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Microsoft is betting on 'paradigm shift' for Windows 10 Mobile to be competitive

Microsoft's big plan for mobile is still a bit of a mystery heading into 2017. While Redmond has pulled back on its hardware ambitions undoing much of the Nokia Mobile acquisition the company continues to aggressively build out the Mobile version of Windows 10 with no signs of slowing down. All of this to the dismay of the media and even consumers who don't see the point.

Vahe Torossian, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft and the new president of Microsoft France shed some light on the company's mobile strategy in a recent interview with France's Le Point.

Microsoft's Vahe Torossian. Image credit: Executive Magazine

Microsoft's Vahe Torossian. Image credit: Executive Magazine

Torossian reaffirms Microsoft's position of retrenchment noting that the firm has lost the battle in the consumer market. Instead, Windows 10 Mobile is mostly about "focusing on the business side" according to Torossian at least for the "next few years."

The admission is an honest one as Torossian notes that the barriers to compete at this stage in the consumer smartphone market are "now too high." While Windows 10 Mobile has made admirable strides since its debut last year the argument that it offers something more than Android or iOS is a difficult one to make in late 2016. At this point, people using Windows 10 Mobile do so out of personal preference rather than any substantial advantage over Apple and Google.

Nonetheless, Microsoft is sober about their mobile ambitions. While the company is cognizant that competing against Apple and Google in mobile is futile at this stage, Microsoft does see a path forward. According to Torossian Microsoft is "betting on a technology leap in a few years with a paradigm shift."

Details about that technology swing were not given. Microsoft, however, is apparently looking at the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), Continuum, AI, and Inking technologies as some examples of where mobile computing is headed.

The next bend in the curve

Back in October 2015 I wrote an article titled The future of Windows Mobile – Does Microsoft want to reboot the concept of a phone? that laid out Microsoft's long-term vision in the mobile space.

The argument I made was that the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were decent phones, but not representative of what Microsoft is doing in hardware e.g. Surface, HoloLens, and Band. That is one reason why the announcement of those phones was kept rather low-profile. There was no advertising nor any consumer push for those devices. And why should they? The hardware and the OS at the time were underwhelming, and Microsoft knew that.

Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed some of this thinking in 2015 in an interview with Mary Jo Foley:

"Therefore, we have to be on the hunt for what's the next bend in the curve. That's what, quite frankly, anyone has to do to be relevant in the future. In our case, we are doing that. We're doing that with our innovation in Windows. We're doing that with features like Continuum. Even the phone, I just don't want to build another phone, a copycat phone operating system, even.""So when I think about our Windows Phone, I want it to stand for something like Continuum. When I say, wow, that's an interesting approach where you can have a phone and that same phone, because of our universal platform with Continuum, and can, in fact, be a desktop. That is not something any other phone operating system or device can do. And that's what I want our devices and device innovation to stand for."

I think that statement is still genuine and very indicative of what Microsoft is betting on. Truth be told, it is the only thing they can do if they're not giving up in the mobile arena.

I have been bringing this topic up a lot on our podcast recently about what comes next after the smartphone. It is evident that mobile technology is evolving and converging. 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 question is what does come next and is Microsoft choosing the right path? That's up for debate.

Ironically, Google is facing the opposite problem in trying to get from mobile to the desktop (see Andromeda: How Google can conquer the desktop, figure out tablets — and maybe change Android phones forever). Apple faces the same issue with its OS bifurcation and increasing reliance on becoming only a phone manufacturer. There is also the diminishing returns on apps (read Walt Mossberg's article on why he says "the App Store is over").

Microsoft sees today's concept of a smartphone as nearing the end of its run. It's not just about running apps on a device that fits in your pocket but expanding beyond that to other screens. The HP Elite x3 is just the beginning of such a shift, but the same could be said about Treos and the Pocket PC back in 2006 that preceded the smartphone revolution.

The HP Elite x3 is just the beginning of blurring the PC and phone distinction

The HP Elite x3 is just the beginning of blurring the PC and phone distinction

Returning to Torossian and the Le Point interview, he says that the Surface line is about evolving "new types of form factors." I wrote in late 2015 that "Microsoft is not about creating hardware for the sake of creating another thing. They only create hardware after consideration of where the market is going to be, not where it is now."

