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Microsoft's mobile offensive is about transforming the game

I loved climbing trees, wrestling, playing kickball, baseball, chase and an assortment of other games. I, however, did not like football. Nor was I particularly good at it. So when the neighborhood kids reached a consensus that football was the game for the day, I used what influence I had to try to change the game. Sometimes I presume it worked. And when it did I was usually successful in the game that better fit my particular strengths.

Microsoft's position in the current iteration of the mobile war, as we've been reminded time and again, was a losing battle. Four to seven inch, single purpose, app focused smartphones are the current device type that are both popular and populate the smartphone market. Since the iPhone's launch in 2007 followed by androids unrelenting march into the consumer space, Microsoft's mobile position has been overshadowed and overtaken.

Whether it was a slow response to the advent of the consumer smartphone market or some other factor(s), it's clear at the end of 2015 that the current iteration of the mobile war is not Microsoft's game. Redmond realizes this. Their retreat and retrenching are a clear acknowledgment of this reality. But make no mistake Microsoft is not surrendering. Believe it or not, they're changing the game.

"He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day."

We'll be Back

In a September 8th, 2015 interview Microsoft's Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Capossela gave candid, sobering and surreptitiously inspiring responses to questions regarding Microsoft's mobile future. Before we dive into that dialogue, allow me to draw your attention to a point that is obvious to any industry watcher and what was apparently obvious to the interviewer.

Since the 2012 introduction of the Surface and Microsoft's success with a single OS and platform features like Continuum, convergent devices is the clear direction upon which Microsoft is focused.

WALTER PRITCHARD: I'm wondering if you were to fast-forward three to five years from now…what is Microsoft's footprint look like in the phone market? Again, let's call them the standard phone, not a hybrid… just a plain old phone.

CHRIS CAPOSSELA: Four to seven inch.

WALTER PRITCHARD: Yeah, four to seven-inch touch screen phone, what is the Microsoft role in that market three to five years from now?

What is interesting to me is the level of specificity with which Pritchard directs his question. He is clear to eliminate from the conversation the idea of a hybrid phone. Chris follows suit with his response that is equally as specific.

In my opinion, he accurately gives an answer about how Microsoft will approach the phone market. However, in what he deliberately does not say about hybrid devices, he communicates I believe, that Microsoft has plans for a mobile device that is not a "phone" but addresses that market. (As well as the small tablet market and the PC space.)

"I think we have too much to do in front of us right now to get back in the game with the two audiences that we think we can serve incredibly well. And then we'll see how things evolve." -Capossela

Evolution of the Smart "phone"

The mobile space is evolving. There is evidence of "hybrid device genes", early indications of a particular "mutation", manifesting in consumer behavior, the industry and corporation's response to users use of smartphones as their primary personal computer. Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all attempting to ensure that their mobile vision is in line with this industry evolution. Just as Neanderthal's and Homo Sapiens both purportedly evolved with similar physiology and coexisted within the same biosphere, only one had the necessary genes to survive.

Unlike Apple's Tim Cook, who is (at least publically) committed to keeping iOS and OS X distinct platforms Microsoft sees a world where a user's experience follows them across devices by way of a single platform. Apple hopes to achieve the same by maintaining distinct OSes and device types via Continuity.

"These operating systems do different things. We have no intention to blend them."–Tim Cook Sept 29, 2015

Google is attempting to merge elements of Chrome and Android by 2017 with an introduction of the product as early as 2016. Though Google's SVP for Android confirms that:

"While we've been working on ways to bring together the best of both operating systems, there's no plan to phase out Chrome OS."–Hiroshi Lockheimer November 2, 2015

What is apparently clear to all three big players is that there is an undertone, an evolution if you will, within the industry toward mobility of experiences and device agnosticism. What is interesting however is that not only is Microsoft's current position in mobile distinct from its rivals, but the firm's future vision remains distinct from what it's successful competitors are doing as well.

