What's next for Windows 10 Mobile and existing Windows phones

Lumia 950 XL
Lumia 950 XL (Image credit: Windows Central)

The future of Windows 10 Mobile has been a popular topic among fans and critics ever since Microsoft announced that development of Windows 10 Mobile would be moving to a new "feature2" branch and remaining there. While Microsoft has said this change is insignificant, my sources paint a different story; that Windows 10 Mobile development has been separated from the rest of Windows 10 on other platforms. But why?

Microsoft has separated Windows 10 Mobile development away from the rest of Windows 10 because Windows 10 Mobile is no longer needed for what Microsoft is planning next for Windows on mobile devices. My contacts suggest that Microsoft's next mobile device (codenamed Andromeda) will be running something internally referred to as Windows Core OS; a version of Windows that aims to be modular enough to run on any form factor, and as a result removes the need for a separate "Windows 10 Mobile" SKU.

Because of this, Microsoft no longer needs a phone-specific version of Windows 10, which means Windows 10 Mobile is now redundant. This is great news, except for one crucial detail; existing Windows phones won't be getting an upgrade to this "Windows Core OS." So what's next for existing devices? Well first, it's important to understand what the feature2 development branch is actually for.

The feature2 branch

According to my sources, the feature2 branch exists to continue supporting existing Windows phone handsets over the next year and a half. The feature2 branch's main goal is to continue servicing Windows 10 Mobile devices through 2018 with bug fixes, security updates, and new Enterprise specific features. I'm also told Microsoft may backport some UWP APIs that are introduced in Redstone 3 and Redstone 4 on PC over the next year. Microsoft itself has also confirmed that it will be bringing new APIs to Windows 10 Mobile.

The reason these APIs are being "backported" and not natively introduced is because the feature2 branch is technically Redstone 2 under the hood. When Microsoft branched off Windows 10 Mobile into the feature2 branch, it also froze OneCore development at Redstone 2. Now, considering Windows 10 Mobile won't be rejoining the rest of Windows 10 development, this means Windows 10 Mobile will be keeping with Redstone 2 for the remainder of its life.

So, to compensate for this, Microsoft will backport some UWP APIs that get introduced in Redstone 3 and Redstone 4. This means that if an app developer is targeting any new UWP APIs that get introduced in the next couple of Windows 10 releases, those apps will continue to work on Windows 10 Mobile. This should give Windows 10 Mobile an extra push of life through the next year or so.

This is why there's no "skip ahead" option for Windows 10 Mobile devices, because there is no Redstone 3 or Redstone 4 development of Windows 10 Mobile happening internally. There's simply nothing to skip ahead to. The only Windows 10 Mobile development ongoing now is in the feature2 branch, which as we've already established, is still Redstone 2.

It is true that for a while, Microsoft did continue compiling Redstone 3 builds of Windows 10 Mobile internally, but only to continue developing CShell on smaller, current engineering devices. However, I'm told that as of last month, that is no longer the case, as CShell is not coming to existing Windows phones. It's also worth noting that Microsoft's effort of backporting new APIs to Windows 10 Mobile is only planned up to Redstone 4, but that could change down the line.

App support won't last forever

After APIs stop getting backported, Windows 10 Mobile devices will very quickly fall behind the rest of Windows 10 when it comes to UWP app support. As developers start targeting new APIs that get introduced in Redstone 5, those apps won't be able to run on feature2 Windows 10 Mobile, meaning devices like the Lumia 950 and HP Elite x3 will quickly lose app support. Microsoft may continue to service Windows 10 Mobile with security updates throughout 2018 however.

Microsoft will continue to release production builds of Windows 10 Mobile outside of the Insider Program as well, and may even continue to align them with PC releases like the Fall Creators Update. But since development between Mobile and Desktop is now separate, Microsoft can opt to release Mobile updates on its own schedule if it wants.