The Surface, Surface Book, and HoloLens are examples of that forward-thinking innovation. Back when the Surface was announced many in tech media dismissed it, and many investors said Surface should be "killed off" (opens in new tab) as a relic of Ballmer's reign. Just a few years later two-in-ones are one of the only growth areas in PCs and the Surface now stands justified.

It remains to be seen if Microsoft can bring that same thinking to mobile. Make no mistake that is a big 'if' too but what other choice do they have? Windows 10 Mobile as is can't compete against Apple or Google in the consumer space. Trying to leapfrog them is Microsoft's only chance. The saying is 'go big, or go home' and that is what Microsoft looks to be doing.

How do you build the smartphone for the future and not just next quarter? That is Microsoft's ambition. Let's see if they can get the vision right and deliver.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

460 Comments
  • BlackBerry in the making.
  • Nah,  worse than blackberry,  at least they are still making phones.  More like webos!
  • Somebody missed yesterday's news about Blackberry.
  • LOL, timing is everything in this world. Poor Steve must feel quite the dill :)
  • Not really,  I was just out enjoying our new car.   Thats all.  I dont feel like a "dill" for that.  I think the "dills" are waiting for Microsoft to shift the paradigm.
  • No offence intended Steve. I hoped the smile at the end would convey that. Enjoy the new car, I'm jealous :)
  • Your a ***** not a dill. If you weren't a *****, you wouldn't feel that incredible urge to mention a new car. People like you are pathetic. Nobody cares *****.
  • Trent,  obviously YOU DO since you responded so strongly....I knew JR was having a laugh...unlike most fanboys here....he has a sense of humuor!   I guess someone (Trent) is a tad  J E A L O U S over my new wheels.
  • JR is a Google fanboy, though.  He is actually quite spiteful regarding Microsoft. It's no wonder you two get along.
  • Now that Windows Phone is dead, will Windows Central be coming out with iOS/Android apps?
  • There has been a WindowsCentral app for Android for a long time already. Posted via my Moto X Pure Edition using the Windows Central App for Android
  • I'm switching to iPhone.
  • Nothing wrong with people liking things that suck.
  • They wouldn't be selling vacuum cleaners otherwise
  • Barstow15: "Nothing wrong with people liking things that suck." You're right.  My girlfriend sucks like no one else - that's why I like her.  If the iPhone sucks half as good, I'll throw my money at Apple...!
  • You Sir, made my day xD
  • We have another bag here. I'm sure your not the only one she is sucking. @canis..
  • @CanisMinor does her name start with C and end with A.   She is just aweome ..whooops
  • Yeah, all those first-rate apps suck. That rock solid OS sucks. That resale value sucks. That works-perfectly-out-of-the-box sucks. That solid, proven design sucks. Actually Barstow15, you're the only thing that sucks (along with the long-dead Lumia and WindowsPhone franchise) So go blow.
  • I've used Android, I've used Windows Phone 8/8.1/10 (let's just call it WM for now), and I've used the iPhone. They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses. Use the one that works best for you and be happy that you and others have the free choice to do so.
  • Well said. Fan boys from all sides are fools. I like my windows mobile 950Xl but I'm not a fan im open to whatever that comes out that is better for me.
  • Yep,  people actually like windows mobile...
  • Such as myself which is why I have not bought any other phone OS. Now, it may be that I will not have a choice once my Lumia 950 cannot be replaced in a couple of years but, until then, I will continue to enjoy it since I only just bought it 3 weeks ago. Oh, and I have a hard budget of $300 for a phone and got the 950 for $298 before taxes. I definitely will not be spending $600 to $800 on a phone. The only reason I might feel a little bummed is because, unless things change, this is probably my last Windows Mobile phone. This 950 intergrates with my XBox One, 360, Surface Pro 3, 2 main desktop computers with Windows 10 Pro, one at home and one at work and my Windows 10 Pro NAS quite well. Not really sure either of the other OSes will give me that type of intergration with everything else I have.
  • I know.....still lots of people clinging onto hope here Barstow15...
  • Like Android and iOS? Personally, I do not think they suck but, I guess you do.
  • I like my iPhone a whole lot better than the Android devices I've used. I prefer a W10M, but until MS and device evolution meet at the same place, I've no choice.
  • Did that last year. Get yourself the iPhone 7 Plus... If one has to lay with Dogs at least lay with the "Baddest *****"
  • True, I use it. Bit I can't see up or down votes or vote at all on android app. I like the new w10m app.