Consider. Both Apple and Google have found success in the current computing paradigm with two distinct OSes. Apple maintains iOS and OS X while Google provides Android and Chrome. Both of these companies, based on statements from their respective leadership, are intent on maintaining multiple operating systems despite the clear direction of the industry toward device agnosticism.

Dominant Species

I believe that Microsoft sees the current manifestation of the device-centric smartphone war as a poor fit for the device agnostic future. Thus, Microsoft is playing a different game. With a single OS core that runs across all device types, Redmond is positioning itself for the device agnostic future where regardless of what device a user uses they will always be using Windows 10.

There's a desperation within Redmond, however, as it strives to ensure it has a mobile future. With 1.4 billion active Android devices, (almost equal to Redmond's 1.5 billion PC install base) Microsoft realizes that as computing becomes increasingly mobile, a future in computing requires a strong mobile presence.

Thus, they're not just patiently waiting for the shift to occur. They're doing all they can to push the industry more quickly toward that mobile-first device-agnostic future.

Gene Splicing

Whereas Google and Apple are content to maintain the current paradigm of multiple OSes with subtle internal changes to their operating systems Microsoft's efforts are far more radical as we approach a shift toward device convergence.

With features like Continuum for the phone via Windows 10 Mobile and the Universal App Platform, Microsoft has spliced a desktop experience into a phone form factor.

Flagship phones like the Lumia 950/XL, boasting Continuum, are powerful early representatives of the direction Microsoft is attempting to push the market in relation to convergent devices.

The company, however, is not content with the limited reach the availability of Continuum via a flagship phone provides. Redmond is already talking about bringing that convergent experience to lower cost devices.

"We may decide we want to bring this to lower-rent phones...We may want to compromise the way that it works on a $75 phone compared to a $600 phone. But until people understood what the potential was, we felt like we would not capture their attention." – Peter Bergler, a principle group program manager at Microsoft.

Bergler's statement supports Joe Belfiore's early assertion that one of the target demographics for Continuum is emerging markets, where an affordable cell phone is likely a person's only computer. Additionally, Bergler is clear that Microsoft is attempting to capture the attention of the market with the forward thinking feature of Continuum.

It is worth noting that the truly all-in-one convergent device with a single OS and app platform that can be phone, tablet and PC is yet to reach the market. The idea of such a device has occupied the annals of science fiction and even our childhood cartoons for years. Think Penny's multipurpose computer from the 1980's cartoon Inspector Gadget.

As such Microsoft is attempting to be the company to materialize this vision before an industry and consumer base that is beginning to experience the hints of the desired all-in-one multipurpose device as our smartphones, increasingly become the center of our digital experiences.

If Microsoft can appeal to consumer's desires for that single-device experience, as the only company with a unified platform and the greatest potential, as demonstrated by Continuum and the UWP on the Lumia 950/XL, for providing an all in one device, Microsoft may indeed change the game.

Adaptation

After Charles Darwin beheld the unique diversity of life on the secluded Galapagos Islands, his ideas regarding an organism's adaption to its environment took shape.

"Yeah, we've definitely retrenched. I wouldn't say we've modestly, we've massively retrenched." -Capossela

Microsoft has secluded itself, temporarily, from the "dangers" of a head to head battle with rivals Google and Apple in the general smartphone market. With a focus on three specific markets, fans, enterprise and value consumers, Microsoft spares itself the consequences of being perceived as a major player vying for a share in a losing battle.

If Redmond succeeds in the smaller space to which they have committed they will have succeeded in building fans and relationships, developing a richer ecosystem and positioning an evolving product for positive visibility to the broader market though not yet directly targeting them.

Within the secluded environment of its target markets, like the symbiotic relationship between a clown fish and coral reefs, Microsoft's relationship with fans and enterprise may cause its mobile strategy to thrive.

During this self-imposed exile, the app Bridges will ideally be adding to Window 10 Mobiles "DNA" equipping the platform with the required tools to survive once it re-enters the broader space.

