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Windows Mobile

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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.

 

 

Mobile is the fly in Microsoft’s ointment.

(I had intended this to be the point at which I ripped Microsoft a new one for its lack of mobile focus; but honestly it doesn’t really move me)

Anytime I prepare to write about Windows and mobile I always pause  bit. Do I write a history on where it went wrong? Do I chastise Microsoft for its lack of mobile focus? Do I rant about how Microsoft should just come out and say they have nothing for phones? Maybe I do the big overview where I read the tea leaves and tell you that there is a plan?

I have no clue.

What I know is that Microsoft’s current posturing on mobile doesn’t work for either the company, their hardware partners, or users. Also the deal with Nokia provided a temporary relief by providing hardware but it wasn’t backed up by Redmond (and hurt relations with other hardware makers).

I also know that Microsoft is committed to mobile beyond being an app vendor. I also know that the mobile world is made up of iOS and Android and that’s it.

Lastly, I also know that Microsoft is working on an update to Windows mobile and views it as vital.

The issue right now is Windows Mobile is a non-factor in mobile beyond a handful of enterprises, phone enthusiasts, and fans. Microsoft should be clearer and provide a real roadmap for where its mobile entry is going.

And honestly that is it; that is all.

Mobility

Mobile has been a disruptive technology for almost a decade now. It shifted the fortunes of a number of companies; turning some into kings while making others paupers. Mobile devices have overtaken personal computers as the way most people compute.

Think about it; all the task we have associated with computing; gaming, doing bills, watching movies; is now done on devices we keep in our pockets. The mobile market grew exponentially faster than the PC market and has in many ways made the PC look like the mainframe; a relic for the back office.

Given the changes it becomes clear why Microsoft did a reboot with Windows Phone and also why despite failing to catch on Windows Mobile is still with us.

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Continuum Machine

Back at the beginning of Windows 10, Continuum was a feature that simply described modal use; tablet mode/pc mode and mobile/desktop-like experience. The Phone side of Continuum was always more intriguing because it was an adrenaline shot to a platform that had/has been given up for dead.

However as a feature Phone Continuum  lacked features to make it’s desktop truly functional. The feature resembled Windows RT; only one app can be seen at a time along with the additional restriction to apps built to UWP guidelines. This changes with the next update for Windows 10. The Creator’s update will allow for windowing so multiple apps running on screen along with improvements for wireless connections. Add to this new reports of x86 emulation, allowing users to natively run desktop applications, and the idea of a phone replacing a computer for periods become feasible.

I have to say these latter features have shown up faster than expected given the last update to Continuum was around the Xbox controller. I should also note this makes the case for accessories like HP’s Lap dock for the Elite X3.

Design in Neon

Right after the Thanksgiving holiday it was reported that Microsoft was working on a new design language for Windows 10 codenamed Neon. While details are scarce Neon appears to a effort to improve and streamline the overall look and behavior of Windows.

For Mobile this will most likely mean improvements to the Start Screen and Continuum desktop experience. Neon may also pave the way for new devices like tablets and Chromebook style notebooks.

Focus on the Enterprise and Services

The last two years have seen Microsoft retrench its mobile efforts (much to the acrimony of users). It has been a period of slumping sales and write offs as Microsoft moves the mobile focus toward enterprises. Much of the announced and known information around Windows Mobile drives this home; x86 emulation and Continuum are primarily feature sets businesses probably asked for.

Microsoft is also continuing to push UWP to be the replacement for .exe and pure x86. Initiatives like Project Centennial are trying to put Windows developers on a platform path toward the Universal Windows Platform. They are also working on features to make UWP as powerful as x86 without too much baggage.

So what does all this mean?

Well right now little.

The Continuum features will arrive sometime in the next year and a little before for those using the Windows Insider program. Any additional features, especially something like Neon, are coming in another update codenamed Redstone 3 in late 2017. And with what we know there are still questions. For example what will be the consumer facing features? Will there be new partners for hardware and software?

