of control which is always a good thing when done right.

Apps. Get more of them. Get the ones people expect and make the deals that bind the buggers to make serious commitments to the platform. On the app front Microsoft has a mixed record. Some apps never show up, some are late, and many appear in one place (Xbox) but not others (Phones). Threes a mobile game is on the Xbox One but not Windows Phone or Windows tablets. Evernote, Kindle, and Audible are jokes (trying not to cuss). Goggle has an app that is best left saying it has one. There is a serious need for Microsoft to mobilize to stabilize its app situation. Some of that will be done in changes to design guidelines but also in convincing app developers that growth can be had on Windows.

Give us a Metro outside of Tiles. After four or five years it is time for Metro to be experimented with. I know Microsoft has designs showing Metro working outside of what we have today. It’s time to revisit past experiments and put them out.

Lastly, give this thing a name. You know even though this is Windows 10 saying Windows 10 phone sounds silly. It is no better making the p lowercase for Windows Phone. And while I would’ve gone for a totally new name like Modern Operating System (MOS) or Core; maybe it is time to resurrect Windows Mobile. The name fits the focus of the OS, running on mobile devices. It stands for something other than Windows for desktops. It means more than phones. Yes I know it will lead to joke headlines but really outside of us nerds most people don’t know what Windows Mobile was.

Will  this fix what ails Redmond, likely not, but it would be a move forward.

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