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Mobile

Half of the time the inspiration to write a post begins out of the frustration of reading online commentary. Sometimes its an opinion I find intriguing; but sometimes its simply because I think someone else wrote some bullshit.

The day Microsoft decided to retrench its mobile efforts I wish I had honestly switched to some cheap ass Android device and called it a day. Because the community that is Windows Phone has descended into madness. There are a lot of angry users who are split between straight up anger and hostility that honestly Microsoft should address.

For example I read one guy just going off about Microsoft cheating users. I get the anger of his sentiment, but I also understand in the larger scheme his and others anger is moot because mobile is a black hole for Microsoft.

The problem for me is that I get and feel the anger, but I also understand why the retrenchment happened.

By the time Microsoft bought the Nokia hardware assets Windows Phone had only one phone maker; Nokia. Microsoft was keeping the company afloat by infusing it with cash. The Nokia deal damaged relations with companies like Samsung (who honestly Windows Phone needed as not if not more than Nokia). The mobile platform was failing to get and retain apps and Windows 8 meant a new and separate app store that competed for attention.

It was a mess.

Was it fixable? Possibly but that isn’t what happened.

Should Microsoft had been clearer to users? Fuck yes.

 

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So it has now come to the point where Microsoft’s silence on Mobile has become this cancerous spot affecting coverage around Windows.

Did it have to go this way? No.

To recap: On Thursday, Microsoft released its earnings for the quarter and the phone sales were null. So the  last nail was pushed into the coffin of Windows Phone (with weird glee by some Windows watchers).

Anyway, Peter Bright of Ars Technica wrote about the Surface (Redmond’s computer brand) and how the company was repeating the same mistake it did with Nokia Lumia. Basically ignoring momentum  for sake of alienating OEM partners.

 

Bright argued that Microsoft needs to decide if it’s serious about devices because the hemming and hawing dooms the effort. It was a very alarmist peice which was followed by a more reasoned one by Paul Thurrott. Thurrott countered by saying the Surface brand wasn’t in trouble because Windows Phone was doomed from birth (paraphrased to retain content saltiness).

The thing is both are right but that’s beside the point. The point is silent treatment going on is hurting the Windows platform; and from this enthusiast’s slash armchair analyst perch will only cause more problems.

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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.

 

 

To Satya Nadella, Frank X. Shaw, Terry Myerson, or anyone in Redmond WA that wants to respond,

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

I mean it, ZDNet is reporting the company is selling a “Microsoft Edition” of the S8. So are you done with Windows Mobile?

I don’t mean the bullshit about maintaining of the software; but in actually updating the OS with new features or maybe an update UI.

I only ask because after the  retrenchment there has been silence other than the pat answer of being committed to Windows phone. And honestly that sounds hollow. In actuality Microsoft has done the barest of bare minimums in terms of support. The other reality is Microsoft has shifted its mobile concerns to supporting iOS and Android (when they feel like they toss phone users a bone if we’re lucky).

And now Microsoft is getting ready to sell the Samsung S8 in it’s stores (which they don’t EVER talk about).

So Microsoft would like us to know something; like are you now really done playing catchup in the phone market?

Are you ready to say the words so everyone can move on because you are now done with mobile?

Or are you holding on to dear life because you know saying, “We are done”, kills UWP in its already stagnant tracks.

I mean honestly you should be honest, just be fucking honest; so we and you can move on.

Sincerely a tired fan boy

Before reading the article posted today on Windows Central I have to admit I was nonplused by what was coming down the pike for Windows. The fact is Windows as an OS needs a make over but can’t get one because legacy keeps it afloat while drowning it.

And I know a lot of people need and require software built on top of x86 but it does prevent things moving forward.

Then Neon happened and my inner UI nerd fainted.

 

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image: New Creation

 

Metro 2.0

According to Zac Bowden at Windows Central and Cassim Kefti at Numerama Neon is the codename for the next interface update to Windows 10. Kefti says internally Neon is being described as “Metro 2.0” in reference to the UI introduced with Windows Phone. Windows Central describes it as a streamlining of various efforts to bring level of coherency throughout the system. Neon also looks to add new animations and transitions to Windows 10. Neon also appears to be an effort to integrate new UI elements for augmented and virtual reality headsets. The timeline for the changes according to both articles seems to be Redstone 3, the update planned for 2017.

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So what do I think? Honestly I am hyped by the news nd the possibilities. The news follows reporting from ZDNet about x86 emulation running on ARM for Windows Mobile. The emulation news was preceded by new mobile features coming with Windows’ next update. All this adds up to interesting times ahead for Windows mobile users and enthusiasts.

Now that was the hope. Here is the wants and needs.

First, there needs to be a visual update to both the Start Screen of Windows mobile and the start menu/tablet mode on Windows 10. I include them together because those are the public facing parts of the OS and the ones users use when mobile or without a keyboard. Windows 10 is fine for tablets but can always use improvements.

Second more features for Live Tiles and the lock screen. Neon is the perfect opportunity for features like Interactive Tiles or anything that moves the Tile metaphor forward. Also the Lock screen has been there sitting waiting to be unleashed; maybe the work of Microsoft’s Arrow Launcher could help.

Last, seamless integration of mixed reality into the platform. Windows has merged touch with the mouse and keyboard and no it was not easy. Hopefully they learned from those growing pains.

Honestly it’s early days and I will be revisiting this topic in future.

So I’ve been off; away from tech writing but still glued to technology. And while I have not been posting about the latest rumblings around it, I do have opinions which I now present to you. Apologies for the bad sentence structures beforehand.

