Microsoft's focusing of Windows 10 Mobile on the enterprise has its rewards as well as its costs.
The immediate and most salient reward is the survival of Windows 10 Mobile. This, of course, is fundamentally essential. The Universal Windows Platform combined with Microsoft's entrenched IT presence in the enterprise makes this possible.
Apple's and Google's ecosystems will evolve unabated around popular mobile platforms.
We have taken a long view and understand that Microsoft's relevance in mobile rests precariously on the aligning of a number of anticipated shifts and developments in personal computing. I am both optimistic and excited about Microsoft's "next big thing." I am also cautiously aware that nothing is guaranteed. Microsoft shares this perception and is not sitting ideally by hoping that the necessary variables that comprise its personal computing vision simply come to pass. They are active participants in the development and promotion of the technologies and platforms it sees as beneficial to its comprehensive vision to support the mobility of experiences.
Keeping Windows Mobile "alive," even as an enterprise hermit, while the industry continues evolving (with Microsoft's support) toward that shift is, therefore, critical. 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."
I contend that this decision has derivative effects that may inevitably jeopardize Microsoft's long-term plans. An absolute negligence of Windows Mobile in the consumer space, around which the broader ecosystem revolves, may undercut the future success of that ecosystem. Conversely, Google's and Apple's mobile platforms and supporting ecosystems exist in a state of near optimal synergy. Their ecosystems will continue to evolve around consumer's mobile experiences while Windows Mobile's enterprise focus dilutes the overall impact of Microsoft's.
The long play
Before we address how Redmond's choice to focus Windows Mobile on the enterprise impacts the role of its ecosystem among its competitor's ecosystems let's review Microsoft's long play. To be clear, Redmond's mobile strategy does not rest entirely on Windows Mobile. An investment in a broader ecosystem that places precedence on the mobility of experiences is core to Microsoft's mobile play. Microsoft is, therefore, looking to the coalescing of multiple factors to ensure its mobile success.
I've argued that Microsoft's hardware and OS are an industry-wide technological evolution rather than an iterative progression. Daniel Rubino aptly articulated that point: "The idea that in five years we'll still have the same smartphone design and functionality despite the rapid progress being achieved is woefully misguided in my opinion." The iterative smartphone advancements the competition promotes are leading to a dead end.
That is not to say Windows phone has not had had its challenges. To provide broad context to the ups and downs we have seen and will continue to see in Window phone over the years I presented an overview of Microsoft's long-term mobile strategy in the "Windows phone isn't dead series".
The coalescing of multiple factors is leading to Nadella's "next bend in the curve."
Like Microsoft, we are fully cognizant of the current quantity and quality app gap part of this equation. In a direct address to the elephant in the room I presented two series "The untold app gap story" and "AIs, bot's and canvases." In these series, I highlighted the evolution of an intelligent app experience which is occurring parallel to that of cloud computing, the Universal Windows Platform, and context sensitive computing hardware and software.
All of this is leading to the "next bend in the curve" Nadella envisions as the personal computing device that succeeds the smartphone. For those looking closely, a trail of "bread crumbs" seems to be outlining a path to that bend. Of course, it takes time to reach any goal. Like construction in progress, things often appear to be in disarray and sometimes there are undeniable setbacks. But there is an image, a paradigm shift, a north star if you will, that helps us keep the goal in view. If we were to ask Microsoft, "How much farther?" They'd likely respond, "not far now."
That's the good news. The bad news is that an absolute negligence of Windows Mobile in the consumer space, around which the broader ecosystem revolves, may undercut the future as Redmond envisions it. Google and Apple don't have that problem.
The beat goes on
While Redmond works tirelessly and silently to hone its ecosystem and Universal Windows Platform and the place of Windows Mobile within them, rivals ecosystems will continue their growth unabated. Apple's Continuity will likely become more apt at connecting a user's iPhone and macOS activity. Thus, making the ecosystem even more indispensable and virtually inescapable to its faithful users.
Though Continuity is, in my opinion, not as complete nor as impressive as the potential inherent in the UWP, it will be the real and relevant experience of millions of iPhone and Mac users. These are users who in the coming years will be hearing nothing about Windows 10 Mobile while Microsoft focuses on the enterprise.
Apple's Continuity and Android on desktop will continue to evolve.
Moreover, Google is certain to continue its march to rule personal computing. Its dominance of mobile, the most used personal computing platform, is a daunting and real threat to Microsoft. It is also the portal to an even greater threat to the Redmond company.
Mountain View's ambitious goal is to assimilate Redmond's forte, the desktop. Android apps on Chromebooks is a tease to what may ultimately result in a shift in a decades-long hegemony of Windows on desktop PCs.
A galaxy of possibilities
Google's Andromeda, which further blurs the lines between Android on different form factors was an expected topic at Google's October 4th event. Its absence from the events agenda I am certain is not an indication that it is not on the company's roadmap. Google wants the desktop and rest assured, they're coming for it.
Perhaps it will be introduced during Microsoft's years of silence in the smartphone consumer space. Millions of PC and Android phone users, as well as developers, will undoubtedly see the potential of this evolving and broad platform solution. Of course, it will not be mature upon introduction, but there is great inherent potential .