Additionally, Nadella's aggressive push to get Windows 10 on as many devices as possible by offering it as a free upgrade and its ability to work well with tablet's and 2-in-1's has made it the fastest Windows adoption ever. Nadella's admission in his July 14th, 2015 interview with Mary Jo Foley that the free upgrade was reflective of his commitment to the phone may begin to yield results as the platform's increasing base provides an enticing target for developers to create Universal Apps.

Hybrid

When Microsoft re-enters the mainstream mobile space, it will likely be with the hybrid tablet/phone Capossela and Pritchard alluded to. This device will benefit from "genes" passed down to it from Microsoft's phones such as the Lumia 950 family.

As evolution teaches that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens coexisted for a time, so too I believe will Microsoft's Lumia phones and the hybrid Surface "Phone." This will allow Microsoft to serve the phone space with a device that has elements of the "more evolved" hybrid device that the company will be attempting to push consumers and the industry toward in 2016 and beyond.

Survival of the fittest

Apple and Google are content with their formula for success. In the face of an evolving market toward a single device, their shifts seem more toward maintaining the previous model of mobile computing rather than adapting to the new environment.

Conversely, Microsoft is not only meeting the shift but seems to be pushing the industry toward it. This initiative along with likely being the only company that will have a continuum of devices in the market, serving the current paradigm of distinct devices as Apple and Google, while providing the next evolution in mobile, a convergent device, Microsoft will have effectively changed the game.

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!