  • As of like yesterday blackberry announced that they will no longer be making the phones themselves. They handed it over to Foxconn and some other companies to design and make hardware. They're now focusing purely on software or something. How times change.
  • They are not even focusing on software at least not as an OS... they are doing an amended version of android - with a few apps which will work with BES
  • They also do QNX which is the backbone for Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android.. But waiting for the HP Elite so I can get rid of this junkie Galaxy S5...
  • Blackberry is ending their manufacturing and have no own OS. Microsoft are still working on both hardware and software... So nothing alike.
  • "Working on", but not really selling in significant numbers, yet still selling software for other platforms - kind of alike...
    ​I do think MS has its hands in things that have a lot of future potential, AI, Virtual Reality, Continuum. This is what killed them in mobile - being oblivious to the future. I think they are in much better shape now to be ready for the next thing. The problem is, the next thing will likely leverage existing mobile tech as a natural extension. MS wont have that option and may still find themsleves out.
  • Blackberry is jus an Android fiddler.
  • Ah Blackberry, how the mighty hath fallen.
  • The smartphone didn't. There is not a single thing in the original iPhone that was in any preceding feature phone or early smartphone that caused Apple to have need to leverage to usher in the era of the modern smartphone. If you think the next paradigm shift forward in mobile is going to need to leverage the current to be a success, then you are not thinking large enough.
  • Microsoft is pretty much IBM now. A profitable company that consumers don't care about.
  • Meanwhile.. You're on a consumer site... Caring...
  • Yup.  I compare them as a split between Big Blue and MaBell.   Bound by the legacy chains.   My bet is that MS just ditches consumer Windows at some point, if the MS Store doesn't succeed.   But you are right, consumers don't really care about what MS is doing, generally.  Giddora, its a MS/Windows site, but either way the consumer doesn't care about MS, business enterprises are increasing wanting to eliminate legacy, however, that is not as quick a process obviously. 
  • Actually, both have managed to lose most of their customers - so they're actually quite alike. 
  • Except that Blackberry when in decline didn't leap ahead to what's next. They remained stuck in the current paradigm. Invalid comparison.
  • Focus on enterprise killed their phone efforts. For premium price everything needs to be top notch so that consumers want the phone as well. Business phone is dead. But yes perhaps Palm and its foleo would be more fitting comparison.
  • Stop thinking about W10M devices as phones and think of them as workstations first, phones second and then you'll get what Microsoft is trying to do. Because business-only phones may be dead, but business-only PCs isn't, pretty much everyone gets one to work with when they join a company.
  • That's the problem, Microsoft is still thinking of something today's consumers have moved away from, so who will be the target for these "workstations"?
  • Enterprises moved away from workstations? I should definitely tell my employer the PC I'm writing this post from is a legacy of the past then! Microsoft's idea is that instead of ITs deploying workstation PCs alongside a monitor, keyboard and mouse they'll deploy Windows Mobile devices with docks. That allows you, the employee, to take your workstation with you when going to meetings, training courses and business travels in the most mobile way possible: in your pocket. Oh, and it also doubles as a phone, imagine that!
  • What the guy really means is that consumers will always outnumber the enterprise workstation users. So no matter how many devices any business buys how many will actually get their employees to actively evryday use these w10M devices? MS should have focused on consumer first making the device desirable to all then incorporate the enterprise features that businesses wouldn't need MS to sales pitch to them as their own employees would already be the best advertisers and it'll be a no-brainer to get more into the business to do more than just sit on a desk or in a bag or pocket.  
  • what you describe can bet achieved by a 150$pc stick, isnt it? MS want enterprises to deploy 600$ underpowered workstations?   Continuum is not a workstation replacement, not today not in near future. Continuum is only useful for senior executives who just need mail, office apps etc.
