Microsoft's Phone Companion and cross-platform apps are its Windows phone plan B

What if Windows Phone fails?

Rest assured, this is not a doom and gloom "Windows Phone is Dead" piece akin to what has permeated the blogosphere since last week's reorg announcement by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. No one here wants nor expects Windows Phone to fail. Microsoft has invested tremendously in an as yet not fully executed mobile strategy. Windows 10, Universal apps and differentiating features like Continuum will not have an opportunity to succeed or fail until after Windows 10 debuts.

But what if, despite Microsoft's best efforts, Windows Phone fails? Well for Microsoft, failure in mobile is not an option. Success, however, may look much different than we'd expect.

This is a speculative analysis of what Redmond's mobile contingency plan B may look like.

The look of mobile

Remember when phones were just for talking and were linked to a place and not a person? If you were calling "grandma" you were calling her home. If she was home, she answered. If not, the phone kept ringing. Yes, young'uns, there was a time before voicemail.

If you were to call grandma today you are calling "her." The phone is now linked to the person, not a location. A "phone" today is a very personal device with diverse functionality. As such, companies are building ecosystems of products and services that help users manage their lives from this "smart hub" we call a smartphone.

This ever-present mobile hub is used for our banking, various forms of communication, homework, "work" work, entertainment and more. Phones today are for getting things done. So it's important for companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, who are dedicated to helping people to get things done, to have a mobile presence.

Each company may, of course, do this differently.

"Google?" present!, "Apple?" present!, "Microsoft?", "Micr…??" present!!!

Google is primarily software-focused and geared toward getting its products to as many users as possible. Its mobile presence is facilitated by a proliferation of its software products and services through OEM partners. Over 80% of smartphone consumers are getting things done with Google services. That's nothing to shake a stick at.

Apple, unlike Google, controls its hardware and software experiences. There is a high degree of synergy between the iPhone's software and hardware as a result. It does indeed "just work" for 17% of the market.

Microsoft, before the Nokia purchase, had a model closer to Google's. Post purchase, with the inherent task of building its own hardware, Microsoft's model became a combination of its rivals models. Despite broader partnerships, 97% of Windows Phones in use have been manufactured by Microsoft/Nokia. Recent shifts in Redmond's smartphone strategy look to reduce the company's hardware burden and encourage OEM innovation.

This is the current view of each firm's mobile presence. Though there are differences in execution, the primary portal to each firm's ecosystem is a dedicated mobile operating system.

Microsoft Lumia

Making a mobile name

During Convergence 2015, Microsoft's Chris Capossela shared that the firm is focused on promoting the Microsoft brand. Thus, contrary to previous years when product names took precedence, Redmond's devices and software will now prominently boast Microsoft's branding. When a user uses any Microsoft product, regardless of what platform they may be using it on, Redmond wants them thinking - Microsoft.

Microsoft Office, for instance, is present on all major platforms and is recognized as a Microsoft product. It's a tool that users default to get things done. Microsoft wants all of it's cross-platform apps to follow this precedent. The company's purchase of mobile productivity apps Accompli, Sunrise, and Datazen are part of this goal. Along with popular and polished products, Microsoft has also inherited the dedicated users of these apps. Over time, users of these tools will come to identify them as Microsoft products. Accompli, for instance, has been redubbed Outlook, Microsoft's popular mail management tool.

Additionally, Oneclip, Revolve, Flow, Flip, Highlander and Office Now are homegrown mobile productivity apps created by Microsoft. These tools will help users efficiently manage mail, navigate information about contacts, collaborate on documents and in the case of Office Now, leverage artificial intelligence for detailed personal management. By ensuring a mobile brand presence throughout the industry Microsoft seeks to establish itself as the ecosystem through which users "gets things done."

This mobile branding may be key to Microsoft's possible plan B for mobile. As one of the world's top brands, this approach is promising.

Nadella

Plan B basics

Many writers have declared Windows Phone dead. The reality? Windows Phone is not dead. The platform is alive and kicking. And Redmond, with hopes pinned on Windows 10, is backing it 100%.

Can Windows Phone die? Sure. So can iOS, Android, and BlackBerry…Oh yeah. Well, you see my point. No platform is invincible. Because of this reality and the precarious position Windows Phone occupies, any wise leader would have a plan B. I think Satya Nadella is a wise leader.

Over the past year, Nadella's Microsoft has seen the proliferation of Microsoft products on competing platforms. We've actually seen these tools appearing on rival platforms before and in better iterations than their Windows counterparts. Nadella's promise is that when those products do reach Windows they will be best on Windows.

The context for the realization of this promise requires the completion of Microsoft's Windows 10 platform. So though we have yet to see it, we can be confident that Windows 10 for PC/phone and its core app experiences are being forged from the core outward to operate with optimal levels of synergy.

