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I am writing this in part because I’m sort of tired about writing around the subject.

So no one knows what the hell Microsoft is planning to with its mobile platform. What is known is it has been split off from the desktop version of Windows 10 into a branch called feature2. Microsoft has said Mobile will be reintegrated into the main Windows branch known as OneCore sometime in the future. But most Windows watchers think this is cover for the fact mobile is now retired.

So as of right now no one knows anything and all guesses point to the exit.

It is the end of the line or (if you’re a half full type) the next point in the Windows Mobile journey.

SO how did we get here?

Well in hindsight we have been living with Windows Phone being dead for awhile. I mean if you want the list of what went wrong you have prime choices. There is the obvious app gap where without (insert app) Windows Phone was doomed. The lack of hardware maker/carrier support. There is the Nokia deal and the effect it had on the platform (good and bad). Microsoft’s internal strife. Microsoft’s deciding to bet on Cloud and not so much on mobile. The debacle that was Silverlight and XNA’s deprecation. The Nokia deal. The chaotic nature of the Entertainment and Devices group. Windows Phone’s hardware requirements. Android. The Microsoft KIN.

Take your pick.

No one thing derailed Windows Phone; all of it did.

Windows Phone was born at the wrong time in so many ways. And it came right at the moment where things at Microsoft were coming to a head.

I wonder if people remember Windows Mobile 6.5 or even the mobile landscape back then. I mean for everyone else on earth the iPhone was the first smartphone; and its emergence rocked everyone. The big players had to scramble to respond. And a lot of the early ones were lipstick jobs pushing touch layers on top of phones not necessarily designed for them.

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In hindsight iOS and later Android were the sign of things to come and the mobile market before it was this weird period before it.

I mean in hindsight any damn body could explain and solve Microsoft’s problems with Windows Phone. Because we are talking after the fact. We are also talking from the perspective of fans who want this to work.

I mean in every post mortem about Phone no one discusses what Android did right in pushing out on the stage. We don’t discuss the fact Android exists largely because Google didn’t want Microsoft keeping it out of mobile. Or the fact Android basically copied the what both Windows Mobile and Symbian offered but for free so a phone maker could do what they did for those platforms to Android.

In retrospect Microsoft should’ve been looser in terms of requirements. They should’ve had an enterprise angle in addition to the consumer one. They should have aggressively added features to keep parity with Android and iOS. And yes they should have treated Android like the natural threat it was.

I mean let’s go further down and talk about Nokia and Lumia.

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Nokia was the platform’s greatest boon and its biggest issue. Stephen Elop had to CONVINCE former CEO Steve Ballmer to do the deal. It was a deal in which Espoo received money to keep them afloat because Nokia was not in the best shape. It was a Hail Mary pass for both; and to Nokia’s credit they were in much more than Microsoft.

And we got Lumias, but we also lost Samsung and HTC because the deal looked like it was exclusive. I mean the deal soured relations between Samsung and Microsoft until very recently.

And speaking about Lumia, it was great for the low end but it faced serious headwinds with high end devices. Nokia was applying the same flood the market strategy but it didn’t work. Also The 7 billion dollar hardware deal was a waste of money because Microsoft is not a hardware company.

(Also Microsoft did not need the hardware just the designers and HERE because the company was expanding into services).

Now Microsoft’s sins are plentiful.

At some point the company had to see the writing on the wall. Mobile was and is the future mass computing platform and having no presence is death sentence. Microsoft’s responses have either been half hearted or so early they retreat before the market is there or just starting.

Mobile never seemed core to Microsoft.

The precursor to Windows Phone was Windows CE; an ARM based platform loosely based on Windows. CE was run by the Entertainment and Devices group; the group behind Zune and Xbox. Windows Mobile existed in the shadow of big Windows and running on pre-iPhone mobile devices. It was tucked away and sold to phone makers to skin and resale as their own device.

