In a decisive one-two punch, Microsoft has ended its Lumia line of smartphones and focused Windows 10 Mobile on the enterprise.
Of course, we knew the Lumia 650 would be Redmond's last Lumia. That, however, is little consolation for Windows phone fans. Since Lumia comprised over 90% of the Windows phone market, Microsoft's clearing of its inventory will make finding an affordable Windows phone even more difficult as time goes on. The pickings are indeed very thin. In truth, buying a Windows Phone has never been as easy as picking up an iPhone or Android phone. The combination of limited carrier support and biased and unknowledgeable sales associates can be credited in part for this dilemma.
iPhone and Android phone users who want a new phone have tangible and accessible options on all carriers that can satisfy their desire. It's just a matter of walking into a carrier store and walking out with what you want. In contrast, the whims of a Windows phone fan are often pinned on the hope of what will or may be available at some point in the future. And that's ok for many enthusiasts since the love of the platform and user experience often trumps the need for whatever may be missing.
That said, as indecipherable as some have deemed Microsoft's mobile strategy users could always count on some first-party device and a commitment to the OS that included consumers. Neither of these is true at present. President of Microsoft France Vahe Torossian, recently put it this way:
"We have a special position in the mobile today, focusing on the company, but we are working on the next big thing…"During this time of transition, our attention will focus on the professional market."
Redmond's decision to forgo a first-party phone presumably until the anticipated Surface phone in late 2017 or early 2018, though strategically sound, leaves Microsoft without a first-party presence for a year or more. Combined with the focusing of Windows Mobile solely on the enterprise Microsoft's future relevance in mobile is at risk. The consumer market is the voice that dictate's mobile relevance. Sadly, Microsoft isn't giving them anything to talk about.
Silence is not golden
Microsoft's relegating Windows Mobile to the "enterprise product" pile invariably reduces the Windows Mobile conversation and content on popular consumer-focused tech sites. As the conversation around this underdog platform peters to a negligible drip across the internet and social media, developer's already low confidence in the future of the platform further wanes.
As a result, developers may begin to question the validity of forward-looking aspects of Microsoft's ecosystem that surround, support and are strategically positioned to benefit Microsoft's future mobile play.
Developers may begin to question Microsoft's future mobile play.
The value of the app Bridges, solutions such as bots and other aspects of Microsoft's grand plan including a possible category defining Surface phone may be seen as ephemeral dreams lacking the support of a relevant mobile play.
These are some of the possible negative results of Microsoft's focusing of Windows Mobile squarely on the enterprise. Of course, while all of this is happening, Apple and Google will be moving full steam ahead vociferously making their progress known to the masses. Amidst the noise of the competition Microsoft's return to its enterprise roots may find unfamiliar resistance.
Waiting for the category-defining Surface "phone" to surface
Android phones and iPhones, which saturate the smartphone market, are spilling over the boundaries of the consumer space and are becoming a dominant mobile presence in the enterprise. Consequently, a future Surface ultra-mobile PC or 3-in-1 without the benefit of a paradigm shift and developer support would do little to convert users of other platforms. Here's why.
Users will already be well accustomed with a useful device that fits in their pockets and acclimated to an ecosystem that helps them get things done. Regardless of how revolutionary the Microsoft solution would be hardware-wise, in the eyes of the user, it will be a "new" player trying to do what a device and ecosystem are already doing for them - helping them get things done.
Without developer support users may place a Surface phone in the same category as an iPhone.
To restate this in an overly simplistic manner, a Surface phone without developer support and a paradigm shift will simply do stuff and fit in a user's pocket, not unlike a user's iPhone or Android phone does today. Thus, the likely similarities in size (pocketable nature) and function (mobile computing), will in the mind of the user place even a category-defining Surface (without ecosystem support and paradigm shift) in the same category as his existing smartphone. Therefore, "the next big thing" beyond the bend in the curve requires more than high-end hardware. A mobile friendly consumer-facing ecosystem is key.
Sadly, while Microsoft views the majority of the UWP as consumer and enterprise focused, it sees the most personal portion of the Universal Windows Platform, Windows Mobile, as distinctly enterprise-focused. This distinction potentially undercuts the future of Microsoft's mobile vision as it ultimately discourages much-needed ecosystem support from developers who value consumers.
One platform two messages
Love them or hate them, Microsoft is the first company to achieve a universal platform. To build a foundation for developer and consumer support for the UWP, Redmond has aggressively promoted its most popular and visible component - Windows on PC.
Indeed, Microsoft's aggressive OS upgrade push and current ad campaign places Windows 10 on PC squarely in front of the masses. As a result, both consumer and enterprise customers are growing to understand the professional and personal strengths Microsoft is promoting are part of Windows 10 on PC. Redmond's communication around mobile has been far less persistent, however. Thus, Windows 10 Mobile is a far less familiar component of the UWP.