210 Comments
  • Thanks for reading. It's worth noting that Microsoft's strategy extends beyond targeting a small group of 3 segments with specific devices. A closer look reveals a deliberate effort to reshape the paradigm of the industry to adopts its mobile vision over the status quo established by its rivals.
  • Absolutely a great read. Thank you, and I'm waiting for the world where my pc is in my pocket. Although for now I would like to have accounts for my kids on my phone. Yes distinct accounts with variable rights.
  • They are always a great read. No idea how they are so good every week but Jason continues to deliver.
  • @Triogap Thanks so much. I appreciate that. Glad you enjoyed and I too look forward to Microsoft's PC in my pocket. I hope to however get an XL soon. :-)
  • @Jason Ward:
    I give you that Microsoft seems to be the only player in the market that thinks beyond the current computing paradigm.
    But, as always, they are terrible at conveying their vision. They advertise this stupid Continuum Dock so heavy (but why? Just to make a few extra bucks?), that most people don't get that Continuum works wirelessly via Miracast and Bluetooth. So Tech-Media discredits Continuum as being a good idea with a cumbersome execution, due the perceived need for extra hardware (dock and cables), instead of just hitting a button and connecting wirelessly with available hardware.
    This promises do be a unnecessary deal breaker for many interested people.
  • Ahead of the curve. Who would have guessed MS would sell Surface's before they did. Maybe, just maybe they do know what they are doing.
  • @Triogap:
    Ever heard of Kids corner?
    Handing your kids over a device with limited, pre-defined set of capabilities, is exactly what this feature is for.
  • Is the Kids Corner there in WP10?
  • yes
  • Kids corner is to limited in my experience. On my Windows tablet every child has their own account with own pin/picture unlock so they can use it by themselves. My kids are preteens so I don't think they need their own phone but it would be nice if I could give them the same experience with my phone as the get with my tablet and laptop. It's all Windows 10, so would be nice. And if you make this account system very dynamic in the sense of providing rights to these accounts i.e. Settings Store etc. It would also be a great feature for people who want to use their phone for personal and work use. You just enter your phone with the other account and you have the start screen all set up for that purpose. I've used kids corner ever since I bought my 620, but I just think their would be so much more potential in having accounts as you do on your phone. One thing that always bugged me with the kids corner is that you cannot set a unique pin for it. So you can learn the pin to your child and they cannot abuse (or accidentaly share) it. In the earliest iterations of Windows 10 Insider Preview the kids corner had a bug where it would sometimes swap the start screens. So your child got your start screen and you got your childs start screen. All other stuff, i.e. notification center and app list, where only accessable in the correct place.
  • Great article as ever! I look forward to these well thought out reads every week. :) ​Agreed that Microsoft are positioning themselves a little further down the line, it'll be exciting to see how the app bridges work out for them. Hopefully they'll bring in enough awareness that developers get on board as even being able to run full Photoshop from your phone via Continuum this time next year simply won't be enough of a pull for the masses if they don't have Snapchat or an app for their bank or an app for whatever event or gallery they're visiting etc. Will be fun to watch on the front line! :)
  • A great read again! Thanks Jason! Only if people like you wrote for other sites(i am looking at you verge).
  • Sadly, The Verge is sitting deeply in Apple's deep pocket.
  • That'd be because despite the marvelous future world that Microsoft will bring some day to us, right now, I just can't print directly from my Windows Phone to my Epson printer, even if I had the 950 XL. It's very good news to have Microsoft thinking about the future and making solid steps towards it, but we must live our day to day too and that's right now. I think The Verge judgement's influenced or determined not for a promise but for a fact.
  • The one thing that irks me is MSFT's lack of interest in their mobile. For example they didn't advertise the dual sim feature of 950XL. No or little advertisement of the new mobiles.
  • After using these phones myself, I can see why they didn't advertise or show faith in these phones. "For the fans" is a cop-out. I think even msft knows these phones are lackluster, at best.
  • Agreed.  At least the 950 is very lackluster at best for me too.  The best thing about these phones are the MOZO's back covers.  The speakers are just horrible on the 950's I have tried out. As great a writer Jason is I wish they would do an expose on visiting carrier stores.  It doesn't matter what Microsofts does if the carrier employees don't recommend WP devices, they wont sell.  And those employees no little if anything about WP.  This should be the focal point for Microsoft.  IMO.  
  • Lackluster, no way. Have had the XL for half a day now and find it way better than the other "6-series" of Samsung and apple as a hardware device alone. Does not need a cover, and is durable and top of the line tech. USB C so it will be around in the household for years to come.
