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Windows Phone

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.

 

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.

The ability to download and run Android apps on Windows Phone will not save the platform.

Will they hurt it? Not really

Will it piss off developers and reduce Universal app development? Maybe

All I know is it won’t save the platform.

Now Paul Thurrott wrote about why Android apps were necessary for Windows Phone. He cited the simple fact that many of the applications people use to go about their day are simply missing on Windows. And we aren’t talking about apps like Snapchat or Tinder, but apps for your local TV station or Public Transit. Those apps are available on Android though and he argues that Microsoft needs to be honest and just go get them. The argument behind all this is Microsoft already ceded the mobile market by one 1) going cross platform and 2) cutting back massively on its own first party Lumia hardware.

Read the post it makes for compelling reading. It jus has one problem or maybe two.

I do agree with Mr. Thurrott that the reality of Windows Phone makes it almost a necessity to push the idea of loading Android apps on the platform. I think that is part of the reason Microsoft is working a version of this for the Windows platform that is codenamed Astoria. I also think this is why Microsoft is also allowing iOS developers to bring their apps over with Project Islandwood. Both projects are about closing the application gap that is the biggest bone of contention for Windows mobile users.

The only problem I have with the piece is Thurrott leaves out a lot of the hurdles that this dream faces. For one what does it mean for developers already on the platform. Now to me these bridges to iOS and Android developers doesn’t impact people already working on the platform. However I know a few will be pissed that they put in all this work only for Microsoft to go off and court others. The second thing is how is Microsoft supposedly going to get these Android devs to suddenly add Windows Phone onto their plates when they haven’t in the past five years. How is letting Android apps run on the Lumia 950 or 950 Xl suddenly make all these developers turn their eyes toward Redmond? I mean wouldn’t it be better to seduce the iOS devs? And what about all the companies that commission apps, do they suddenly hit a button and BOOM we got bank apps? I mean a few will bite but even then will they fully commit to adding Windows Phone to their offerings? Or will they like many others toss an app out that will go unattended in a year.

Then there is Google itself.

Recently Google and Microsoft ended their longtime patent Cold War and agreed to undisclosed terms and vague statements on future collaboration. Does this mean official Google apps or access to Google Play? Or does it mean an update to their useless Windows/Windows Phone apps. Having Google fully support the mobile Windows platform would be a nice psychological victory, but not a big one.

And that is the problem facing Windows. It has the hardware and the software. It has a following and a UI that stands out. But it doesn’t have a developer base that is committed. Of course there are developers who make quality apps, but they are few. On the Windows side you have a developer culture that sees value only in .exe and the desktop. Windows has very few creatives on its platform backing up the developers. iOS and Android devs maybe the answer to the platform but to them Windows is enemy territory or irrelevant.

So no Android apps won’t hurt Windows Phone, but they also aren’t its salvation.

I find it kind of apropos on the eve of new Lumias to talk about the death of Windows Phone and what and who was behind it. I do so in some ways because people like to debate it and also because it doesn’t really matter. Windows Phone despite struggles is still out there and yet people continue to twiddle with the worry beads over its future.

So let us look back and see where it’s been.

There was a number of factors that have led to Windows Phone struggling beyond the often cited app gap. Some of these are the fault of Microsoft and others on phone makers and carriers. And if you are looking for what went wrong maybe you should ask what Android got right; also what did carriers and device makers want from an OS platform.

Applications: The continued struggle of Windows Phone to breach the mythical and psychological barrier of enough apps continues to plague the platform. Applications are the Achilles heel even as the situation improved.

Developer story: A long time ago there was once something called Silverlight; then it died and Microsoft bungled the whole thing. The type of developers that build for mobile did not exist on Windows and spent scant attention on Windows Phone when released. It didn’t help that Microsoft was starting over and would again until now.

What Carriers wanted: Carriers wanted something LIKE an iPhone but under their control. Windows Phone was a candidate but it didn’t offer the level of carrier control Android ultimately did.

What Phone Makers wanted: The ability to own the device and tweak it so it sold over other phones. They wanted to skin their devices. What Microsoft was offering was not that.

Speed and Focus: Windows Phone never moved fast enough on features.

Too Radical? Maybe it was the Live Tiles

Nokia: Fanboy mixing is bad

So Windows Phone is dead and tomorrow we get new Windows Phones. Such is the way of the world.

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.

Lumia-640-XL_gallery_6

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.

Lumia-640-6

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

Today I read an interesting retrospective by Paul Thurrott on Windows Phone. It was part of a series of articles he writes on past Microsoft technologies with occasional comparisons to current events.

The article on Windows Phone was interesting because it talk about the fact that with Windows 10 Microsoft was closing the door on Windows Phone and on what made it special. It is an interesting read but it left me wondering if Microsoft was really closing the door on Windows Phone as it was and if that wasn’t entirely a bad thing.

Five years ago Microsoft made a break from it’s then mobile OS Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7 Series. They shifted their thinking away from delivering software that Phone makers would re-skin and put on various hardware to a consistent interface and underlying hardware platform aimed at consumers and not enterprise. The move brought design into focus for Microsoft in ways it never had and brought kudos and awards.

But it hasn’t been the success Redmond was hoping for.

Five years later the vision put out for Windows Phone has had to exist in a less than friendly market. It’s innovative thinking around applications and notifications were love by critics but not widely adapted by app makers. The designers had to move quickly to make the platform work in a market where it was a distant third player and thus some things were tossed. Add to that Windows Phone’s merger into the larger Windows ecosystem (beginning with the move to the NT kernel in Windows Phone 8) brought more changes.