Microsoft takes all. Drops mic.

Here's the ideal scenario, plan A. After the release of Windows 10 and its "best" Microsoft experience, some iPhone and Android users would be lured to Windows Phone. This would be the result of those users having been engaged by a cadre of Microsoft apps strategically planted by Redmond on iOS and Android. Nadella's launching of Microsoft apps on rival platforms first, allows time for users to become engaged with Microsoft's "ecosystem" leading up to the debut of Windows 10 and the Windows 10 phones that will showcase "the best" Microsoft experience. And for those that don't switch? Microsoft's cross-platform app ecosystem continues to permeate rival platforms and engage users. Microsoft takes all. Drops mic.

If (and that's a big 'if') Microsoft drops Windows Phone instead, what I envision as Microsoft's plan B doesn't require much of a change from plan A. Nadella has put Microsoft on a course to ensure that Redmond retains a mobile presence.

Mobile nexus, the Windows 10 desktop

Nexusa connection…linking two or more things.

As a software company, Microsoft will continue seeding the industry with Microsoft branded mobile apps. This will serve to build greater mindshare of Microsoft's ecosystem that will continuously extend into rival platforms.

But that, I believe, is just part of the plan. Having a host of scattered apps peppered on rival platforms does make one's presence known. But it's not centralized, nor cohesive. Remember, those Microsoft apps will exist on iOS and Android devices among a sea of first and third party apps, even if organized in a single folder. To ensure users feel their mobile presence, Microsoft can't let these apps stand alone. They need a companion.

This is where Windows 10 for the PC comes in. There are over 1 billion PC users on the planet. This is Microsoft's ace in the hole. Most iPhone and Android users have a PC. Microsoft is already using Windows 7/8/8.1 to prompt these users toward their free upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft, for numerous reasons, needs users to upgrade to make the Windows 10 "one platform" story work. This plan B I believe may be one of those reasons.

Part of the Windows 10 package is the Phone Companion app. This cross-platform app ties a user's iPhone, Android device or Windows Phone, closer into the Microsoft ecosystem. Through the app, some of Microsoft's core ecosystem experiences are shared with the associated device. Skype, Office, and Cortana, for example, are shared with the iPhone and Android devices via the Phone Companion app. This app forges a symbiotic relationship between the user's device and the PC. The Windows 10 PC becomes a hub or nexus for the mobile device. The smartphone is able to continue Microsoft experiences in Office, OneNote, Cortana, Photos, Music and other apps, begun on the PC and vice-versa.

Everything Grows

As Microsoft reaches its one billion Windows 10 devices goal over the next 2-3 years, I believe that the Windows 10 Desktop OS as a mobile device hub/nexus point scenario will be more common place. Actually, I anticipate that Microsoft will push that aspect of Windows 10 more aggressively to make it the status quo. This will provide a consistent base to which mobile users can continually "connect" as their digital experiences follow them between devices.

Furthermore, I envision that more Microsoft apps will be added to the base of apps currently on offer to iPhone and Android users through the Companion app. I also imagine that core apps such as Cortana will continue their migration toward deeper integration with other Microsoft apps such as Office. Such integration, naturally increases the use of both apps and likely their continued use when a user is mobile.

Additionally, this strategy provides a cohesive base from which Microsoft can "launch" a mobile presence. Though Microsoft apps will be available in Google Play and the App Store, the PC and Companion app as a "source" for the Microsoft experience provides that much needed psychological link for users to perceive Microsoft as a distinct and tangible mobile brand.

Lumia

Look, mom, no OS

If Windows Phone fails, there will be no Windows phone OS per se. Yes, there will be the OS currently for small tablets and phone but phone devices would slowly fade off the scene. However, if Microsoft's plan B plays out as described, then a strong Microsoft ecosystem and a tool from which to facilitate a mobile presence, the Windows 10 PC/Phone Companion app, will be in place.

The great thing about plan B is that it is part of plan A. Ideally, and as we expect, the Windows 10 OS for phone will persist and the establishment of a rich cross-platform ecosystem with a Windows 10 PC as a nexus point for all mobile platforms will coexist. But if in the coming years, Windows Phone fades from the scene, Satya's goals to build a strong Windows ecosystem, as part of plan A, establishes the foundation for a world where plan B perpetuates a Microsoft ecosystem without the benefit of Microsoft smartphones and the Windows Phone OS.

"We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family." - Nadella

So if Windows Phone fails, Microsoft's possible plan B ensures that though Redmond will not have been able to convert the masses to Windows Phones, they may effectively "convert" rival devices into "Windows phones."

By way of the Windows 10 PC as a mobile hub and the Phone Companion app as a tool to endow rival devices with an increasing number of Microsoft branded apps; Microsoft may win users to their growing ecosystem as users "get things done" with Microsoft-branded tools.