Microsoft's message to developers has been Windows is Windows.
In 2010 Microsoft's mobile strategy was hyper-focused on consumers with Windows Phone 7. Today, with Windows 10 Mobile Microsoft, missing the inherently personal nature of mobile computing, has swung in the polar opposite direction with a strict focus on enterprise. A more measured and less extreme approach may be a more profitable strategy.
The targeting of Windows 10 on PC at both the enterprise and consumers and focusing Windows Mobile strictly at the enterprise is a strategy that undercuts the Universal Windows Platform message. How can a component of what is being positioned as a single OS be limited to one audience while the whole of the UWP (of which it is a part) is be pushed to both the enterprise and consumers?
One Windows requires one message
Satya Nadella put it this way in April of this year when asked about Windows Mobile:
First of all, I don't think of Windows for mobile differently than Windows for HoloLens or Windows for Xbox now. We have only one Windows. They run across multiple form factors, but it's one developer platform, one store, one tool chain for developers. And you adapt it for different screen sizes and different input and output.
Microsoft's message to developers is that Windows is Windows regardless of the device or screen size it's on. Since the introduction of the UWP, Microsoft has assured developers that developing a Universal Windows app could essentially allow them to code once for all device types (to put it simply).
Focusing Windows 10 Mobile on the enterprise undercuts the UWP message.
Simultaneous messaging to consumer-focused developers that Windows 10 Mobile is strictly enterprise-focused rips the rug from under the UWP strategy of leveraging the weight of the PC install base to support Microsoft's mobile strategy. Why develop Universal Windows apps for consumer- and enterprise-focused Windows 10 PCs, 2-in-1s, and the consumer-focused Xbox with a major goal being the mobile platform if Windows Mobile isn't also targeting consumers?
Windows Mobile's enterprise focus creates a conflicting distinction between Windows 10 on PC and Windows 10 Mobile which is counterintuitive. This distinction sends a confusing message to consumers, developers and OEM partners. It declares that Windows 10 is for everyone while Windows 10 Mobile, which they're emphasizing is Windows 10, is for the enterprise. The Universal Windows Platform is thereby inherently divided.
A bird in the hand
There's an old saying that says "A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush." — what a person has is more valuable than what they hope to attain.
Microsoft is in a precarious position where users have tangible options in the consumer smartphone space with the iPhone and a range of Android phones. A complete absence of Windows Mobile from that consumer space emphasizes that reality. It also erodes the hope some have for something better to come from Redmond on the mobile front. Lenovo, for instance, is wary of Microsoft's commitment to mobile. Coship has expressed their concerns as well. Many hardcore Window phone fans are also losing hope in Microsoft's mobile strategy.
Microsoft, however, has reiterated its commitment to Windows Mobile. The frequent release of new builds of the OS are consistent evidence of this. Microsoft recognizes the importance of a mobile platform and the critical position of a "phone" or whatever the pocketable personal device it is aiming toward will be called. Nadella put it this way:
"I'm not trying to be another phone guy with the other person's rules. What is unique about our phones is this Continuum feature. If anything, we will want to continue to build that capability out.
Just like how with Surface we were able to create a category. Three years ago most people would have said, "What is a two-in-one?" And now even Apple has a two-in-one. And so three years from now, I hope that people will look and say, "Oh wow, that's right, this is a phone that can also be a PC."
Nadella's vision is a positive, strategically sound and forward-looking goal. I believe that with Microsoft's resources and position with the UWP and Continuum, it is even attainable.
For developers, manufacturing partners and consumers, seeing is believing
The problem I see is that if Microsoft completely obscures itself in the enterprise, then consumers, developers and potential partners won't know to hope for "the bird or mobile platform in the bush." Microsoft risks losing the little mobile mindshare it has. Without a visible third option to consider, the platforms in hand will become immovable fixtures in the industry's mind as the only options.
Developers, manufacturing partners and consumers may lose faith in the UWP.
Consequently, Redmond's complete removal of Windows Mobile from the consumer space can result in developers, partners and consumers losing hope in Microsoft's grand universal platform vision. Mobile is key to the UWP.
If these industry players have little confidence in the vitality of Microsoft's mobile platform in the future they won't support it now nor invest in it later. If the UWP fails to garner the support these consumer- and mobile-focused players may refrain from giving, it will inevitably falter.
So what are your thoughts? Should Microsoft include Windows Mobile with the current Windows 10 PC ad campaign as a strategic "product placement" to maintain mindshare and to support current OEM partners? Should Microsoft subtly market the merits of Windows 10 Mobile to inform the masses, while not actively attempting to "sell" to consumers at this point? Sound off in comments and on Twitter!