Windows 10: Is it enough to help Windows Phone survive?
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When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 in September 2010, the new mobile operating system seemed like a breath of fresh air in a market dominated by Apple and the up-and-coming Android. The promise of integrated apps was great, and developers on the Microsoft stack could now use their existing skills to build modern smartphone apps. Heck, even the design language was new and exciting.
The announcement of Windows Phone marked a much needed turn away from the previous Microsoft mobile experience. Unfortunately, Windows Phone 7, along with its successors Windows Phone 8 and 8.1, never became the commercial success we were all promised. Currently, Microsoft’s mobile platform has a market share of roughly three percent, globally (but much more in some countries). This alone (not to mention its laundry list of pitfalls), is enough to make you wonder if there’s any hope left at all for Microsoft’s mobile experience. So, you may be surprised to hear that I think it’s certainly here to stay. Now, let me explain…
Partnering and buying out Nokia
Microsoft initially partnered with Nokia to give its smartphones a boost of quality and a leg up in creating devices that people would actually want. When Microsoft decided to buy the Finnish company, it was in part to bring the already dominant Windows Phone brand into the fold in Redmond, but also to acquire a world class logistics network. In fact, Nokia was so good at shipping mobile handsets that, in many countries, a mobile phone was simply called a Nokia. Nokia was especially good at producing durable, high quality handsets that were affordable and popular in emerging markets.
When Windows Phone was released, Apple already had a strong hold on the smartphone market and Android was racing towards the top. By buying Nokia, Microsoft inadvertently alienated its mobile partners, as Microsoft was now its own top producer of Windows Phone devices. This resulted in 97 percent of Windows Phones being Nokia devices -- and unless you liked those devices you didn’t have much choice.
Those are just a few reasons why Windows Phone is doing as poorly as it is. There are others, of course, such as marketing strategy, no upgrade path from Phone 7 to Phone 8, and the “app gap,” among others. But let’s take a look at how things are changing.
The core API is at the heart of the developer experience for Windows 10; it’s a guaranteed layer of APIs across all devices running Windows 10. The core API is a contract between developers and Microsoft that ensures certain functionality and behavior will always be the same between devices. It doesn’t matter if you’re developing software for a phone, tablet, Xbox or even HoloLens – as long as you’re using the Universal Windows Platform, you can use the same APIs. This means that your work for any platform can (with little work and effort) also work on Windows 10 for Mobile. If you have a product or app that makes sense on a mobile device, why wouldn’t you also then publish it for Windows 10 for Mobile?
Closely related to the Core API is the ability to build universal apps, which run on the universal Windows platform. Universal apps are, in essence, the exact same app or program that can run on multiple platforms. This means more frequent updates, less development time for developers and better apps for consumers.
Roaming data and OneDrive
One of the visions for Windows was to have a single experience across all devices. It shouldn’t matter if you’re viewing your documents on a mobile device, tablet, Xbox or any other platform. If you open a Word document on a PC and start working, you should be able to continue on any other device that has your profile on it. In the same way, your settings for applications should follow you, not the device you happened to change them on.
This is now possible with roaming data; to store smaller amounts of data per app (such as settings), and OneDrive; to allow both collaboration and seamless efficiency across devices. This means your mobile device is always up to date, leaving time for more important things.
As mobile devices have become smaller and smaller, they have also become more powerful. To leverage this power in your pocket, Microsoft invented Continuum; hardware and software to enable your Windows 10 for Mobile device to work like your desktop. Simply plug in mouse, keyboard and a screen via a docking station or Bluetooth, and you have a full desktop experience.
The Continuum experience is only possible because of Windows 10 running on all devices and the Core API and universal apps running on the universal Windows platform on Windows 10. Continuum is the biggest and most exciting technology to come out of Windows 10 for mobile devices. Just imagine the millions of people that carry around a laptop from place to place, when all they essentially do is check emails and surf the Web. They can now use the same device that fits in their pocket to do their daily work. For businesses it’s also a more efficient and cheap alternative to giving each employee both a laptop/desktop and a smartphone.
Business use and enterprise management
There are a number of technical advantages of Windows 10 for Mobile, but the truth is that Microsoft has a strategy that specifically targets business and enterprise users. When looking at the history of Windows Mobile, this makes sense. Back when only professionals were using anything resembling smartphones, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Windows CE were the only choices that mattered. I used a number of devices that had full keyboards, a stylus, great screens and mini USB ports. Until Apple revolutionized the industry with the iPhone, the Windows Mobile devices were the cream of the crop.
Now, Microsoft is putting the enterprise goodness back into its mobile platform, and because Windows 10 is the base you automatically get enterprise grade capabilities for security, productivity and device management. There will even be versions for ATMs, point of sale systems and handheld terminals. Microsoft has also announced a Windows 10 version for industry robotics.
Windows 10 for Mobile is not the next Android platform in terms of numbers, or the next iOS in terms of locking users into a single ecosystem. It is, however, a viable choice for enterprise, low-end devices (think Lumia 550) and enthusiasts of the unified experience and performance improvements that comes with Windows 10. The question is whether Microsoft can whip up enough excitement to not only get consumers and businesses to consider the Windows 10 mobile devices, but also get the large amount of developers on the Microsoft technology stack to build amazing apps for the mobile experience as well.
The Windows 10 for Mobile experience is not going away and it’s an important part of the entire Windows 10 strategy. I’m extremely excited about the prospect of building and using apps that deliver a consistent experience across my devices, no matter what I prefer to use at any given moment.
Will Windows Phone survive the move to Windows 10? Absolutely. Will it be a threat to the dominance of Android and lure Apple fanboys away from their favorite products? Probably not. But then again, that was never the plan.