 

Cook’s Apple

It’s hard to remember how positively received Tim Cook was as Apple’s CEO. His leadership was a major change of pace from the days of Steve Jobs. I’m reminded of those days again because now the chorus has changed. I’ve noticed in some of my reading around Apple a serious discontent on the part of longtime Mac users as well as professional Mac users feeling uncertain about it’s future.

The introduction of the latest MacBook Pro line has led to a bit of a social media backlash; with some seriously thinking of switching platforms or simply holding onto older Macs longer. To be honest to have such discussions being out there is weird giving the nature of Apple. Or maybe not.

Apple is no longer the company Steve Jobs founded in the seventies. It is not the company built on the back of the Apple II or Lisa. It is the Apple that he rebuilt in the late 1990s and whose fortunes can be tied back to the iPod and forward to iOS. This new Apple needs to maintain the iOS train while getting to the next big thing; unfortunately MacOS isn’t that and only exists until iOS can at least replace Mac laptops.

 

Beyond Mobile

Given how much disruption is supposed to be an underlying part of technology, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone asked what will disrupt mobile. In fact it’s hard to really look past mobile to any emerging or potential trend.

I mean tablets, smartwatches, and virtual reality have all been tied to mobile. Smartwatches are literally just there to be phone extensions. Media dongles like the Chromecast exist to extend the phone’s reach to your TV.

So what exists beyond mobile or is mobile so big we haven’t reached the edge yet?

 

Nadella’s Windows

This is something I will revisit later, but I want to start here. Satya Nadella’s time as head of Microsoft has been interesting to watch. He became CEO after what was largely a dark period for the company; maybe not in terms of profit, but in direction. Microsoft failed to successfully modernized its mobile efforts with Windows Phone and made missteps with developers. It made some moves to successfully move the company forward (Azure) and has seen success in the cloud while stumbling in the consumer market.

Much of the failings of the last decade were pinned to former chief Steve Ballmer who three years ago decided to retire and hand the reins to then Cloud head Nadella.

Now I’m not going to bore you with the overview; tl;dr of it is Nadella has been credited with a renaissance at Microsoft with new products and a rejuvenated workforce. For me the focus is on where Microsoft is going with Windows under Nadella.

Before recent reports; much of the news around Windows was about both the decline in the PC market and the innovation around Microsoft hardware. It’s weird but the PC’s decline has lead to a sort of resurgence. However for Nadella and Microsoft Windows and especially it’s mobile half are what keeps tongues wagging. And we may have an answer next year.

 

I haven’t done a post about Windows Phone now Windows 10 Mobile. I mean I started on one but then everyone said it was dead; then Mary Jo Foley got a Nexus and the sky fell.

So let’s recap:

  • Windows Phone as it was first conceived and marketed was not successful.
  • Many of Microsoft’s partners when it was still Windows Phone 7 Series abandoned it.
  • Redmond had to buy the only real Windows Phone handset maker left but ending up firing a lot of the workers and reducing the amount of handsets they make. (When really the only value were the Camera team and HERE mapping)
  • Microsoft has refocused its mobile strategies on pushing apps and services for the big two (Android/iOS); and on refocusing Windows  10 Mobile’s target audiences.

For the last year Microsoft under Nadella has been, in my opinion, trying to make Windows Mobile work. And by work I mean start making profits and being credible competition.

Now let me say upfront, Windows Phone failed. I hate writing that because like its spiritual ancestor the Zune, it was ahead of its time. It faced a number of hurdles that it could not overcome (no matter how hard they tried). So now we on.

I’ve been playing with Windows 10 Mobile since its Insider Preview started. There are a lot things about it I think need serious work. For me most of it is surface stuff. I like the personalization options, but I wish I could group apps to break up the Start Screen. I think the basic layout for UI needs refining and more needs to be done to make apps really pop.

But I also find myself intrigued by what the new Win Mobile is.

I complain about Action Center, but I also really like it. Controls are better. I like the fact this interacts better with the PC. And I like the fact I want to see it on larger screens.

So I think Windows  Mobile has legs, but how does Microsoft make it compelling?

Windows Mobile’s biggest issue out of the gate will be the legacy of Windows Phone: no one uses it and there are no apps. So first question will be, “Why Windows Mobile?”

In some ways Microsoft has already telegraphed that going forward Windows Mobile will be first and foremost about the Enterprise. While Microsoft has also talked about creating experiences for fans of the platform it is clear the focus will be on where they saw growth. Fans are just a bonus.

Beyond the business focus, Windows Mobile will need a consumer story. And I think this where the Surface team comes in.

Despite the appearance of Acer and HP with high end devices, Microsoft is going to have to raise the flag for Windows 10 Mobile. The rumored Surface phone is going to be the point device for Windows Mobile. It will need to be more than just a pretty phone; it’ll need to be a new experience.

This experience goes beyond just having hardware.

Recent reporting around Windows Mobile is indicating that it will be the focus of the next major update to Windows 10. If this is the case, then I think Microsoft should focus on refining the interface and building robust features into the platform.

In my opinion the biggest assets Windows Mobile has is it’s NT kernel underpinnings and Continuum. The NT kernel means this is real Windows. With Continuum Windows Mobile becomes less of an also ran to be a versatile platform. In order for Windows Mobile to get over the “no apps” rep, it will need to push versatility and Continuum hard. To me that means when dock, the phone just becomes a PC (including multitasking).

(Continuum allows a Windows phone to function like a PC with a desktop; apps built to make use of the feature fit the screen. It’s a lot like Windows on ARM or Windows RT)

In some ways what I am suggesting is Microsoft should run with the idea that Windows Mobile as the new Pocket PC. Keep it nerdy. Make it business friendly. Make it versatile and flexible in ways Android and iOS can’t.  Revisit the ideas from the old Win Mobile but reimagined for current mobile audiences.

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(Honestly, I got more but I hit over 700 words and I’ll live it here)