Does Windows 10 Mobile have a future?

Microsoft's upcoming CShell for Windows 10 is a big deal, if only because it'll open the door to a whole new market of mobile devices, powered by full Windows 10 on ARM. CShell will allow hardware makers to build devices that are mobile-sized, but run full Windows 10 with a UI scaled to look just like Windows 10 Mobile, which would ultimately make our beloved mobile platform obsolete.

Let's be real here, Windows 10 Mobile has been out in the cold for a while now. Outside of upcoming Continuum improvements, which are thanks to CShell anyway, Microsoft hasn't detailed any Windows 10 Mobile features coming in the Creators Update. Some might suggest this is because Windows 10 on ARM will eventually be taking its place, and that's not so difficult to believe when you think about it. Why continue building an OS for phones that nobody uses when you can shove an OS used by millions of people onto the same device-type anyway? That's essentially what Windows 10 on ARM will achieve with CShell, if hardware makers pursue it.

So that leaves us with a daunting question, with CShell on the way, does Windows 10 Mobile have a future? While we can't know the answer for sure, it's always healthy to speculate and wonder, as we often do with Windows 10 Mobile. So where exactly could Microsoft be taking Windows 10 Mobile?

1. Do Nothing

Microsoft could simply opt to do nothing with Windows 10 Mobile and keep everything as-is for the foreseeable future. The company has said many times that Windows 10 Mobile is now an enterprise-focused OS, and if they wish to stay true to this claim they'll have to keep releasing updates and keep it on the market.

This is arguably the least exciting option, since Microsoft really isn't focused on Windows 10 Mobile as it is. We're yet to hear of any actual star features coming in the Creators Update for Windows 10 Mobile, and I'm starting to think we won't actually be getting any, outside of CShell and Continuum improvements of course, and even then we're not exactly sure if they're arriving with the Creators Update.

If Microsoft continue supporting Windows 10 Mobile as it is currently, we can likely expect the same treatment (or lack thereof) going forward. I'd much rather Microsoft reposition Windows 10 Mobile and give it a new breath of life.

2. Reposition it

So here's what I mean by reposition: make it so it's not just an OS for mobile phones. With CShell, this is absolutely a possibility. Microsoft can make it so Windows 10 Mobile can run on phones and laptops, scaling the UI where needed and allowing hardware makers to release lightweight laptops that run Windows 10 Mobile.

This would ensure the platform stays alive, with new features and support for as long as Windows 10 is in development. It also means devices that are currently running Windows 10 Mobile, such as the Elite x3 and Lumia 950, can piggy back off of this new repositioning for a little while longer, at least until their hardware can no longer keep up with future mobile computing demands.

HP Elite x3 with Lapdock

HP Elite x3 with Lapdock (Image credit: Windows Central)

You may be asking yourself "but Zac, isn't Windows 10 Cloud basically this?" Good question, and I don't think so. As far as I know, Windows 10 Cloud is like any other normal Windows 10 desktop SKU, but without the ability to download programs from the web. Everything is routed through the Windows Store with the Cloud SKU, and that's fine. Otherwise, it's still full Windows 10.

Microsoft could reposition Windows 10 Mobile as an actual lightweight Windows 10 variant for hardware makers. Make it a free SKU for hardware makers, rename it from Windows 10 Mobile to Windows 10 Lite, and market it as a simple version of Windows for when you're on-the-go. It can work on phones, tablets and even low-end laptops.

This somewhat separates it from Windows 10 Cloud, as even though CShell will allow the Cloud SKU to scale to phones, it'll still be heavier than Windows 10 Mobile is currently.

3. Kill it

This is an obvious one, which likely makes sense to most people reading this article. Microsoft may simply opt to kill it once Windows 10 and CShell are a full-on thing. I mean, if Microsoft doesn't reposition the platform, there really isn't any need for it, right? It can't survive as a platform only for phones, it needs to adapt and expand.

Killing it wouldn't actually get rid of Windows 10 on phones, however. That's the magic of CShell — in theory it will allow full Windows 10 to run on phones. Microsoft would only really be killing one of the many Windows 10 SKUs, but deep down we'll know, and we'll suffer and cry regardless.

If Microsoft were to kill it, I don't think it'd be that bad of an idea in the long run. Sure, it'd seem like the end of the world for us dedicated fans, but not if Microsoft times it right. If Microsoft can maintain Windows 10 Mobile as-is for the next year or two, and then introduce Windows 10 with CShell and new phones running full Windows 10, the death of Windows 10 Mobile would simply be the next step in the tumultuous evolution of Microsoft's mobile platforms. It certainly wouldn't be as painful as the Windows Phone 7 to 8 transition.

And killing it would also likely be beneficial to the future of Windows on phones too. It'll make room for new full Windows 10-powered phones instead, which isn't bad.