The familiarity and ubiquity of Android will likely spur tremendous press coverage, passionate conversation and widespread support. All of this will likely be occurring while Microsoft's mobile solution remains an unknown entity safely evolving in the enterprise toward an anticipated paradigm shift. If or when that shift occurs, however, Microsoft may no longer be the only company positioned to take advantage of the new paradigm.
Microsoft may be beat to the punch with something it brought to the table first.
If Andromeda is successful, Google's aggressive and visible presence may position the company to begin grabbing precious mindshare around the potential of a Universal Platform-like and possibly Continuum-like solution. Android on multiple form factors from phone to desktop would effectively change the game. Microsoft may be beat to the punch with something it brought to the table first. This, of course, would not be the first time.
Bothering with bots
Google's purchase of start-up API.ai is further evidence of the company's pursuit to rule personal computing. This strategic acquisition undercuts Microsoft's platform-play advantage in the area of bots. Prior to this purchase, Microsoft's Bot Framework offered Redmond the advantage of winning developers to its ecosystem to build bots for a range of canvases, including its first-party messenger, Skype. Redmond currently boasts 45,000 developers who have embraced its Bot Framework since its introduction earlier this year. That's an admirable number; but when considering the 60,000 that have used Google's API.ai a sobering perspective is introduced. Still, that 60,000 represents support over a two-year period in contrast to Redmond's mere six months. What type of growth Google will bring to the table going forward is yet to be seen.
Google's mobile dominance may make its solution more appealing to developers.
Furthermore, API.ai is a more established platform in the industry for bot development and provides developers the tools to develop for multiple canvases just like Microsoft's Bot Framework does. Google, like Microsoft, is making a platform play to bring developers to its set of tools for the next generation of "intelligent mobile apps."
Google's dominance in mobile may make its solution a more appealing platform to potential developers. This is particularly probable since Google's dominance will be further emphasized by Microsoft's absence from the consumer smartphone space in the coming years. This development makes success for Microsoft in this are even more challenging. Nadella stated the following at this years Ignite Conference:
"Pretty much everyone today who is building applications, whether they be mobile apps or desktop apps or websites, will build bots as the new interface."
Microsoft's ecosystem strategy, which includes bots, is part of Microsoft's mobile play. If they lose in this area they're chances for success in mobile are further diminished. It is important, therefore, that Microsoft maintains some degree of consumer presence.
Microsoft, if you don't tell them they won't know
Microsoft has an impressive vision for mobile and their Universal Windows Platform. The problem is no one outside of the tech world knows about it. The shame in that is that it is often ok for Joe Consumer not to know what we enthusiasts know when we know it. Eventually, the products and services get into their hands, and the respective company's heavily market them until what we know becomes common knowledge, after all. This is not always Microsoft's practice, however.
Consider this: Continuum for phone was introduced over a year ago and has been on the market on actual devices for nearly a year. Sadly, this key feature of Windows 10 Mobile is something that Joe Consumer knows nothing about.
Of course, we understand the logic behind this general lack of awareness. The teams responsible for the phones were in flux. The Lumia's 950 and 950XL had less than ideal aesthetic appeal to many. Moreover, those phones were made for the Windows fans and had a buggy OS that fans could barely endure. Ultimately and understandably, these Continuum-capable phones were not advertised. Understood, but the reality remains. In a highly competitive space profoundly affected by consumers, the general public is still unaware of Microsoft's key differentiator and strategic offering through the UWP and Continuum.
The general public is still unaware of the UWP and Continuum.
Sadly, during the coming years of absence of Windows Mobile from the consumer space, users may have absolutely no awareness of Microsoft's Universal Platform, its single OS across all form factors, universal apps or Continuum for phone. That is unless Microsoft tells them.
If they fail to bring their offerings to light during Windows Mobile's "hiatus", consumers who will be becoming further entrenched with rival's evolving ecosystems and device offerings will not be aware of the existence of a third player. (Microsoft's platform though retreated will still exist of course).
Over the coming years, this will result in a deeper perception that the way mobile personal computing is done is either via iOS or Android. This will make a later re-entry of Microsoft back into the space very difficult. They will be perceived as a new player competing against "the way things are done."
More than a phone
Consumers are well aware that when they buy a smartphone they are investing in an ecosystem that revolves around the device. The phone is a portal to a range of products, services and features that bind experiences and other hardware within that ecosystem together. The phone and mobile OS are essential components that introduce users to the broader ecosystems company's offer.
Without a mobile presence in the consumer space, Microsoft's broader ecosystem is in jeopardy of not being a visible alternative to what Apple and Google offer. Thus, even while sheltered in the enterprise, I contend that Microsoft can use the Windows 10 ad campaign to educate the masses about Windows Mobile, the UWP and Continuum.
Creative "product placement" of Windows phones in Windows 10 ads would allow Microsoft to highlight the Universal Windows Platform while focusing on Windows 10 for PC. This strategy may help maintain mindshare of Microsoft's broader ecosystem while Windows Mobile remains focused on the enterprise awaiting the paradigm shift and "next bend in the curve."
What are your thoughts? How can Microsoft's ecosystem remain visible while Windows Mobile is essentially invisible in the consumer space? Sound off in commerts and on Twitter!