So when Windows Phone came along it jettison CE and in particular the ability for phone makers to skin the OS. This did-incentivized some partners. It also made Android look like a more agreeable platform.

And then there is the app gap; which now includes Microsoft as much as any other app maker. At this point I don’t what there is to say. Microsoft never did the all in thing that happened with the Cloud on mobile. In fact mobile has only entered into the core of Windows after a change in CEO and head of Windows.

You know at this point as a fan I a amazed there are still Windows phones out there. Just like I am always amazed at how outside the gadget bubble real people liked their Windows Phones.

But I also look back and see a lot of missteps. The Nokia deal was bad because Microsoft wasn’t committed to pushing Windows Phone as a platform. And the deal caused rifts between Microsoft and other OEMs who could’ve pushed the platform in ways Nokia couldn’t. Also at some point the Lumia hardware became more important than the software and honestly the community got toxic.

In the end what happened, happened.  Now all that can be done is to move forward.

 

 

So this week has been one of the many in which I honestly wonder what Microsoft is doing in mobile.

There has been this growing feeling (on my part) that Microsoft’s retrenchment was a major miscalculation; and one that is just another link in the chain of misery that has followed Windows Phone.

It is as if Microsoft has been hoping if it says nothing and does nothing, Windows Mobile will just die and they can start over (or not).

Microsoft has said in the past it plans to maintain its mobile platform and it has sent out patches and has updated the OS as part of the larger Creator’s update. But the company has also not done anything new for the platform.

There are two concrete truths as I see it. One is Microsoft is concentrating on its successful platform and distancing itself from the unsuccessful one. Two, mobile is to important an environment to be dependent on being a software vendor.

There are parts of Redmond who believe their mobile focus should be on gaining a stronger foothold on iOS and Android. Which is why Office was first available on iOS and why there is DeX optimized version for the Samsung Galaxy S8. I think this is a good idea in half; they need to be on those platforms but not ignore their own.

Microsoft needs a mobile platform; a place to showoff services in a way they simply can’t on the big two systems. No matter how much integration they can get on Android it’ll never be a Microsoft device. I know some like Paul Thurrott think it is time for Microsoft to focus on Android as their platform but that, in my opinion, would be as effective as the retrenchment strategy.

It’s time for Microsoft to stop deluding itself that it can avoid mobile.

If Microsoft’s pullback was to access the future of whatever they think mobile is, they need to share the results.

If they are aiming to get out of the market, go Android or be an ISV, or go a different direction they need to say something. What is occurring now is unprofessional and a disservice to users and developers.

Microsoft’s blunders in mobile, the ones in their control, were avoidable. They weren’t avoided because Microsoft spent crucial years in internecine conflict. Their decision to retrench mobile and focus on the devices they had traction (PC) with has only delayed them and put them further back. Microsoft hasn’t and is not doing the work needed for a come back to the mobile market. They haven’t got a vendor to pick up the low end market where Windows Phone had traction. Companies like BLU or ZTE aren’t there with devices. Also their refocus on enterprises hasn’t gone farther than the NYPD and the HP Elite x3.

Microsoft should have treated mobile in the same way it has treated  Azure and the cloud; as the future of its fortunes. Instead it was treated like the Zune; a me too product never brought into the larger portfolio.

And the biggest sin Microsoft has committed has been silence.

The weak statements of commitment have been followed up with signs that mobile is being winded down. The number of devices have been reduced. And the feature set between PC and Mobile is inconsistent.

Windows may mean less to Redmond’s bottom line but that doesn’t detract from the need for it to continue to do well. There is also the need for Windows to continue its transformation away from desktop computing.

Whether they like it or not mobile needs to be resolved. I just don’t think Microsoft can hold off on it forever.

 

So the folks over at Windows Central have a countdown clock, and we have 7 hours 2 minutes and 27 seconds until Microsoft reveals its latest versions of Surfaces and Lumias in New York City. I’m glad Microsoft is doing the event on the East coast, but it’s really early in the morning.