  • Microsoft doesn't care if you use a $150 dollar stick or a $600 workstation. They margins in each to MS are relatively the same (and actually probably less if we are saying the $600 os for MS sourced hardware).  They care that you run Windows software. Even with the Surface - it is a glorified demo device. Sure it has turned into a brand of its own, but in reality it was created to show 3rd party manufacturers 1) how to make hybrid devices, and 2) the market was ready. As long as you are in their ecosystem, they don't care. The same can be said for the Band (conduit to MS Health), Hololens (conduit to Windows 10 + whatever custom AR software), etc. Yes they want to make money on hardware, but they are using the hardware to shift users into needing their software. This is why phones in their current state are a waste of time for them, because the hardware is not enabling the advantage of their software (except the specific callout of Continuum and why business rather than consumer may be the better play here)...even though I really want a new, A-class Windows Phone for Verizon. I had to switch to Android because I just couldn't deal with my 2 year old Icon's anymore and don't want to switch carriers. So far - Android is painful compared to Windows.
  • "So far - Android is painful compared to Windows." At some point, don't you think more Android people will find out that? (After Snap is out of faschion, that is)  
  • Unless the "workstation" supports x86 software, it is no workstation. It's like calling a driving simulator a car.
  • Someone like me. I don't need a work station, but every now and then I do need the function of a work station. Right now my 950 has replaced my desktop. It has also replaced my cable. Plug in and place the phone on the coffee table and surf net, watch tv, movies, type a memo and email it off. The biggest advantage is that I no longer have a computer at my desk so I have more space in the house. Also because I have the same setup in the bedroom I can do everything in bed on my more tired days. Working on a smaller setup for the kitchen. Now if Xbox games become available through continuum, it will be a done deal.
  • Re: STCVI,
    May I ask, how do you watch live TV? I use Windows Media Center.
  • I use a tv. I think most people watch tv on tv's. Mine is a Sony. 
  • I have a huge android flat 3d tv for that. I can do all that plus connect android smart phone wirelessly without any stupid dock, type on phone, see on tv do almost everything. Plus tv is wall mount so fors bot occupy space, great sound too. Now if android tv is available in hotel.....u guess what (same as everyone hoping hotels will allow continuum dock connection).
    Apart from that, there are great android tablets to use as primary device.
    For games, i use HTPC. So am I missing anything?
  • Think of W10M powered devices as mobile corporate terminals.
    That have communication features (phone, Skype).  
  • I know you're trying to sound clever and "snarky" but your comment makes no sense. Blackberry early success was on the enterprise sector.
  • I wanted to post this also. The consumer market was just a bonus for BlackBerry. They just became really popular.
  • I agree.  Most regular people could give a flying fig about enterprise phone.  A co-worker of mine recently got a new Samsung Phone.  She was showing me she no longer had an iPhone.  I asked "Why didn't you get a Windows Phone?"  She said "What's a Windows Phone?"  She said she was on Verizon so I said nevermind.  Her co-worker busted out and said "... Windows Phone?!  Who wants to carry around work with them all day long?!!!  I work on Windows all day the last thing I want to do is see more Microsoft stuff!"  End Quote!  She equated Windows Phone with work.  Yuk! I would venture to say that's the attitude of most people.  They want something FUN!  Not a work device.  And if Microsoft keeps marketing all their phones as some work device, anything they put out will fail.  And by fail I mean not selling alot of devices if that's their intentions.  Regular people don't wan't to see Word, Excel, PowerPoint.  They want to see some cool feature or game that doesn't seem like they are doing office work.  But Microsoft has shown they are not at all interested in marketing their phones.
  • "Who wants to carry around work with them all day long?!!!  I work on Windows all day the last thing I want to do is see more Microsoft stuff!"  Funny, that's exactly why I would prefer Windows Phone. 
  • But you're here on a Windows centric site.  I wouldn't expect anything less.  :)  The other millions of people out there really don't give a hoot about that kind of stuff.  Yes, maybe you or I may, but the results really speak for itself.
  • Amen.  And she's not the only one. Because at the end of the day "enterprise users" use their phones to take pictures, book restaurants, pay for their meals, watch tv, play games and on and on. They don't want to be limited and that's exactly what Microsoft Phone devices do: limit what you can do. #byebyelumia 
