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Former and current Microsoft staffers talk about why Windows phones failed

Myerson Windows 10
Myerson Windows 10 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The downfall of Windows on phones is a tale that has been told and retold by observers, enthusiasts and Microsoft haters time and again.

Though Windows 10 Mobile's demise is undeniable, Microsoft's mobile strategy has arguably always included a transition from a mobile OS on phone hardware to full Windows on context-conforming Pocket PCs. That vision is materializing as Windows Core OS and Microsoft's rumored "Project Andromeda" story unfold.

Had Windows phone succeeded, Microsoft would have likely still pursued the post-smartphone pocket PC vision it's currently pursuing. It's a natural evolution of connected computing and a realization of the company's decades-old goal of bringing full Windows to pocketable hardware.

It's within this context of what could have been and what may yet be, that exiting Windows Chief Terry Myerson and former Developers Relations Head for Windows Phone Brandon Watson have shared their thoughts on why Windows on phone, not Windows on mobile, failed.

Windows 10 Mobile's death may be a good thing

Microsoft staffers on Windows phone's failure

Windows phone and iPhone

Windows phone and iPhone (Image credit: Windows Central)

Myerson, who's leaving Microsoft and who once led Windows phone efforts, shared his experiences on LinkedIn:

I knew we had so much work to do on our non-touch no-app-store Windows Mobile effort. I was honored, and more than a little terrified. The Windows Phone experience was incredibly challenging.

In response to the challenge, Microsoft innovated in phone user experiences, with Live tiles, social network integration, Hubs, Rooms, and the fluidity of the OS. Still, Myerson said Windows phone failed because:

  • Early Windows phones were founded on an incomplete Windows CE platform, designed for small embedded systems.
  • The industry moved forward faster than Microsoft could keep pace.
  • Android presented an enormous disruption in the business model.

Watson added insufficient OEM and carrier support to that list of reason for failure:

See more

Finally, Joe Belfiore, Windows Division head, suggested the app gap and limited hardware choices are among the causes.

The argument that Microsoft isn't investing in mobile, because it gave up on smartphones, is an erroneous assessment. A mobile device doesn't have to be asmartphone, though a smartphone is a mobile device. This point must be understood before you can grasp how Microsoft's mobile investments and Project Andromeda may address the challenges that contributed to Windows on phone failures.

Incomplete Windows CE foundation

Incomplete Windows CE limited Microsoft's ability to bring the power and versatility of Windows to a mobile form factor.

OneCore unifies Windows across form factors, and Core OS enables a context-sensitive OS that conforms to device types and device states. Microsoft's rumored Project Andromeda's OS will potentially shift between mobile, tablet and desktop modes seamlessly.

From Windows CE to Windows 10 Pocket PCs

Industry moved faster than Microsoft could catch up

Apple and Google had developed carrier, developer, customer and OEM (Android) relationships years before Windows Phone 7 arrived.

As connected computing becomes increasingly demanding and the slate-shaped smartphone market stagnates, Always Connected PCs and subsequent Project Andromeda-inspired OEM devices may be Microsoft's and Qualcomm's preemptive step into the next phase of connected computing.

Why eSIM may be a game changer for Microsoft

Android's disruptive business model and caring for carriers

Though Myerson doesn't identify Android's "disruptive" business model, he may have been referring to the OS as free and customizable for OEM partners.

Microsoft ultimately made Windows free to OEMs on smaller devices. Additionally, Core OS lets OEMs include only the Windows features they want on their devices. Windows 10's breadth of features from inking, gaming, mixed reality and more combined with creative OEM hardware may inspire PC and smartphone makers to embrace Andromeda-inspired devices.

Furthermore, always-connected devices will allow consumers to buy data from the Microsoft Store and switch between carriers almost on the fly. This gives carriers an incentive to carry cellular PCs to make their data and voice packages more competitive.

Why always-connected PCs may give Microsoft the upper hand with carriers

The notorious app gap

PWAs in the Microsoft Store.

PWAs in the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft is collaborating with Google on Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and is treating them as native apps in Windows 10. Simply, put these app-web hybrids will behave as native Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps.

Using a web crawler, Microsoft has begun to slowly populate the Microsoft Store by merely pulling PWAs into the Store PWAs. Furthermore, PWAs are easier to build, maintain and are cross-platform.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) - the great equalizer for Microsoft, Apple and Google

No guarantees but it's a plan

Microsoft appears to have a mobile plan that addresses the issues that doomed Windows on phone. No one knows how this will play out, but past failures don't dictate future outcomes.

See HP Elite x3 and Dock $299 at Microsoft Store (opens in new tab)

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!