4. Co-exist with full Windows 10 phones

This is also a viable option, but not one I'm expecting many people will be excited to hear. Keep Windows 10 Mobile alive and in-development alongside Windows 10 for phones, but make it an option for low-end devices. Let's be honest, full Windows 10 won't run on low-end phones, and that's where Windows 10 Mobile may be able to help.

This way, hardware makers can still make budget Windows 10 Mobile devices for the low-end of the price spectrum. This will hobble current high-end Windows 10 Mobile devices, but it'll all be for a greater good in the long run. But that'll split development resources at Microsoft (even with their size and money, there are only so many programmers to go around), aggravate the app developers Microsoft needs for the Windows Store, and just make things more complicated. Though it could just be a temporary solution for a few years until low-end hardware catches up to the demands of full Windows 10.

5. Does it really matter?

At the end of the day, Windows 10 Mobile is in use by less than 1% of the mobile market. Whatever Microsoft does with the platform, it really doesn't matter at this point. Microsoft could kill it, could evolve it, or they could turn it into a beautiful butterfly, but at the end of the day it won't matter as it's still in use by basically no one.

The only people affected by whatever Microsoft does to Windows 10 Mobile is us, the last group of crazy people who refuse to let this platform die. Perhaps we should let it die, as it'll make room for something else. I know we've done that before with Windows Phone 7, but there's basically no one left here on Windows 10 Mobile anyway, so why not let it die again?

I honestly think the future of Windows 10 on phones lies with Windows 10 coming to ARM. It may mean Windows 10 Mobile no longer has a place on the market, but in all honesty, as a Windows 10 Mobile user myself, I'm okay with that. I'd rather Microsoft "try again" than just give up altogether when it comes to mobile. It may mean leaving current adopters behind, but that's just something we'll have to accept if we want Microsoft to keep trying.