I think most of us can already guess what Microsoft will show off in a few hours. There will be a new Surface Pro model, two new Lumias, and peripherals. The next iteration of Microsoft’s wearable, the Band, is also widely expected to be on hand.

Microsoft is expected to unveil the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. Both phones have flagship specs with the larger model supposedly coming with support for inking. Both models will be encased polycarbonate plastic and include wireless charging. Both Lumia models are also expected to be sold across carriers except for Verizon; however both 950/950XL work on both CDMA and other bands.

MSFT_Event_October6_2015image: Microsoft

The Surface brand will be the star of the show with the possibility of multiple devices. Of course many expect to see an updated Pro model. The Surface Pro 4 is expected to be a modest revision with the biggest update being under the hood. The Pro 4 is rumored to be packing Intel’s new Skylake processor. There are also rumors of another Surface device that is at least 14 inches. One story reported by WinBeta is that it is a 12 inch Surface model which can switch the screen to be 13 inches like Intel’s North Cape concept. Another rumor posted by Paul Thurrott says this potential device is a 2-in-1 with a foldable keyboard making this Pro model Microsoft’s first laptop.

Early rumors indicated a new model Xbox would be announced but that was squashed by Xbox chief Phil Spencer. However many believe the Xbox Slim is still in the works. Microsoft is still rumored to show off the second iteration of Microsoft Band which should improve on the first model. Band 2 is rumored to be a more curved model to better fit the wrist and improved sensors.

I am hoping Microsoft may show off a Surface 4 model for those of us who like portability. Also new versions of the Surface Pen and TouchCover. However I think the biggest news will be around applications. Recent rumors have announced the possibility of Google finally creating apps for Windows 10.

If you want to watch the event it will be available online HERE.

Also know various tech sites will be doing liveblogs:

Windows Central

The Verge

Thurrott.com

When head of Microsoft Hardware Stephen Elop got on stage Tuesday morning many were hoping for a new Lumia flagship phone.

Their hope was crushed.

What was announced were two phones; the Lumia 640 and 640 Xl. Microsoft also announced a new foldable Universal Keyboard made for Windows (including phones), iOS, and Android. Microsoft was nice enough to let people know that a flagship device would be launched…when Windows 10 ships.

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The two new devices continue Microsoft’s focus on growing volume and the middle of the market; providing value instead of a feature fix for phone geeks. Many will be disappointed in the lack of a bleeding edge device but many should’ve known no new devices will pop up until Windows 10. What the 640 and 640 Xl are, are future Windows 10 devices and mid range phones with an affordable price point. The 640 is a 5inch phone with an 8 mega pixel camera (and front facing) and 1Gb of RAM. It comes in 3G and LTE versions and runs for 139 (3G) and 159 (LTE) in euros. The 5.7 inch 640 XL has similar specs but also a 13 megapixel camera on back and 5 megapixels on the front facing camera along with larger battery. The Xl is priced at 199 and 220 for 3G and LTE. Both launch globally in April across a multitude of vendors.

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The larger news around Windows (and potentially more important) was the announcement of Intel’s new ATOM chips. Intel is tweaking ATOM, its mobile chipset, into three segments: x3, x5, and x7. Now the interesting bit is Intel, or at least one of its VPs, is looking at doing phones running Windows 10 (mobile). If this is true than it raises some interesting questions. The x3 chip is low end and right now will come out on Android phones so the question becomes who’s thinking about Windows and is Microsoft involved.