  • In the "Rick and Morty" episode "Big Trouble in Little Sanchez", there's a scene where Morty is telling Summer to "get her S#!t together". Replace Summer with "Microsoft", and it's what pops into my head everytime there's a story about Windows Mobile failing. It was a good product, that needed a few little changes, and it could have been great. They just never "got their s#!t together."
  • what were those "few little changes"?
  • Perhaps "few" was understating on my part. One of my main gripes was that they tried to say developers weren't supporting the platform. But MS as a developer themselves neglecting their own apps on their own ecosystem was a big one for me. Other than Cortana, there wasn't a single MS app that wasn't better on Android and Apple, IMO. Facebook was a good example of a developer that didn't properly support them either. The app crashed constantly on my L950, and became worse with the "new" app they released about a year ago. They also said that they were enterprise focused. But to use certain business apps, if your company didn't use Azure, you couldn't use it. I had to carry my old S5A at the same time as my L950, because Blackberry couldn't run on it since my company doesn't use Azure services. But my Android and other people's Apple devices work fine. And advertising was lacking severely. Part of that could be tied to carrier support, yes. But do you have any idea how many times I heard, "Windows makes a phone?" as recently as a year ago? Too many. Apple and Google didn't do anything that Microsoft shouldn't have been able to replicate. They just didn't get their s#!t together, because it was never their focus. And it will hurt them in the long run because Google and Apple have everyone else's focus.
  • Everything you mentioned was an issue with W10M. It was already over at that point. Those issues were just the result of Microsoft having given up. They needed to be competitive with the launch of WP7 as they were already late to the market. It was over when WP7 failed. That set the bar way too high for WP8 to ever have a chance.
  • The Blackberry email thing was the only item I listed that was W10M only. Everything else goes back to the beginning, along with a myriad of other little things. My point was that nothing they were failing at was insurmountable, given the proper resources and attention.
  • "My point was that nothing they were failing at was insurmountable, given the proper resources and attention." Even if the problems were not insurmountable, what was the payback? I would imagine that Microsoft looked at all that. If the costs are higher than the gains, they're better off not doing it. I know how it feels. For us as MS/WP/W10M/whatever fans, it is easy for us to look at the situation and say "Microsoft has virtually unlimited resources. Why don't they just make it happen?" (For the record, I'm less of a Microsoft mobile fan now than I was at one time. But I'm a huge Microsoft fan! I make a living from their products.) Microsoft could certainly have done more. But, they evidently felt that it would have been unprofitable. Don't forget that the goal of every business in existence is to make a profit!
  • The payoff is long-term continued relevance. Complete the ecosystem and keep people from going to Google and Apple. Chrome keeps improving, and they need to remember that nobody is too big to fail.
  • Agreed
    I don't understand why today we cant have a quality made and supported MS device, aimed at the corporate world but also supplying those of us that want a quality WM niche product.
  • Because even the corporate world ignores them for iPhone. Windows phones never penetrated enterprise.
  • WP7 came at a time when Microsoft didn't create many apps for Android. Android still had an app gap at that time. That was a W10M issue. Microsoft, Nokia and even Samsung advertised and marketed WP7. Microsoft especially spent a ton of money on ads. They were on TV constantly. They stopped marketing after WP8. Carrier support was an issue for WP7, although the devices were actually available from carriers at that time. Microsoft was openly hostile to carriers, not allowing them to modify the software, allowing their apps to be deleted and working around their software update requirements. No wonder carriers didn't give them much time.
  • ... which are precisely the issues that have contributed to making Android the mess that it is today.
  • You can call it a mess but Android continues to outsells Windows machines 5 to 1. Obviously they are doing something very right.
  • Yes. And professional wrestling sells 100 times more tickets than PGA golf. Does that mean professional wrestling is better than PGA golf?
  • So Android is WWE, iPhone is Box and Windows Phone was authentic Greco Roman wrestling in Greece... No wonder nobody understood the APIs...
  • So you are saying they should have let the carriers load up shiet into users phones and make it un-removable so people get spam and bloatware ? and how did that go with android : ) . .. oreo b i t c h its released yet still not many even have it even on supported devices that were said to get it as an update... , Microsoft did the smart thing on that, no carrier should have the right to force its users to use applications they don't want to have, the user is paying for a product that they want to have in a state that does not harm their freedom to use it as it is supposed to be; the original product provided by its manufacturer, that is. oh and btw apple doesn't allow carriers to preload apps into their iphone either ; did that affect where they stand now ? , not really. because its the best way to keep the system safe and optimized, included that this keeps the carriers from getting in the darn way of phones receiving proper updates; windows phones updates when released maybe delayed by a day or so and that's how slow it is " just a day or two " but look at android updates; you have to wait months for a released system update to be released for your device, worse part is that based on the carrier you may never get it : ) . . . if you wanna enjoy that hell hole, you should go with that but i'm quite sure that my WM10 phone received a set of updates yesterday as well "just a day late" after the announced patch fixes etc