Cortana

Like the fictional stories where the spirit of one person usurps/possesses the body of another, Microsoft's plan B may make Redmond's solution the "bodiless" mobile platform that engages users and powers productivity on rival devices.

Or put another way, if you can't beat'em, make'em join you.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

368 Comments
  • Windows phone is already a success..... Positive over Negative
  • I don't know why they are thinking otherwise. Already giving up?
  • See the world outside 'windows.' I am not saying it's dead BUT there are people saying SO and they are many! The writer here kept the fact. He is not rejecting that people love windows phone.
  • And many of them paid by Google to spread FUD...
  • Yeah right.
  • Everything that suceeds has the possibility to fail. It's very very doubtful, but iPhone could potentially fail in the comming years. I mean it was the absolute number one smart phone (speaking in terms of numbers) and now it's number 2. Blackberry was, at one time, number one, and now they are just barely clinging to the smarphone side of their business. No matter where you are on the pecking order, you can always fall further until you're gone.
  • Very well said..
  • @Axmantim True. Absolutely true.
  • This^
  • True. One day nobody will care about iDroid...
    ....
    Nevertheless, at least they can claim being a success at one point.. And, MS did have success with WinMo.
  • WP has already failed... The reality is that WP is a failure.. If it was a success then MS wouldn't dare mess with the formula, and change it's name..
    .......
    Relatively, which relativeness speaks the reality, WP has fail.. That is the reality of the situation no matter how positive of a spin fans, or anyone else tries to sugar coat it. It's just not happening... WP as a name, and idea is gone.. It's WM10 now, and the whole philosophy revolves around W10..... WP is dead. Death is not successful..
    ........
    Metaphors that abstractly express WP as NOT being a failure are positive, give is hope, and make us all feel good..... Nevertheless, from a business stand point that is in no way reality.. Does it hurt for me to admit this.. Yes. It sucks, but I'm not a blind fan...
    ......
    The Delorean was a failure as an automobile. It was well know, but it was a relative failure. Look it up.. We can say that it was popular because of BTTF, but it's still a failure in the automotive industry... MS is a business. The problem with WP, unlike the Delorean, is that it's not only a failure as far as profit, or market share, but it's not even popular..To the general public WP doesn't matter, and to some doesn't exist.... That is not anywhere near being a success, or even breaking even... That's negative.
    ........
    I sure hope W10 helps the situation in the future, and we can all laugh at what I just wrote.. I have hope that W10M will not fail like it's predecessor WP..... SMDH.
  • I always laugh at what you write, as its always such comical nonsense
  • If you believe anything other than what I wrote then you've gotta be a blind fan... Simple as that.. Prove it wrong if you please.
  • Prove it wrong? WP being dead? Or prove you wrong in your general statements that you said? I'll keep it simple, since this is a waste of time for someone who already thinks they're right. WP continues to gain market share. Fact. Death doesn't mean failure. Famous artists, like Van Gogh was poor and pittied when he was alive. I'd say his death made him quite successful. Some of the most expensive paintings in the world are his. Fact. The business model of the Delorean was a mess... and the drug indictment didn't help when investors pulled out and the company filed for bankruptcy. Fact. A rehashed business model and a new strategy would have saved Delorean,.... just like MS is doing with WP. 
  • Try again.. There's a difference between being negative, realistic, optimistic, pessimistic, and just a blind fan that wants to believe the best regardless of the reality of the situation...
    ....
    WP continues to gain market share?.. Lol. Please. What 1/10 if a percentage WWMS a year? Definitely hasn't gained even 1% a year in the oast few years.. All of the >4% market share WP has was made in the first 3-4 years. Dude! Are you looking at those numbers? And, if you think determining success, and failure, doesn't factor in what the competition does then you are definitely either delusional, or such a blind fan that you refuse to admit the facts... If WP had steadily gained at least 2-3% market share consistently then I definitely would never call it a failure.. But, gains so low that they don't even register on any relative scale of mobile market share is in no way realistically success from a business standpoint.....
    .......
    Maybe you miss understand me.. I'm not talking about success, or failure, from your standards, which are obviously very low, rather from any sane companies standards.. I mean any platform that is a success would not require such huge tactics, such as giving Windows away for free, just to hopefully become relevant... Even MS admits this, even WC speaks of WP's irrelevance... No platform that is successful would ever have any tech site, such as WC putting out articles even contemplating it's demise... Lol that's what you call success?? Lol. Please....
    ...........
    I think the thing you, and I, both have is hope. Mainly because we see MS's plan, and it makes sense. I have hope that it would work, and I think a lot of us do... But, that hope is not success... Also, when people like you hear "failure" you think "dead"... In no way am I saying that it's over for MS in the smartphone software business.. Although, WP as name is dead, it's really all the same... But, that name change, and total shift in concept constit