The last bit of news at MWC for Microsoft is the expansion of its services to other platforms. At the conference Microsoft announced deals with AT&T and Samsung around bundling Office. And SONY announced Office apps will be preinstalled on SONY’s new Z4 tablet.

images: Lumia Conversations

courtesy of the Verge

courtesy of the Verge

I think Windows 10 will be a test for Satya Nadella. I think no one questions his commitments to services or to cloud computing. He gets enterprise and helped build the platform that will grow the software giant, but is he cut out for rebuilding Microsoft’s consumer market? He has said some interesting things in his short time as CEO about hardware and about consumers.
Now in Nadella Microsoft has a man who is comfortable with the enterprise side of the software giant. He was head of enterprise and development before becoming boss. His background is not in consumer software; he was in charge of Bing and Online services. His conversations so far around Windows and Xbox has been broad but not really specific. The same is true of his views on the company’s growing hardware component.
His obliqueness has made many wonder if he intends to pull out of the consumer computing market. I know it is something many a pundit has advised. Many took the appearance of Office on iPad before Windows as a sign that the new CEO had no place for it.
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My personal read on Satya is that I think he is open to things; the guy is clearly a thinker. I think it is interesting that in his  comments about Windows he makes a point about appealing to customers and design. Actually the fact he brings design up at all as a differentiating factor is important to me because it signals someone who knows that the OOBE is something one should get right.  He has talked about a focus on productivity, in some ways getting back to basics. Nadella has talked about what is core to Microsoft (and no it is not Candy Crush). But he has also talked about the importance of gaming and of the need for devices being about work and play.
The push in making services truly cross platform has been rough on some Windows fans. Some have wondered aloud if Windows makes sense if you get the same if not better on iOS and Android (and they have the apps). I admit I have said it myself. It will be an issue Nadella must answer on the 21st when Microsoft unveils the next update to Windows 10.
Here’s hoping we get an answer (we like).
image: New York Times

In 2015 Microsoft will be releasing a new version of its Windows software and along with it will come the army of new PCs along with a few tablets and a smattering of phones. Amongst the many device makers will be Microsoft itself. In the three years since Windows 8 Microsoft has the Surface line of tablet PCs; it now has Lumia handsets and of course the Xbox game console.

This year has been mixed for Microsoft’s hardware division. There has been growth in sells for the Xbox but only after price cuts and major mea culpas after a slow start against SONY’s PlayStation 4. The Lumia line has been selling but in the low end and not significantly enough in America or China. After a close to billion dollar write down the Surface line up recovered to point where the device didn’t lose the software giant money; actually making a small profit. The Surface Pro 3 has been met with accolades even as reviewers complained about the lack of a real keyboard and made stale lapability jokes. According to CFO Amy Hood all three brands are on their way to profitability.

2015 will be an interesting one for Microsoft hardware. The new CEO has made a point to say that first party hardware will play a role in selling the larger Microsoft stack. Some observers have seen Satya Nadella’s comments along with others made by COO Kevin Turner as signs that Microsoft is quietly backing away from hardware. I don’t view it as that. I do think Microsoft wants a strong showing by their PC partners and they want more handset makers to make Windows phones. But I also think the company through a mix of success (if small) and necessity is seeing hardware as a serious asset in selling software.

So we are weeks away from the start of the next Tech cycle of conferences, trade shows, and developer events. The first being CES and the first Microsoft based one being later in January. I wanted to make a few predictions of where I think Microsoft hardware will be.

Okay so this year we saw the Xbox struggle to get ahead of the PlayStation right until the holidays when they dropped the price, created Kinect-less bundles, and pushed serious deals. The Xbox One still has the stigma of not being next-gen enough but it has been making steady progress. Given how early into this console generation we are a refresh for the One is likely out of the question. What may happen is we get a new, low cost device in the vein of an Xbox TV or Xbox Arcade. This would be a low cost, disc-less device that sits firmly in the living room. Now I am guessing about this device and if it does exists it will be part of any gaming stream service Microsoft is planning. With rumors of a Streaming team and previous efforts an Xbox TV could replace the Xbox 360. Outside the console there are new rumors that the Xbox team is preparing a VR headset. Previous information had the device codenamed Fortaleza and it could premier at the coming E3.