So in short, Microsoft is keeping Windows 10 Mobile around for the foreseeable future to cater to its remaining users. The company is hoping to have its next attempt at Windows 10 on a mobile device ready before it drops support for Windows 10 Mobile entirely, which we're expecting will happen by the end of 2018.

I think it's fair to say that Microsoft's next attempt at Windows on mobile devices is some sort of reboot, as existing Windows phones will not be getting an update to it. Just like Windows Phone 7.8, Windows 10 Mobile feature2 updates will be small and cater to the few who remain on the platform, with Microsoft focusing most of its efforts on its new Andromeda device, which will have CShell too, of course.

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.

  • Jeeez 😨, so we not getting CShell? The only thing I hoped for?....and I thought Continuum would get better.
  • depends what is still worked on for enterprise
  • The enterprise update without any continuum improvements will be basically USELESS to us. CShell was bring those improvements and now it's no more. I feel like crying.
  • 90% of enterprise users user outlook and edge 90% of the time, and corporate apps are often web based and most companies use laptops it tablets instead of continuum. SK the actual effect will be minimal.
  • Yes, existing Windows phones will not be getting CShell. Microsoft is saving that for its next attempt at phones.
  • Zac can you clear this for me, I still want something to hope for. Is CShell different from the Continuum improvements you demoed? Or they are the same? What good thing can the so called Enterprise update bring to the table?
  • The Continuum improvements are part of CShell. I don't think existing phones will be getting those improvements. And I'm not sure what the Enterprise features are that Microsoft has planned.
  • Ooh boy, what a sad day to begin my week with 😞
  • What's so sad about it? Your device is old. Newer devices, with an all new system, is coming... This is EXACTLY what we expected, and hoped for. Feel good about this; this is terrific news❗
  • I agree. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. My first smartphone was a Sony Xperia Z, it got stuck on Android 4.3, whereas my wife's Samsung was able to get 5.0.  .  IMO, this is similar older, devices won't be getting the newer software. by the end of 2018 the Lumia 950 will be 3 years old.
  • Exactly..
  • Probably involves spreadsheets.
  • Oh, continuing the app discussion from the other day (because some fan in denial asked "what apps are we missing?")..... Just saw a commercial for Safelite auto glass repair... Guess what?.. They have an app that will help you get them right out with a few clicks.... Does Windows Mobile have this?
  • Speaking of which, do you know how long the app MileIQ has been owned by Microsoft? Since at least 2011! During that time, has it EVER shown up in our app store? NOPE!!!
  • Lol.. Holy Moly... Triple SMDH
    Hey, label it a garage project, and you're off the hook!
  • rodneyej - I think it has been clear for a while now. If you need a new phone, go and get yourself one Android Phone. (That's what Microsoft said in not so many words) when they start selling Samsung Galaxy in their store. I have allready ordred OnePlus 5, so that I have some backup, when it will be too combersome to use my Lumia 950 XL. As it is now, it works just fine, but some of the apps that are common in Norway will stop working in September. (Since they already has an working app for WP, I don't understand why they will close it down. But not much I can do about it anyway.)
  • me too one plus 5 i can't wait to get my hands on it 8gb ram seamless 
  • Well, I can't disagree with that... But, for the record, I'm still using this 950, and besides the relatively horrific app situation, it's actually very nice experience after tons of updates... Luckily I use all the MS the majority of the time, and they are terrific on Windows Mobile. That's pretty much the thing holding my WP experience together. That, and the 950 STILL takes really good pics. Maybe not the best pics, by todays standard, but still good by mine.
  • They also come right out if you call them on the phone. Don't need an app for that.
  • Lol.. Shut it. That's besides the point, and counter productive.
  • have you got a broken windscreen? Why would you install an app for a once in a blue moon event? I wouldn't bother, just ring a real person instead!
  • Once again, that's besides the point, and this is only one of hundreds of thousands of useful apps that are available on other platforms. The Safelite app is arbitrary... Now, are you gonna sit here, and make a case up for the other two million apps, one, by one?.. Lol.
  • Because of this, Microsoft no longer needs a phone-specific version of Windows 10