  • I've had the 950 for a week and it absolutely is lacklustre. I've already gone back to using my 1020 as my daily driver. The camer, head to head, is STILL quite a bit better than the 950, the 950 crashes left and right (my wife has an identical unit and runs into the same thing).  In fact, my wife got VERY angry today while TRYING to take pictures at our big Thanksgiving shindig and the camera app completely froze.  She had to do complete reboot to get the camera working again.  Also, we BOTH had to plug our devices back in to get charged up for the rest of the afternoon (even though we started the morning with a full charge).  We have most of the extras turned OFF, too!  We both hate Windows 10 Mobile compared to WP8.1, so that just adds to the frustration over spending $1200 on these devices.  So, yeah, lacklustre.
  • Dude, you and your wife are HARDCORE MS fans to spend $1200 on Windows Mobile devices in late 2015. I salute you.
  • I've had a different experience. I'm finding the images from the 950 to be superior to my 1020. As for device performance. I had some issues and decided to do a hard reset and NOT restore from a backup. That fixed most of what ailed my 950.  
  • you just need to take those unit back. I have had mine since the 25th and even when setting it up it did not get vry hot and it has only had a crash with the messenger app which happened on my 640 alot so either you have two lemons or are just not RTFM.
  • @egonomist:
    Since Microsoft employed the same method of construction for the Lumia 950 and XL as with Lumia 535 and 640, you'll be surprised very soon by the backplate amassing cracks and parts chipping away for no apparent reason. Durable my a*s!
  • Funny, my 640 that i've been using for months hasn't ammased any cracks...
  • Had 640 for 6 months now, no such surprises despite a few drops. But good to know I can expect same durability from 950XL which should arrive on Friday =)
  • @LasVegas:
    Several people dubbed Lumia 950 and XL as "fan service". If this were true, Satya Nadella must hate Windows Phone/Mobile fans more than I expected...
    Jason Ward bends reality to fit his believes. In his last piece he claimed the fact that Microsoft dedicated a longer time slot to Lumia 950 and XL than to any other device at their october event, shows how dedicated Microsoft is to Windows on phones and how important the Lumia 950 and XL are to them.
    He should've watched more closely. On fact the devices itself were only presented mere seconds. Most of the time frame Jason claimed as being dedicated to the Lumia 950 and XL was actually a presentation of Continuum. So Windows 10 was in the limelight most of the time, while Panos Panay actually hid the devices almost as quickly as he pulled them from his pockets.
  • If continuum is a by product of Windows 10 and not the phone as you claim, why is it only available to the 950/XL?  You don't think a presentation of one of the key differentiating features of a particular device is showing it off?
  • You have to consider ROI. Why waste resources on advertising a product that will likely be midly successful? I think their surface phone will be the true game changer. Rubino had a great article on this. The surface brand doesn't just complete, it reinvents. This is where they should devote their ad campaign to grow imo.
  • Exactly. MS is not going to keep trying to run Windows Phone as if it can be a big player - not right now anyway. Its money flushed down the toilet until there are apps to run on these devices. The focus is to sell Windows 10 - tablets, XBox, Hololens, whatever sells. Get users to the platform from other entry points. Then, if the apps come, they can put money behind a serious push with phones - or their vision of a phone-ish thing.
  • Just remember, when Microsoft entered the Search business with Bing and the gaming Console with Xbox, the company lost millions but now both are pulling in a profit, including Bing so MS can go the distance if they wish to
  • Exactly, If they wish for.... Sadly they don't think of Windows Mobile as their focus
  • [quote]Just remember, when Microsoft entered the Search business with Bing and the gaming Console with Xbox, the company lost millions but now both are pulling in a profit, including Bing so MS can go the distance if they wish to[/quote] If they actually had that wish, they wouldn't have gutted their mobile division multiple times in the last 18 months.
  • Agree not a single advert here in Australia
  • This is true. Walked into a T mobile shop with a great 50% discount promotion on phone and contact, only to be found out by asking for the phone. They had it in the shop without any advertising. So ridiculous
  • Are you saying Tmobile carries the 950?
  • You know that these phones aren't for everybody nor is intended to convince people to switch to WP. These phones are for Windows Phone fans who don't need advertisement. Microsoft battle has not started yet. They are just answering the call from WP fans specially the Insiders. End of next year will be the "real" game changing devices will come.
  • Very well said.....
  • After picking up my 950xl yesterday, it was interesting watching person after person walk into the ms store almost demanding their new lumia 950s
  • I am a damn Windows Phone "FAN"!  And these phones are simple.  The OS currently is crap.  And YES!!! LET'S SAY IT AGAIN.....  ALL AT ONCE.   LET'S WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR!  THAT'S WHEN THE "REAL" GAME CHANGER WILL HAPPEN!!!!! As a "FAN" I've heard this for the past 5 years!  It's a broken record.  Next year will produce the same damn thing.  No change doctor.  The patient will soon die.  And as far as insiders are concerned, if they are the ones who thought removing the pivots in the major apps were a good thing then I know for sure these weren't "REAL FANS".  It feels good getting that off my chest!  :)
  • That's some idiotic thinking. Maybe you can get a job writing at The Verge or Gizmodo.
  • What's idiotic is people going out and spending $600 on of these 950 phones and telling themself that it's a good investment because the MSFT Smartphone that can actually compete with Apple & Google is COMING SOON..............