  • Not really. There is a major backlash happening now over BYOD and Security/Acceptable Use Policies. Most IT departments do not want to support a million different phones, tablets, etc.
  • No, there isn't: http://mobilebusinessinsights.com/news/byod-market-growth-expected-by-2020/
  • rbgaynor. Thats "research" not based on fact. Probably sponsored by someone like Citrix trying to push a virtual desktop agenda. It even laughably suggests healthcare as a good use case for BYOD, whereas its completely isn't. In the UK, the data in the NHS is personal data belonging to citizens, so carrying that around on a BYOD device and it going missing would be a major headache for the health service. BYOD stipends don't actually save you money, as your support gets massively difficult as you no longer support a consistent repeatable experience on a standard build to standard devices. It would become a compliance and cost nightmare. As an example British Gas in the UK dropped its BYOD as this "myth" that BYOD saves you money turned out not to be true, and drives a truck through your compliance and securty.   In the long run, cloud will drive more mobility, but there are still too many hurdles for BYOD right now unless you are a minority sport organization where it would work.
  • Microsoft's own MDM solution Intune works poorly with W10M while no issues with WP8.1 or iOS. But that is understandable, most of MS paying Intune customers use iOS on mobile.
  • vhyr. Where do you get this stupid notons from, mate seriously, you are a parasite on these forums. Please state your credentials for all to see. As someone who watches circa 3000 Windows Mobile on InTune managed every day - your non fact that Intune does not work with it is clearly ridiculous. Honestly, stop posting this jibber jabber. It hurt my eyes to read your nonsense. I can also absolutely assure you matey, that most corp IT departments (apart from some very rich ones) do _not_ use iPhone, as its very very expensive.  If you run a phone estate of 3000 handsets, you can spend 150 on WM or Android, or 500 for iPhone.  Thats a 450k spend, or a 1.5M pound spend. What does that extra 1 million buy you in real terms?  Its basically a phone, and a productivity tool (calendar, web, email). Without a business app reason, its just a 1 million pound decision, and most IT shops _don't_ go iPhone for that reason. Its a consumer luxury device.    
  • That's not true.  I am an IT Manager and I prefer BYOD, the saves money on my budget and also allows our staff to get the device that works best for them.  We have managament systems that can manage all type of mobile devices.
  • "Not really. There is a major backlash happening now over BYOD and Security/Acceptable Use Policies. Most IT departments do not want to support a million different phones, tablets, etc."
    I must disagree. My employer, a top of the heap Fortune 500 company is all in on BYODand keeps expanding it. It depends greatly on how the companies implement BYOD.
    If you rely on built-in features of the OS and try to manage this via vanilla VPN, then you end up A/ with a ton of varying devices, B/ a bunch of security holes in the OS, which you have zero control over, hence you fail or give up. C/ you still have a problem, because your information is stored locally on all of these devices, which in and of itself is a problem, encrypted or not.
    ​If you go the route of virtualization, like my company did, you kill all birds above with one stone. You allow users to bring whatever they want to the table and force them all to use a single platform, completely bypassing the OS on the mobile device, nothing gets stored on it locally outside the secure element of the app itself, it is a closed system, so if they lose the device, no data loss occurs. Moreover, you have a complete visibility into what they are doing, for the purposes of data loss prevention and internal fraud. App refresh and push updates are all much easier as you don't need to worry about users' variance in OS types or build versions. I think BYOD is a great win-win situation, as long as it is cloud-based, because you don't have to be dealing with (and buying) all these devices for your employees. If you implement BYOD without virtualization, I think you are doomed due to all the problems, whcih hardly outweigh the benefits.
  • Right.  Most are supporting iPhone.
  • Right, Microsoft is positioning thier OS with Continuum, the UWP, Conversations as a platfeom and presumably the Surface Phone(in line with the Surface/Book) for the next bend in the curve. Blackberry has neither the resources, scope nor intent to do anything similar.
  • Yes, the salvation Surface Phone. 
  • That's why MS is different than BB when it comes crisis into their mobile ecosystem like this. What I meant is, BlackBerry didn't see things forward when they're in their loss from this mobile war. On the other hand, MS did see things like Continuum, Virtual or even Mixed Reality (that's what they called HoloLens, invented), which boosts any kind of productivity (heck, even the lack of apps isn't an issue, at least for me).