  • Yes. Carriers held the keys and Microsoft had to play nice or get ignored. They chose the later. iPhone was way too big for carriers to ignore. Do you really need to ask that? It is obvious. Your W10M updates are laughable. There hadn't been a worthwhile one for years now. AU was the last W10M update. Updates don't matter on Android. The important stuff, app compatibility, is updated in the background of every Android phone regularly without carrier or manufacturer involvement. That is why a 2011 Android phone still is compatible with new apps and a 2011 WP hasn't been compatible with new apps for 5 years now. WP is the real hell hole.
  • It's often forgotten that Android had an app gap back in the day. I actually went with a WP7 device way back when because Netflix was available on WP7, but not on Android. How the tables turned.
  • And the gap gap wasnt just abt carriers or developers but abt the incomplete and half baked apis that ms gave to the devs. There was immense interest abt wp7 and 7.5 in the dev community. Afterall who could ignore an OS of The OS giant. But many devs waited till MS had compete apis which didnt happen until 8.1 but till then it was already clear that market share wasn't gng anywhere.
  • No, it wasn't over at W10M release. Google pays Apple 1 billion a year just to be default search engine. Not to say that even Microsoft pays Google and Apple 20% fee for the subscriptions and services sold through the Store. And at the end of the day Store had some revenue that was never calculated as Windows Phone revenue. So yes even at that point with all the losses they made on selling phones, Microsoft was positive overall and it had a positive growing trend. Just as zr2s10 said They just never "got their s#!t together."
  • That just isn't true. You think you know the numbers better than Microsoft?
  • It was over when WP7 turned out to be a beta test, and Microsoft left everybody hanging with WP8... that killed any ounce of confidence on the platform.
  • You said it, brother. Upvote.
  • By little changes he means: 1) Switch to Linux Kernel
    2) Dump C# in favor of Java/Kotlin/Swift.
    3) Drop the Windows name for an OS that basically has no Windows
    4) Give it off for free.
    5) Back it up with great applications
    6) Let the community drive it
    7) Leverage the services, not the OS
    8) Support every SoC available and every feature available. Basically turn Windows Mobile 10 into Android Peppermint Patties.
  • LOL "few little changes."
  • The strange thing is with their strategy is the following. When a customer comes for hardware, they have everything the customer needs. But when it comes to the mobile part, they say, "f*ck off and go to a different platform". That one smart way to keep your customer connected to your platform. I was at a ms summit last week and even the ms employers made fun of windows phone/mobile/uwp. All the presentations were done on iphones. They clearly have given up. Satya only cares for azure. Burn the rest.
  • "I was at a ms summit last week and even the ms employers made fun of windows phone/mobile/uwp. All the presentations were done on iphones." Wow, that is one sad visual.
  • Presentations on iPhones, or MS employees making fun of the crappy "Universal" "Windows" "Platform" aka Metro, aka the Platform that sounded like an Underground Train that runs in circles or back and forth?
  • I know these "little changes" - MS SHOULD GIVE US FULL SOURCESS OF WINDOWS MOBILE! And we''ll make these changes. :)
  • No man... then people would notice the awful comments in the code: #ported from Silverlight will change it ASAP 2-10-08 # this API needs to be refactored after the refactoring will not work in production # need to place an IF here else Tiles will cycle as maniacs, will do that after next version 11-3-09 # this breaks Samsung phones... Steve told us to put it here until they drop Android.
  • Few? I think it's a failure from the start. We just need full Windows to run on ARM. Not a not-Windows calling itself Windows. It's a different system with no synergy, came in late with 0 users base.
  • I LOVE my 950XL Dual SIM!! And as a hedge for just when the Windows 10 Tablet with telephony that fits in my pocket, I have a brand new backup waiting in my office should this one fail. I cannot see why an Andromeda device will also not come in pocket size. How much of a leap can it be to go from 8" to 5.5"?
  • Also, I am a large corp guy, where Azure is not an issue.
  • That’s just pure fantasy thinking. MS was late the the party just like Zune was with MP3 players. Android had already become the “windows” of smartphones and the War was already won.
  • Call these new Andromeda mobile devices whatever you want but I'm hoping there is at least some option / form factor that one can use it as a daily driver (phone). I really don't want to buy an Android or iPhone once my still trusty Lumia Icon finally dies. I don't need all the apps (obviously) and like the idea / concept of PWA's.
