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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.

 

 

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.

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There has always been this weird uneasiness when its come to he relationship between Nokia and Microsoft. Maybe unease is the wrong word, its been a kind of tug of war. This has been especially the case for fans of both companies.

When Nokia adopted Windows Phone a few years ago it brought with it not just hardware and software but its cadre of admirers. Online these new Windows Phone users would clash occasionally with the Windows Phone users who were coming from the Microsoft side of the fence. Mostly it was over who did more for Windows Phone or who was moving the platform forward.

Now I bring this up because yesterday professional tech leaker @evleaks posted information about changes in the naming and branding of Microsoft hardware. Now I’m not as concerned about Microsoft extending the use if the Nokia brand, even though the idea of using the phrase, “Nokia by Microsoft”, seems absurd. The real news is about the Lumia and Surface. According to Ev, Microsoft will discontinue the Surface brand and opt to use the name Lumia for all its consumer offerings. This would be an interesting development given the release of the Surface Pro 3. I should add this rumor has some legs given a recent mention by about branding changes reported by WP Central’s Mark Guim and Sam Sabri.

Now how well you receive this will depend on how you sit on Nokia/Microsoft spectrum. I know a lot of Nokia fans think this is perfectly reasonable given the brand recognition of Nokia and thus Lumia. A few have said Lumia is simply more recognizable and is in more markets. Now I can’t refute this as I am in the US, but I wanted to point a few things out.

As a name the Lumia is synonymous to most watchers of mobile. For Windows Phone fans its THE phone if you’re on this platform. I think for everyone else it is a Nokia phone. Case in point my sister asked me about my 520 but she called it a Nokia and later a Lumia. I think the Lumia name has grown but that it is a weak brand. It’s simply not on the back of the phone. People may argue that Lumia is a better brand but exists in name only.

My second issue is that Lumia doesn’t fit what the Surface sells. The Surface as I see it is built around computing from the tablet on up to notebooks. It’s this modern looking device made of magnesium and glass that stands out from the black slabs and clamshells that make up the PC landscape. Lumias by contrast are pure mobile, pure color, and authentically (high quality) plastic. The Lumia line also isn’t simple. Surface is built on two devices (yes I know its for but the current line up is two) and the Lumia is built on at least seven or eight. Also as Paul Thurrott points out the name Surface is simple and describes what it is perfectly. It also translates well (how quickly people forget the Lumia lost in translation story).

And the last point brings me to this, I think if Microsoft is listening, that what they need to do is keep both names. I like the name Lumia but its not plastered on the back of anything yet. The Surface I think is solidly becoming a brand in its own right (and I might add is old IP for Redmond). I think dividing the hardware between Surface and Lumia keeps it simple for users and for Microsoft.

So in the past 72 hours Microsoft released (or unleashed some would say) Windows 8 to the public along with its first branded device, the Microsoft Surface. Today Microsoft will unveil Windows Phone 8, its update to Windows Phone.

Unlike Windows 8, Windows Phone 8’s story has been murky. It made a brief appearance over the summer at a one day preview. It has had PR from lack of a timely SDK to developers, as well as users of current devices being unable to upgrade devices to the OS; more later. There has also been controversy over hardware.

Samsung, Nokia, and HTC have all shown off Windows Phone 8 hardware; the ATIV S, Lumia 920/820, and 8x/8s respectively. However no one has had a real hands on with the devices and information on carriers was spotty (disappointing in exclusivity).

The secrecy around Windows Phone and the new SDK has lead to backlash; developers wanting to target new features have complain about the lack of transparency. Early adopters of Windows Phone are also in a uproar because the new OS will not be available to current handsets and the update available, 7.8, will not have all the features of Windows Phone 8.

For the uninitiated Windows Phone 8 brings a number of under the hood changes; support for dual and multiple core chipsets, new security features, and voice APIs. The changes have been brought on by the move from an Embedded system to Windows NT itself (NT is the kernel upon which Windows runs). The move breaks compatibility to previous gen hardware.

Today’s San Francisco event will be the OS’s full unveiling, there will also be similar event in England, Spain, Italy, and other countries. There was worry that Google would spoil festivities with a competing event to be held today, but Hurricane Sandy forced them to cancel. So other than a hurricane, Microsoft will have the day to itself.

So what should you expect? Well other than an overview of the platform changes; the move to NT (called Windows Core by the team) and the new Start Screen which allows users to change Tile size and thus the information seen; not much. I think what today’s event will concentrate on will be new apps coming to the platform and what the new kernel will deliver in terms of speed and power. I expect a big push around games with addition of Direct X and the gaming engines from Havoc. Also a concentration on business and enterprise. I don’t expect to see much in new features. There has been one rumored that I somewhat buy a plausible; the ability for apps to create a Live Wallpaper for the lock screen. I only buy it because of some images I’ve seen of certain Tiles like ESPN which were similar.