  • Yeah, that's what Microsoft is doing... leaping ahead with a failed OS tied into all of their other devices. 
  • I hardly call what microsoft is doing leaping to whats next....They are stuck just as much in the past as blackberry...but one big difference...blackberry used to rule smartphones....microsoft always is a wannabe.
  • I've never seen a reasonable comment from you since I've been reading stuff on this site. If you don't care about Microsoft and it product, services and ambitions, then what a hell are you doing here? Just trolling
  • Yeah, that's basically what he and his android buddies are doing here.
  • Nothing like that at all.  The Phone business was Blackberry's (known as RIM at the time) primary business and when they stopped selling enough phones, their fate was sealed. They may be able to hang on with their software offerings, but they will never be the same company. Microsoft can continue doing what they are doing with mobile for a long time with little impact to the company. They can afford to wait for the paradigm shift that will inevitably come. They may be wrong, but they are looking past today. Blackberry didn't look to the future, sticking to making the same old phones and missed the move to touch screens, like Microsoft did. But the impact to Blackberry was obviously must greater. So, not a Blackberry in the making at all.
  • the only problem is that we here at wc forums or articles assume that Apple and Google are sitting ducks. They are very well placed to use their monopolistic position to fully make use of the paradign shift in their favor as and when it happens.
  • the fall of blackberry is almost identical to whats happening with Microsoft.    The CEO and the cronies at microsoft are just like Jim at RIM.  Jim was hyperfocused on getting a NHL team for waterloo,  just as Satya is hyperfocused on enterprise.  The rest is left to die.....At RIM there was a shift toward touch screens,  They dropped the ball developing a good functioning touchscreen phone and came out with the torch...just as MS is full tilt with enterprise and releasing subpar consumer products both mobile and otherwise.  Different focus,  same results.
  • @Steve Adams, agreed, it seems that Microsoft's mobile division is following BlackBerry down the same path. However, Microsoft has the resources to subsidise their mobile division for as long as the stockholders will allow them to. They are not reliant on mobile. BlackBerry was. That is a big difference, at least from my point of view.
  • @vhyr Another day, another troll post. You must have a low self estime.
  • Small **** Syndrome
  • *esteem
  • I wanna say, "this!", even though it isn't quite the same.  But the arguement is fair to say that this focus on "business" may be misguided.  When it comes to mobile and technology devices, "business" and "consumer" have merged together in the eyes of the "customer".  A truely fantastic device will appeal and meet the needs of both business and consumer.  Sure, you can have a great business device with a few useful business features, but if it lacks consumer features, those "business people" will be quick to toss it aside for an iPhone for the majority of their use.
  • A lot of 'consumers' cannot afford to buy the phone outright and have to bind themselves to a contract. That is another hurdle, the telcos, Microsoft has to deal with in the consumers market, and they are mostly bias to the more expensive phones to net them higher contracts.
  • I think it's disingenuous to say that Windows Mobile "can't compete" when such lackluster efforts to compete were made. To this day, Apple advertises on nearly every TV show I watch. Microsoft has NEVER demonstrated any real commitment to advertise at a level comparable to Apple. The reality is they just didn't try. And even with the meager efforts they made, Windows reached double-digit market share in multiple areas of the world. Had Microsoft truly made the effort, things would have been different.
  • Microsoft is and has awlays sucked at advertising.  The Band is a perfect example of piss poor advertising; non existant. For instance the Lumia's had Living Images long before Apple claimed it and they dropped the ball on advertising about it.  Plus IMHO everytime they shows the Start screen of a devices it was huge mess of tiles which visually turns people off because it's distracting. I'm hoping if and when the Surface Phone is release they give it the love it needs.  
  • GREAT point about the Start Screen. There was one ad campaign at the very beginning that showed how people could make the Start Screen "their own". But this was dropped in favor of meaningless tiles. Just once I would have liked to see a start screen with just 4 or 5 tiles (for a