Some of the changes were sad. The need to keep partners and increase traction meant hardware requirements became optional. The next billion users meant an increase in affordable phones and less flagship devices. The dearth of app developer support meant things like Hubs and other initiatives went largely untouched.  And user expectation has meant the strong Metro design language has had to concede to things like hamburger menus.

And to be honest with Windows 10 what Thurrott describes as backing away is true; many of the elements that marked Metro and Windows Phone are gone to one degree or another. the Panorama and Pivot controls which define the typical app no longer is the representative design.

And yet we are talking about Windows Phone at year 5. And after five years it is time in my opinion to move on. As much as I liked Windows Phone and Metro I always thought they were a step toward something else. And while I would’ve loved to see user generated Hubs and an anti-app model I also wanted to see a Metro that allowed for a UI developers could stretch and brand their own way. I also think Windows Phone wasn’t perfect if the goal was to create something that could run on tablets as well as phones.

For me after four or five years an interface can and should be re-examined. What was fine in the beginning may no longer work. Unlike iOS and Android Windows Phone couldn’t bend developers to add features or influence the influencers. Users did not flock and it’s hard to know if it was the uniqueness of Metro, the lack o certain apps, or both that kept them away.

With Windows 10 Microsoft is merging Windows Phone and Windows RT (tablet OS) to create a new mobile offering. This means the things Windows Phone was about in its beginning no longer apply. And that could ultimately be bad or it could be good. We will know in another five years.

Win_10_Header

And now we are down to less than 24 hours until the next step on the road to Windows 10.

Tomorrow at 9am Redmond time and 11am my time Microsoft will be showing off the consumer part of Windows 10 in a day long affair that will feature CEO Satya Nadella and Xbox chief Phil Spencer in addition to Head of Windows Terry Myerson and head o PC/Phone/Tablets Joe “The Hair” Belfiore. As the event has approached more and more news sites have been reporting on what we are expected to see.

Now at this point other than the obvious I’m not sure what else will be on tap for Wednesday. Since there are a plethora of articles now popping up about what to expect I thought I’d link to the most interesting.

Windows 10 for Mobile (Phones/Tablets) Preview in February-ZDNet

But tomorrow will not be the day Microsoft releases the first preview of the mobile version of its Windows 10 operating system, according sources close to Microsoft. Instead, the first public release of the Windows 10 mobile SKU — which sources have said will work on both Windows Phones and smaller Intel- and ARM-based tablets — won’t happen until some time in February 2015.

Mary Jo Foley

Microsoft will show off new hardware; including a phone/PC hybrid- The Information

Microsoft also plans to introduce new hardware, with some set to appear this week and a phone-laptop hybrid that might appeal to enterprise customers being developed for further in the future.

Amir Efrati and Steve Nellis

New Spartan Browser will target Chrome extensions- Neowin

Spartan will be able to use Chrome extensions and, while we are not sure if they will work 100% natively, the way extensions have been implemented is nearly identical to that of Chrome which will make it a simple process for developers to make their extensions work on Spartan.

Brad Sams

These are just the ones that add new details; others are fairly obvious things everyone expects to see. So we expect to see phones, tablets, PCs running the latest builds, and whatever connection 10 has to the Xbox. Right now I’m tempering my expectations. There are a lot of things Microsoft has to do tomorrow.

They have to make Windows 10 attractive to people who adopted Windows 8. Right now the story has been about how this version caters to desktop users; now they need to convince tablet and tablet PC users it can work for them too. Microsoft has to prove they can improve upon mobile. We have few clues on what Windows 10’s interface for phones and tablets. It is believed Windows Phone and Windows RT will be combined to make a new SKU for mobile devices. Redmond will need to show progress; I don’t think they should make Windows Phone stretch and call it a day. One of my concerns is Microsoft has done little to the mobile side other than make it Windows Phone; this would not be a deal breaker but it would be disappointing. Lastly tomorrow needs to prove that Windows matters to Microsoft. Not because it makes money but that it has strategic importance and it offers something not found elsewhere.

Of course we will see Windows 10 on hardware new and old. We will get to see how it works on phones and tablets. Microsoft will show off Continuum which allows users to switch between desktop and touch use. The head of Windows will discuss how many people are in the Windows Insiders program testing the OS. My hope is that with a new focus on Universal applications Microsoft will show new applications and refreshes to older ones like Fresh Paint and the MSN apps. With Phil Spencer on hand I hope they discuss gaming on the PC and mobile gaming (with new titles in its wake). I want to see stuff even if it’s not ready to download Wednesday.

And if there is some funky phone/PC/tablet hybrid prototype and it is cool so that too.

On a serious note tomorrow’s event is not the end of the Windows 10 story, it is another chapter. I expect Microsoft to discuss the return of its hardware conference WinHec and its business conference Ignite. Also expect the beginning of the discussion about what Universal apps and OneCore mean to Windows going forward. While there will be hardware I don’t think there will be much talk about first party (Surface/Lumia) devices. I am hoping we hear about the Xbox as a service but that’s always hope. Finally I think Microsoft will talk about Windows’ ability to compete against Chromebooks and possibly against the iPad.

And that is my hopes and fears for tomorrow’s Windows 10 event. If you want to watch go to Windows 10 Story. Also check out the Verge and CNET who will be live blogging. Or check back here if you want my opinion.

image: Microsoft