I’m hopeful for today’s presentation but I’m expecting many will be lat down from the lack of new surface changes and features (partially from letting their imaginations run wild). This may dampen the affair. However the changes seen are major in that it will see Windows Phone and Windows share more code and possibly the ability of developers to write apps for both at the same time.

Microsoft will be live streaming the event Here and be sure to check Engadget and The Verge for hands on and here (because I’ll miss you).

images: VSS Zone, Nokia Innovation

 

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So the day foretold a week ago has passed; in New York Nokia showed off it’s two flagship Lumia devices, the 820 and 920, along with new accessories today. Now it was an odd event. The day before Nokia’s CEO Steven Elop said that today Nokia and Microsoft would fully show off Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia devices. Now he didn’t lie, they showed the devices and their capabilities. But Windows Phone 8? Well that was a bit of a Burlesque occasion.

Joe Belfiore, Windows Phone’s program manager, showed off one function of the new operating system; the camera and the new Lens capability. Now the lens stuff was interesting because it follows in the Windows Phone tradition of decoupling apps from their behavior as siloed programs and into a shared space.

The Lens feature works by letting an application take over camera functionality from within the camera. While this was cool, it was a bit disappointing that we didn’t get a full run down of Windows Phone 8. Belfiore went over the new Start Screen and the ability users have to change the Tile sizes and thus reducing some down to basic icons and other to full Live Tile status (showing dynamic information).Now I should say that Belfiore prefaced his appearance by saying that Microsoft wouldn’t be showing off all the features until later. I will return to this in a minute.

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The presentation, however, was really about Nokia showing off its hardware prowess and the things it brings to the Windows Phone platform. First let’s look at the 920. The 920 is basically the flag bearer of the line. The 920 reflects the larger trend in mobile phones of well larger phones. It has a 4.5 display with a curved glass front similar to Nokia’s N9 and Lumia 800.

The two biggest new features that stick out are the 8.7 megapixel PureView camera and the ability to wirelessly charge your phone. Now PureView technology first appeared in the Nokia PureView 808 phone. That device had a 41 megapixel sensor that basically gave the phone the ability to act as a DSLR (translated as nice ass digital camera). Now many seem to be sadden by the lack of 33 extra megapixels, but as I said yesterday Nokia is thinking about PureView as a set of camera technologies that enhance the phone. Also the 808 is bulky and I don’t think that is what everyone was looking for in a smart phone.

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The 920 is thick looking and unlike it predecessor the 900, its polycarbonate plastic shell was dipped in gloss (which is okay but I liked the fact that the 900 didn’t pick up fingerprints). Now the 820 is .2in smaller and has rounded edges. Like the Lumia 610 (600), the 820 has a replaceable back (including one for wireless charging). It has a 8 megapixel camera but without the PureView goodness of the 920. All in all today’s Lumia announcement was about refining the design.

 

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Now for the wireless charging; Nokia is integrating Qi wireless charging technology into the 920 and 820 (through a special back cover). Nokia is also working with JBL and Fatboy, creating accessories for speakers and chargers. Amongst the first type of accessories are a wireless charging speaker, charging plate, and a charging stand. 

Now back to Windows Phone. Now as I said earlier they showed little of the changes to the platform outside the Camera and the Start screen. The one new app announcement was for an Angry Birds app; even though I think Rovio is porting both Angry Birds in Space and the Pig centric game to Windows Phone 8. And at the event today, none of the assembled reporters and bloggers could show apps. Pulling a Zapruter, It appears that CNN, All Recipes, Foursquare, and Michelin (the restaurant guide) have probably been given access to the new OS. Also Microsoft has tweaked the Tile interface a little. For example the CNN app is shown both in the regular sized tile with a modified look and also a large Tile that resembles the ones found in Windows 8. For developers Microsoft finally announced the release of the new Windows Phone SDK (September 15) along with other information.

 

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Before I go I want to mention the non-controversy controversy over the Nokia Lumia teaser; the one where the girl is riding the bike. Well today the other part of the campaign was uploaded to YouTube showing off the 920’s PureView camera. Now if you saw the teaser and you were expecting a Lumia PureView you may have called fowl at the reveal of a camera crew filming parts of the commercial. My take is its a damn commercial and the parts which were clearly labeled to show of the PureView were labeled so. However Nokia apologizes.

Extras (Because this is interesting and I want to link)

Nokia: Synaptics Introduces Advanced Touch Experience in Nokia Lumia 920 and Nokia Lumia 820

Nokia: Nokia and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf® form partnership to introduce wireless charging to cafés across the United States

And that’s it, later people 

 

images: Nokia and Conversations by Nokia