According to reporting done by Mary Jo Foley Microsoft is working with Qualcomm on getting the emulation feature working on their newer chipsets. Which is fascinating and proves the company is still committed to mobile. However this work is happening on a platform with no real pull in mobile (and statically no real share of the market). So where does it go from here?

2017: The Slow Return of Windows Mobile

Recently both Microsoft’s CEO and it’s head of Windows have been asked about mobile. The questions follow the usual script in which Microsoft acknowledges it missed mobile and that yes, they are committed to Windows Mobile and mobile hardware. Now Ms. Foley asked the million dollar question: Why bother?! I mean Windows Phone is dead and most want Redmond to follow the list of the former mobile leaders on the path to wherever Android is going. Or why not quit and restart like Nokia.

“When you stop investing in these things, it’s super hard, super, super hard to restart. And at Microsoft, we have a few of those examples where we stopped.” This was the response from Windows chief Terry Myerson. He also cited the ARM chipset and cellular as additional reasons for mobile continued existence.

In my opinion I think Microsoft understands where it is in mobile. I remember an interview done with Microsoft’s Chief Marketer in which he talked about needing to create something that would be truly compelling for phone buyers. His statement was echoed by Myerson and Nadella. This acknowledgement that whatever is coming needs to be truly compelling and groundbreaking to overcome Windows Mobile shortfalls.

So in 2017 expect to see features and functionality added that 1) closes some feature gaps with iOS and Android 2) Bring parity between mobile and pc 3) Entice more hardware partners to join and 4)Provide better user experiences. This will occur alongside updates for the PC so don’t look for a mobile specific update, yet.

Now beyond that I feel like long term Windows mobile’s future will be in helping Microsoft define the future of mobility. I’m talking about something that may go beyond the best guest work around mobile’s future form; or maybe just move the needle to where most think its going. This includes Windows mobile finally running on tablets and possibly laptops similar to Chrome OS. And even then this is leaving out aspects like AI, bots, mixed reality, and inking.

Okay,

So we are now in the Satya Nadella era of Microsoft and honestly all is right with the world. He is making the moves many have long asked Microsoft to make. Office is on mobile devices. Microsoft is making services cross platform. And the “specter” of Windows 8 has been replaced by the well received Windows 10.

People Mr. Nadella is ready for his hagiography.

But before we go that far I think we need to discuss one of the potential problems Microsoft will have to navigate; Windows itself.

As Microsoft has moved more of its services cross platform many are asking what is the point of Windows. While Nadella has put forth a goal of getting billions on Windows 10 and getting people to love the OS, the company seems neglectful. While many praise Outlook for iOS Outlook on Windows still needs finishing. People also complain about the fact that Windows 10 isn’t as good on tablets as Windows 8 was. Lastly many are asking if everything is available on Android and iOS what differentiates Windows and Windows Mobile.

A lot of the of the good vibes around Microsoft stems from Nadella not being Ballmer but also that a lot of his moves are not about making the preciouses not have to touch icky Windows. But as Microsoft increasingly makes its services work cross platform Windows has become a sort of Black box.

For some enthusiasts Nadella is here to KILL Windows and especially Windows Phone.

It is clear Satya Nadella wants to change Windows and Windows Phone. When he or the company talk about More Personal Computing they mean Windows and Windows Mobile. But I also think he sees the need for Windows to change its approach. Windows 10 was about reaching out to desktop computer users, but its future is in creating a product that is wanted by users.

I think the future of Windows, at least from my view, will increasingly involve hardware. While Nadella may have been against the purchase of Nokia hardware, he has championed the Microsoft Surface and HoloLens. I think he sees hardware as this lynchpin for the Windows platform. Now the question is can Windows be that platform.

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.