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In so many ways the Nokia hardware team was a must buy. In every way this was the only company making any headway with Windows Phone. Samsung and HTC were and are fair weather partners; coming when they need to or feel like it. And so Redmond took the hardware off of Nokia’s hands. The big question for the Lumia brand is will they make any flagship devices or will they continue to push through on the low end where they’re successful. A lot of interesting things come into play when talking mobile. My hope is to see the Lumia lineup shrink and gain some focus. At most I think six would work, splitting between high/middle/low. I expect to see at least two flagships. One will be a successor for the 1020 and the other a phablet that could push pen input. All other models would likely split the difference on technologies. The big issue for the Lumia lineup is going to be carriers. Carrier exclusivity is an issue as is making sure updates are sent out in a timely fashion. Microsoft will also have to deal with making Lumia work without the Nokia branding .

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The rumor mill (DigiTimes) has suggested the next Surface devices will go bigger or smaller; from 13 or 14 inches to an 8 inch model. The only thing we do know is Microsoft will be making another Surface and all current accessories will work with it. Personally I think there is the possibility of at least four devices. One will be a hardware refresh of the Pro 3 (updated chipset; possibly fan less), a larger Surface, and two smaller Surfaces. I don’t think Redmond will make an ARM based device.

The larger surface will either be a tablet PC or a pure laptop. Given the markets that have developed an interest in the Surface Pro, things like artists, a larger Surface could be marketed at graphics professionals. Now from the perspective of the lineup a 14 inch Surface wouldn’t make sense because it would be too big to use sans a keyboard. And while many may view the Surface as nothing more than a laptop it still needs use as a tablet. With Windows 10 refocusing on the desktop there is a remote possibility that Microsoft adds a laptop to the brand. In my mind that Surface 13 will work like every other Surface model but will come with a keyboard that makes it a true laptop. On the other end of the spectrum I expect a refresh to the non-Pro lineup. I don’t think there will be an 8 inch Mini but I do think something in the 10 inch range will be offered. There is a gap in the lineup for those who want the improvements of the Pro3 but with a smaller, lighter device. This device and the Pro 4 will most likely be fan-less devices. All these changes will also bring new TypeCovers. I think there will be a refresh and that new covers will be the type that will appeal to those who thought current TypeCovers too flimsy.

And those are my predictions for the coming year. Do not hold me to these unless they come true then I want an analyst check.

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Last week, Microsoft announced the end of Nokia branded handsets. In a blog posts on the Nokia Conversations blog Senior Vice President Tuula Rytilä talked about the transition from Nokia to Lumia as the brand going forward. She also discussed how Microsoft’s own name would be appearing more prominently on the devices going forward. The blog post also showed off images of how future Lumias would look with Microsoft of the phones.

Rytilä also touched on how Microsoft would handle devices already in market (they’ll be supported) as well as hint to when the first Microsoft Lumias would launch. The changeover had already begun before the post. The various Nokia applications were rebranded and slowly so has the social media accounts. What the post did was to confirm what many already knew; mark the end of Nokia and the beginning of Lumia.

The post marks the end of Nokia as a phone brand and it means Microsoft is now in the driver’s seat as the biggest Windows Phone handset maker. Windows Phones growth has been largely on the back of Nokia and the Lumia line. In almost every way Lumias have become the Windows mobile device to get because of Nokia making betting on Windows Phone. Some would and continue to say that was why the Finnish phone maker ending up selling its hardware business. For me it will be interesting to see how the name change affects sales. The most recent quarter found Microsoft selling 9.3 million units up one million last year. However sales of non-Lumia phones were down. For Redmond there is a concern phones no longer branded as Nokia won’t sale; that many only bought them because of the Nokia. While information was scarce, the VP did discuss the first Lumia branded device. While many are hoping it’ll be a new flagship, I don’t think we will see one until Windows 10.

image: Microsoft