    Except W10M is not a phone specific version of W10M. It as, at most, a version of Windows 10 for smaller displays that support only touch input. As you may remember, the developers of W10M originally also envisioned it running on tablets. That was also reported on by WCentral at the time. W10M was never released on any other type of device but phones, but that is a seperate issue. You are mischaracterizing what W10M is. You're right that it is designed to run on small form factor devices, and while that's the most obvious thing about it that pretty much anyone can pick up on, that's not its defining trait. W10M's defining trait is that it lacks Win32.
    Now, considering Windows 10 Mobile won't be rejoining the rest of Windows 10 development, this means Windows 10 Mobile will be keeping with Redstone 2 for the remainder of its life.
    Ehm, W10M doesn't have to rejoin W10 development. It's already part of W10. As long as MS can create a version of Windows without Win32 off the main branch, then W10M is still part of W10. They can, so W10M is still part of W10. I don't know enough about Andromeda to comment on it, but if it is a version of W10M without Win32, then it is just the newer, rebranded version of W10M.
  • @a5cent: Windows 10 Mobile *was* released on some small-name tablets. Secondly, W10M will not be part of the main branch of Windows 10 anymore though. That's what they're saying. It's stuck on Redstone 2. So its a part of an outdated version of Windows 10. But I believe all your other comments are simply getting into naming semantics. In any case, Andromeda is not just re-branded Windows 10 Mobile, even if it is Windows 10 without Win32, because it'll be on a different codebase. It may be a new product that will takeover the Windows 10 Mobile brand maybe?
  • @pjhenry1216 I know that WCentral is saying W10M will no longer be part of W10. They are wrong. WCentral spent two years steadfastly claiming W10M and W10 are the exact same thing. That was never correct. However, it is correct in regard to the parts that W10 and W10M shared. The parts that W10 and W10M shared up to Redstone 2 are still shared now. In W10 those parts are just further evolved, as happens with any software. W10M is defined by what it lacks, namely Win32, but it also had some components that were unique to itself. Once CShell is released, which is really just a combined and evolved version of both the W10 and W10M launchers, the last remaining component that was unique to W10M will be gone. At that point, every smartphone specific feature we currently associate with W10M will be integrated into the current W10 branch. We probably won't  call it W10M, but in terms of what it does, how it works, and what it's purpose "in life" is, it's exactly W10M. I don't really see how your last argument holds any water. Windows Vista had a different code base from W7. W7 had a different code base from W8. W8 had a different code base from W10. Yet they are all desktop Windows! Any version of Windows that excludes Win32 and runs only UWP software is effectively W10M's successor! That is the whole point of W10M and any OS that continues that is taking up the torch on W10M's behalf. W10M is just a branding/marketing term. So is Andromeda. What matters is what parts of Windows each edition contains. If two editions include the same parts (even if one edition's parts are further evolved), then it's the same edition of Windows. That's not about semantics, but about understanding how each adition of Windows is assembled, how the capabilities of each edition of Windows come about, and what role each edition plays in MS' OS portfolio. If Andromeda lacks Win32, supports the same UWP based APIs that W10M did, and serves the same role as W10M, but you refuse to acknowledge that it's really W10M's successor just because MS brands it differently, then I'd argue you are the one who is simply getting into naming semantics.
  • WC never said that it won't be a part of W10 going forward. They (AND EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD) are saying as a separate branch (of W10) it is redundant now, and won't be used in the future. That doesn't change what it is, rather it's purpose, which is dwindling.. Just EXACTLY as I said before, the idea is One Windows, for every device, that can adapt across form factor, and I was right [as usual (as any fool can see by the purpose of "Andromeda"🙄🙄🙄)]
    The way you perceive things; it's like you see what you want to read.. You're arguing about nothing. Just stop
  • @rodneyej 1) Never said it won't be part of W10 2) They are saying it's a seperate branch Make up your mind already. Either it's part of W10 or it's a seperate branch. It can't be both at the same time. Exactly as I said before, you're clueless to the point of not understanding what you yourself are saying, much less anyone else. Just stop.