If you're tired of Microsoft constantly retrying its Mobile efforts, buy an iPhone or Android device. Microsoft's efforts extend to the likes of those platforms these days, with excellent and well built apps that'll make you think twice about getting a Windows 10 Mobile device to begin with. Give them a go if you don't want to risk a platform that might be "reset" again.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Absolutely yes.
  • first hones article about W10m on this site, big LIKE to the author its dead
  • Its not the first but yeah... Ppl are fed up now since lately and its about time they speak the truth!
  • I think Windows...full nearing the end.  MS is going to retreat to the cloud.  The OS will become decreasingly relevent, and anyway, Linux rules the day now.  You'll sit in front of your "instant app" running terminal of choice and connect to the services you need in real time. I haven't seen any new development for Windows in the past 5 years, maybe more.  It's already essentially irrellevent in the home, and enterprises typically lag the home by several years.  By 2027, there won't even be PCs in most people's work lives, anymore.
  • I see where you are coming from but it won't happen by then. People ESP in the work place still need powerful PC's because of what type of work they do AutoCad, Reit and other powerful tools. This could all be done on a terminal server so this will become your cloud but the biggest issue alot of countries still have is internet speeds. This needs sorting out before we can look at a cloud system. Also people still need tools like office for basic work. I know you can get mobile versions on phones but they don't work as well. We had customers try and move to iPads for site users and they ended up moving back to Windows laptops or the surface line. If and it's a big of Microsoft can get Windows mobile working with continuum and get most of the business tools like full office, auto cad ect working on it then yes I can see less and less pcs being sold but I still think we are a long way from that.
  • Oh look, a regular spammer... you have way too much faith in a company that abandoned it's users.
  • I have had Android phones, and in fact just swapped my Windows 8 phone for a ZTE Max Pro. But you NEED 32 gigs infernal memory to use Android. Windows memory management alone makes me prefer my Lumia 650 as a phone, and I also have a Lumia 950, which I also love. The 650 with 16 gigs internal memory will run twice the apps of my 16 gig Samsung tab S 8.4" tablet, and run them better to boot! And it still has more free internal memory, since it allows me to download virtually everything to the SD card, and will actually RUN apps from the SD card. Try to move an Android app to the SD card, and you will only move about one third of it! Give me my Windows 10 devices ANY DAY! And yes I have MS Word, One Note, and One Drive on any of my Android devices that can run them, but I had to remove parts of my Office 365 subscription from the Tab S because it just didn't have enough memory. It's all on my Lumia 650, though! And I do love the ability to synch these files with my netbook, my laptop, and (if I ever turn it on again) my dual Xeon server. Unfortunately, Windows Mobile does not run MS Publisher, which use frequently, so I have to run that program on the netbook or my HP EliteBook 2560P.
  • I always say if a person who only uses windows as their own daily driver... No other OS platform device and still don't have a complain... Then and only then I will say that person is a loyal windows fan
  • All my devices are Windows, my Lumia 950, Toshiba laptop & Xbox One
  • I have one exception: My Kindle. Ok, and QNX in my BMW.
  • But why do you use kindle, it's because the Windows Phone version stinks and Amazon have de-supported it...I think Windows Mobile is dead, but the desktop/laptop/surface/hybrid Windows 10 os will win the day, but unfortunately MS did not tackle Windows mobile correctly
  • Because reading on eInk is way better than on a LED screen. Never even tried on smartphone or tablet. But i do really like Audible on Win10 devices.
  • I have just one Windows 10 Pro device (personal), 1 iPhone (by far my best mobile device since Lumia 1020), 1 Android (which it was given to me for working), 1 Windows 10 Mobile device (which is abandoned somewhere inside my house). My beloved Lumia 1020 from the Windows Phone 8.1 era is now with my Mom running so far so well WP8.1. Windows 10 Mobile is the worst POS OS ever made by MS, sorry, I had to write that.
  • I do use it and have no complain. It suits my need in work and daily life well. 
  • Lumia 950 here daily phone been with windows since treo 700wx really no complaints about it I will use it til it dies then decide what to use if Windows Phone don't exist anymore then
  • You're confusing internal memory with ram. 32GB of internal memory means how storage your phone has. As in how many apps, games, photos, video and music files you can store on your phone. A 32GB can store more than a 16GB. You might want to educate yourself before commenting.
  • Yeah I was about to say... lol
  • I wish the first point - Do Nothing, applied to Kids Corner, Apps Corner, FM Radio, feature packed Glance Screen.... :/
    According to Jen Gentleman, the new glance screen (Anniversary build) is based on XAML and is better... I don't understand why quick status notifications takes 4-5 seconds to load after the date and clock...
  • On my Lumia 950, it takes only 1 second between the clock/date and all notifications showed under. The 2 only things I regret from before : a specific image for Glance Screen and the ability to not keep the screen on while charging.
  • The ability to turn off glance while charging is coming back in the creators update.
  • Yes, we know that. I mentioned the performance and didn't mention things like lack of battery icon, weather app integration.
  • I still got it. 920!!!!! 8.1
  • My two Lumias 810 (dinosaurs) are on WIN10!
  • What's more, no reason current phones can't run the coming new attempt at W10 om ARM. After all, my stick PC runs full W10 now, with 2gig ram and 32gig storage. Well, that's the same spec as my Lumia 930, so anything released since the 930 with similar or greater spec should have no trouble running the new W10. They're certainly powerful enough. The only worry is that MS will not want to bother putting it out on older devices. A commitment now to not leaving everyone behind this time would give people a reason to buy current W10 mobiles. I'm trying to decide whether to get a new W10 mobile to replace my L930 but MS just won't commit even to releasing the Surface, let alone to not abandoning their customers YET AGAIN. After previous treatment, we need reassurance that MS have learned from the past otherwise getting even a new ARM Windows 10 device will be only temporary before even that gets abandoned for whatever new whim strikes the company. You can't attract customers back to the platform if we stick with the current paradigm of leaving customers waiting for Godot. MS, tell us you've changed, and this time prove it or dead on arrival the Surface certainly will be.
  • I am in the same boat. HTC HD, HD2, Lumia 900, 920 and 930.  The 930 is getting long in the tooth and I am starting to look for a replacement.  L950 are out of stock in the store so I will need to look elsewhere.  The 930 and W10 mobile will get me to the middle of next year when the battery will be shot. The way MS has left devices behind has me worried so I am concerned about the HP Elite as an alternative - still better than Android. The future Windows 10 'Surface Phone' regardless of processor or operating system needs to be a good mobile device that ties into the whole Windows ecosystem that can fit into my pocket.
  • I got Win10 on my Lumia 1020. Unfortunately, MSFT appears to have removed the ability to update to later builds even on the fast ring. I haven't been able to update beyond 1511. 
  • I could add a specific image for Glance on my 950 XL the last time I tried.
  • Sure ? For me, it's only the image on the lockscreen... :/
  • Turning off glance while charging will be again possible in Creators Update. For now it's available in Fast ring build.
  • And also to keep the phone turned off (shutdown) for charging.  Windows Phone starts booting automatically as soon as battery reach a viable level, annoying when you really want to keep it off.
  • Even on my HTC Titan it was not possible...
  • Notifications load when the minute changes. Glance screen only updates every 60 seconds in order to keep power usage to an absolute minimum. Covering, the un-covering the proximity sensor also causes the glance screen to refresh.
  • You didn't understand... I meant the QUICK status notifications - It takes about 3-4 seconds to just show up after the phone is locked. And yes, what you mentioned is also correct but my comment wasn't regarding that.