So on January 21st Microsoft will be holding a live event on the next step on the road to Windows 10’s release. It will be a big deal because unlike the first reveal CEO Satya Nadella will be onstage along with Windows chief Terry Myerson and head of phone/tablet/PC Joe Belfiore. In an added twist head of Xbox Phil Spencer will also be part of festivities. While speculation is this event will reveal what people can expect next time they walk into a BestBuy, there is still a mystery around it.

Windows-10-Invite

While the details of desktops changes for the next OS release had been known; we know little of changes coming to tablets and phones. Early on there was reports that Microsoft was working on a Metro 2.0 and that there would be a mobile SKU combining Windows’s ARM based systems (Windows Phone and Windows RT). An early screenshot seem to confirm Windows 10’s touch side would resemble Windows Phone. Now right at this point I am trying to keep expectations low; I’ve never been a fan of making the WinPhone interface the tablet UI. Also I think if there was ever a place to wow users and critics it is with the mobile/touch side. So to this end these are some of the things I think Microsoft should do next month.

Wow Us

I do not how much of the Metro Design Language can change between now and release. Right now I’m tempering any possible excitement with the reality that there is only so much that can be done. Most reports and thinking indicate it’ll look like Windows Phone. Personally I think Redmond should take this opportunity to really play around with the UI. Give us something that builds on the Metro interfaces from both Phone and Windows and give us something new. Give us new customizations. Fix portrait mode and give us new ways to multitask apps. I mean Windows 10 will be the next version running on phones, that is enough to warrant some showstoppers.

Show Us Gemini

I think I speak for many when I say Office apps built for Windows tablets or Office for touch is way, way overdue. The tablet story for Windows was always weakened by not having versions of PowerPoint, Word, and Excel built for it. And things were not helped when Office went first to the iPad. So Microsoft would be wise to at least have the apps stop by and say Hello.

Show Us New Services and Apps

Beyond a new interface, even beyond Office apps there needs to be a show of progress on the application front. The Operating Systems Group or OSG (maker of Windows) need to come with new apps in hand that highlight the use of Universal apps. Microsoft also needs to show new services. Apps like Sway which highlight new thinking from the Office team is one example they could show. Another are services aimed at consuming data; the y recently lost Barnes and Noble so maybe the 21st would be a nice time to show off a new e-Reading service.

GAMES, GAMES, GAMES

So the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, will be part of the livestreamed event and he’s hinted he will be talking about gaming and Windows. Many think he will talk about Xbox (Its built on Windows) or PC gaming; all valid assumptions. Spencer himself on a number of occasions has talked about role of gaming on Windows and the need to improve Windows for gaming. My hope is Spencer talks about gaming across screens; from phones to tablets to consoles. I also hope this talk includes games that highlight this commitment.

Make a case for Windows (Pure) tablets

People who loved the desktop and live for using the mouse and the keyboard love Windows 10 (unless they are the weird cult of Aero or the weirder ones clinging to XP). If you liked the touch interface of Windows 8 or have grown to love using Windows tablets you may wonder what’s in 10 for you. Microsoft has prudently, pragmatically focused on the desktop for the initial launch. That was the area where the most consternation was. However Redmond still needs to build an OS that can exist on pure tablets. Beyond showing how well the next version makes laptops happy, it needs to bring a smile to tablets too. Windows 10 needs to prove beyond doubt that it’s a platform for touch devices.

Make a Case for Windows Period

The biggest goal for the event is sell people on the idea of Windows. I think the goal to make Windows 10 something people want to use is a good thing. I know many writers and bloggers, even analysts that view Windows as this business product. It needs to be productive and pragmatic. However I think it’s time for an operating system used by over 90% of people to have an emotional connection to them. Windows needs to be needed; it has to have some consumer want. Windows has a reputation and most of it is not good. Where power users and IT see flexibility, power, and granularity regular users see confusion, hear viruses, and complexity without reward. The OS has to compete against the fit and finish of the Mac (It’s purty) and the simplicity of Chromebooks (all you need is a browser). The biggest takeaway Redmond should leave people is that Windows still matters and it has something you want.

image: Microsoft