  • When We say W10 we Generally mean W10 as a whole no matter the context... The base, underlying parts that make W10 W10..... When YOU say W10 it's quite obvious now that you are referring to desktop only.. 🙄🙄🙄🙄 Get with the program, and it will stop a lot of arguments with yourself.
  • As usual, you're wrong, but suit yourself. Nobody at MS uses the terms the way you think they should be used. W10M is a specific product. W10 is also specific product, not some generic foundation for all versions of Windows. W10M is, to a large extent, a subset of W10. Very soon, W10M will be a fully contained subset of W10. That is the true relationship between these editions of Windows. The people who actually work on this view it in that way, as does anybody else with a technically accurate understanding of the OS.
  • 🤦🏽.... The base kernel, the foundation, the base code is the same for all of W10... WM has been nothing but another branch of W10, as is Xbox, HoloLens, and IOT branches. But it's all technically W10... Well, those separate branches aren't needed anymore with an alleged "Andromeda" "branch" that is ultimately the mother of all "branches" for lack of a better word (had to throw that in there for you).... Quit making things complicated.
  • Maybe "taproot" would be a more appropriate allegorical term here. Meaning that Andromeda would be the taproot of all Windows' branches. Especially definition number two. Definition of taproot 1:  a primary root that grows vertically downward and gives off small lateral roots 2:  the central element or position in a line of growth or development
  • But, if look look at it from the perspective of what the leaked information gives us, and the concept behind Andromeda (or Cshell, because it sounds like they are the same thing) we aren't really talking about versions, branches, or taproots.. It's actually the opposite of all of that. It's a single OS shell that adapts across form factor. The different "usages" are all the same, not separate "branches", or extensions of W10.... We're saying the same thing, but in different ways. The problem with perception is that we are dealing with two things. The way the UI looks, and behaves, and the underlying code of the UI. When things look different on the Surface our human nature wants us to start categorizing them accordingly, and we forget that the visual aspect is just an illusion, in a sense. It's a distractor from the big picture, which is reality... General Motors Alpha platform underpins the current Camaro, and Cadillac ATS sedan, and coupe... Three very different looking cars. In this case Andromeda would be what makes these cars look, and function different to the driver, or consumer, and the Alpha platform would be the underlying code that makes these cars, well cars, using a highly modular platform ... The underlying code of W10 makes it an OS. Yes, that definitely makes W10 an OS, but Cshell/Andromeda allows Windows 10 to make sense, and be user friendly on Xbox, HoloLens, Mobile, or whatever form factor it runs into. The OS will be intelligent enough to "transform" on it's own, taking specific variables into account, adjusting accordingly, dynamically,, and in real time......
    MS needs W10 to shape shift like it's after John Conner, and that's what all this is about. One Windows will be ONE windows for all (devices), even though users like a5cent can't get over the fact that they may appear to look different on different devices, and think they're literally different products.... Sigggghh, this is not totally rocket science. Lol
  • Well seperate branches will still be needed, I do get a5cent's point that for a long time WC's reporting was inaccurate, ofcourse MS was never clear about it and WC needed someone more technical to advise them on this. if you think Andromeda is one OS that would end the need of having seperate branches then remember why band3 was cancelled because they couldnt make W10 iot work on it. also each of the Branch for ex W10M has a lot of functionality added to it which is seperate from W10 Desktop, now imagine if everything is added to W10 as part of andromeda as you say then W10 will be a hell lot of heavy, buggy + enterprise would never want it(key factor here) so even Andromeda will still be a seperate branch but it will probably be built ground up in a different manner than W10M and will be more feature rich. Window 10 desktop(referred to as Windows 10) will continue to be seperate.   Atbest Andromeda will cater to all 2in1s, 3in1s and (4in1s :P ) but not hololens iot etc
  • See, your usage of the word Branch is what we're trying to explain (and stop) here... That's what's causing confusion.