  • How about people like me that have no intention of going to Apple and Google and do not mind paying that price on a phone with good specs.  The 950 checks everything i want in a phone and none of those requirements are a glass/metal back which is what most here are hung up on.
  • I agree with you, I can't even reply to messages using skype through the messaging app, I can read but not reply and I dont want to hear some workaround, either it works or it doesn't. I have a Galaxy S6 as my main phone and the only thing that will get to switch back to fulltime Windows 10 Mobile will be a surface phone with Iris scanner, fingerpring and beefed up continuum.
  • I still think that OS has more to do with it than the hardware. Windows 10 (and mobile version) has come a long way since its beginning. They've made a very strong core. Really. You can feel it, as new functionalities take much less time to be implemented. I don't believe anyone has seen more changes in any app in iOS/Android than that in windows 10 mobile. And the good thing is that updates are steady, and they keep improving the experience bit by bit. I mean just compare the time it Android and iOS, with that of windows 10 mobile. But problem is, it's still not 100%. I may be 90% completed, but people feel the half baked-ness. Yes I believe by the time they release their intended Business Phone next year, OS will be fine, and will be available in all of the lumia devices. They'll definitely put more power in flagship phones for continuum, to give it more desktop feel and atleast 2 apps at a time multitasking. Then as you said, "real" game changing things will happen by the end of next year.
  • Are you saying that MS has poor marketing for mobile???.....
    ....
    Really? Who would've guessed..
  • I think the question should be... MS has Marketing for mobile??
  • That is definitely a red herring when you consider that the enterprise segment in particular is made up of a powerful Grou of consumers who have more choice than ever, and more influence over internal IT shops, in determining the selection of standards. Trends toward device agnosticism and bring-your-own-device means that MS will have to play to win in the consumer space in order to win the enterprise space.
  • I don't know where you work, but for the large company I work for, BYOD is not an option. We have little influence on IT decisions. I expect most large (25,000+ employees) companies are the same. It may seem like small potatoes in the billion-phone market, but that's how it starts. Employees use the devices, convince their family members to do the same. Then it spreads to friends and so forth. It won't happen overnight, and it won't happen in the next year or two. It'll take time, but I can see the path Microsoft has chosen as working in the long run, and that's what really matters.
  • Good point.  I'd love see all these companies where BYOD is being used.  Certainly not where I work, either.  We have to control every little thing on our network.  EXTREMELY limited variety of devices, forced refreshes to maintain uniformity, very stringent global policies.  BYOD will never be a player in our network.
  • Old-school IT-department-led systems architectures are on the decline, I sure hope MS isn't banking on dinosaurs for their future. Kodak didn't do BYOD either.
  • Good point. Been a user since the old windos mobile phones. Got the HTC HD7 later and switched my dad and girlfriend onto the same phone. Later convinced my brother and he bought and LG and later the Lumia 925 as did I. Girfriend upgraded to 925 and dad upgraded to 930. Mum picked up a low end Lumia. Her work mates were being funny with her for not having an iPhone but even she who knows nothing about specs etc, can appreciate live tiles as opposed to a static home screen not to mention simply pressing a button and instantly taking pics. 3 mates were asking me about phones and after chatting with my brother and me they ended up buying Lumia 930 and later Lumia 830. Brother is now looking at Lumia 950. Although I would have preferred a more flagship looking flagship phone, decent 3rd party shells like Mozo could also be seen as the future of customisation for mobile phones as they are more than just a phone cover. So yes "Then it spreads to friends and so forth".
  • The demands of security and scalability with enterprise systems will dictate device decisions at the enterprise and government far more than consumer fashion will.
  • Most IT departments let the employees use whatever they want, as long as it's secure enough.
  • Wonderful read. Thank you
  • Great article! I believe Microsoft will succeed! Greetings from Portugal
  • Excellent article once again Jason.
  • @Jason : It's always interesting to read what you write.. Coz you see things in a bit different light comparing to other windows central writers.
  • Excellent job, Mr. Ward! This very closely mirrors many of the arguments I've made to the negative Nancys over the past year or so, but you've done it in a much more eloquent fashion than I ever managed. This article should be required reading for the tech writers at the WSJ, NY Times, USA Today, et al. Maybe those idiots would start to catch a clue.
  • You really think this will convince anyone? Microsoft is trying to answer a question that the cloud has already addressed. There is no point in using your phone as a desktop when your data is already ubiquitous through the cloud. PC hardware is dirt cheap and only getting cheaper. Microsoft is answering a question people stopped worrying about years ago. They are not changing any game. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Run autocad on your iphone for 8 hours a day then
  • That is no where near a mainstream use case and will not drive sales. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
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