  • @Rodneyej All you're doing here is proving your ignorance. It appears you also don't know what a "branch" is or how a branch works. You're guessing that with Andromeda, MS will no longer have to maintain seperate branches for each edition of Windows. At least in regard to W10M and W10, that hasn't been necessary for quite some time already! The fact that many W10 and W10M releases for the insider program carried the same version number and were released on the same day makes it obvious that both W10 and W10M were generated off the same branch, meaning both W10 and W10M were at least together in the same branch at one point! That's nothing new. That was true for Redstone2, which was the stem for W10M's feature2 branch. Restone2 includes not just OneCore, but the entire Windows OS, everything from Windows Server down to Windows IoT. By the time Redstone3 came along, the feature2 branch had already been created. Apparently you believe W10M currently exists only in the feature2 branch and nowhere else. Just reading WCentral and not being entirely clueless easily debunks that misconception however. WCentral reported on how W10M was being built off of Redstone3 for CShell development. The Redstone3 branch was created off the main W10 branch, which proves that W10M is also still part of that. In other words, everything that comprised W10M (by now probably with the exception of the launcher as that is being replaced by CShell) is still in the current W10 branch. Just because W10M devices aren't getting serviced from that branch doesn't mean W10M doesn't exist in it. I realize you're too stubborn and too focused on saving face to believe someone who earns a living developing software and who has worked on operating systems. You'd do well to rethink that as you're really just making yourself look foolish.
  • Well, we'll all just have to wait, and see, now won't we...
  • And, mister word man.. Here's a new word for you... "Arbitrary". Go look that one up. It would seriously help you progress in discussion.
  • @a5cent: based on your understanding of the term "branch" you're not a developer and therefore shouldn't be trying to take any meaning from that term. You can be part of W10 and still be a separate branch. The fact you don't understand that further shows the foundation of all the confusion throughout all of your posts.
  • @pjhenry1216 I've held lead technical positions in development of commercial RT operating systems and for the development of core components of large scale distributed datacenter systems. I think I'm better qualified than most to understand these things. The only thing I can come up with is that english may be getting in my way, as it isn't my native language, but I doubt it. More importantly, I agree, W10M can be contained in multiple branches of W10. How else could W10M be part of W10 in multiple redstone branches? I've said as much multiple times. However, W10M can't simulteneously be both in the current W10 branch and not be in it. It's either contained in the current W10 branch or it is not. Rodneyej implied W10M exists only in an older/outdated branch of W10, which means it is no longer contained in the current W10 branch. That is not true.
  • This guys mind is too stuck on the way things currently are, and has no concept of change, and new ways of doing things... That's why he keeps explaining the same old current W10 model over, and over.. He doesn't get the fact that MS is trying to change that... He's arguing about the way things are now, and we're talking about a new way MS is working towards....
    It's an impossible conversation with a closed minded, stuck on way way of doing things, person..
    Just let him rest in peace.
  • I'm the opposite of close minded. Your arguments are simply FUD. That's all.
  • Right. Everyone is wrong but you.......... Right. Patience, then. We'll just have to wait, and see how MS's plans unfold.
  • Actually, anything that excludes Win32 is a Windows RT successor not W10M successor. My understanding is that W10M can be installed on a tablet but is a very different entity from full windows 10, because up till now full windows 10 ran on x86 intel chipsets. W10M required different code to be able to run on ARM. Both run UWP because they share a lot of their code, but they're different in the way they approach processing. Now, there is a new full windows 10 coming that works on ARM, and a per my understanding the new OS being written about here is derived from this new Windows 10 for ARM. Windows 10 Mobile and the new OS will share a lot of things but are not the same I think. Of course I could be wrong. When windows central said W10M is a subset of Windows 10 I would think they're not totally wrong, but W10M was transitioning from WP7.8 to WP8.1 to W10M, specially considering W10M still supported Silverlight apps, and what they reported is now Microsoft sold it to everyone, and I totally understand you're upset, unfortunately that doesn't change the past or present.