  • After our Windows phones began to fail we opted for the Note 8. Wonderful phones and love the S-Pen options. The apps were great at first but the novelty soon wears off. My wife hates the advertisements that pop up from time to time if you for get to purchase or subscribe to the application. We are both looking forward to going back to a windows based devices when the opportunity arises.
  • I have the Note 8 and once I saw the Elite X3 go on sale for Verizon, I jumped on it. Once the new car smell faded, I wanted to go back and having an app for that one time isn't enough for me. A lot of the apps I used either had great 3rd party dev support, their mobile website finally caught up rendering having an app almost pointless, or I just used Microsoft's built-in apps.
  • I too am waiting patiently for "Andromeda" on mobile, as the 950s and 950XLs that my employees and family use are getting old, and we do not want to downgrade to another platform, we need an upgrade path with Windows.
  • A Nokia 930 is my daily drive, I love it.
    I setup my fathers new android phone for him yesterday, what a god awful UI
  • Brads Sams floated out an idea that it will run android as a folded/phone mode then WOA on tablet/notepad form. Not sure how or if they will do that but certainly will make it a legit smartphone replacement.
  • Only so long as people can uninstall Android if they wish. Having to buy apps twice for the one device is clearly not going to be popular, so they do need to add an option to wipe Android.
  • yeah right .. like that's gonna work with the legal terms and all : ) ..troll much ? , included that android usage battery life is gonna turn that device into a oven; or does everyone forget how ram hungry android is, you can dual boot two systems that is for sure but having to install the same app twice in each device for the sake of convenience? nah fast pass on wasting storage just to have some nonsense like this.. if you want android get a android device, don't ruin what WOA is going to be, it already has 32bit support and 64 bit is on the way, included that emulation optimization is just working its way up, things will improve overtime, and android system is a mess as well a fragmentation itself; anyone who has a clear awareness of the system knows this.
  • WoA is already dead. The initial devices are a joke. Did you notice Windows Central is ignoring them they are so bad? They didn't even do a first impressions article. Within a year Microsoft will rebrand and pivot with some new angle while WoA will be left to rot as the RT 2.0 it is.
  • Already looking bad, Microsoft is starting to backtrack the same day I say this!
  • I'm a still on my Lumia ICON and agree completely.
  • I talked to a tech at my local MS store and while he told me a pocket format isn't planned, his eyes told me otherwise. If Win10 for ARM is the plan, why not a slightly smaller device the size of the 950XL?
  • Now for the CEO to leave...
  • LOL, because Windows Phone failed? I think Microsoft is more then a phone business
  • because they allowed it to fail
  • That CEO already left.
  • Agree, fish become rotten from the head.
  • They fail, because MS is not build for the consumer market. They kill everything that is consumer related. It won't be long before Xbox is killed. They just don't have it in them. They even kill their own apps. Just for the fun of it.
  • Even the apps on android are lacking. And they have the highest priority.
  • To this day, I still do not use the Outlook app on android because they gimped it up so bad. Not integrating contacts, not being able to edit contacts, notification email problems and so many others that I don't remember. I would hope that they have them fixed now. At the time I seriously considered switching my email to google, but I bought and used Nine Email, which was everything Outlook was not and worked. You would think that something as important as and Outlook App would have been a priority on Android, but it languished for over a year missing essential features. They don't seem to care that you have to give people a reason to use your software and if it is missing essential features, ones that work on everyone elses software, then people won't use it.
  • MS has surprised me (and by surprised I mean disappointed) before, but I just don't see them killing off XBOX. It has gotten to be a money maker for them. But, if I remember correctly it was not in the early days. They stuck with it and now look at it. This is what I wish they would have done with their phones. Stick with it and market the crap out of them.
  • MS is going to have to spend a boatload of money on quality advertising to change the common understanding that mobile = phone to mobile = Andromeda. The word "mobile" goes hand in hand with "phone" now days. I'm skeptical, but hope they can pull it off.
  • I'm sceptical as well, since most people will probably associate Andromeda with something related to work, such as an old BlackBerry or PDA such as a Palm Pilot, rather than as a cutting-edge consumer device. Mobile apps for iOS and Android are associated with consumption, and the typical consumer wants consumption rather than production from his/her mobile device. Use of the mobile device for work is an afterthought these days.
  • "Mobile apps for iOS and Android are associated with consumption, and the typical consumer wants consumption rather than production from his/her mobile device. Use of the mobile device for work is an afterthought these days." Exactly...If I want to browse Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. or lookup something really quick on the web, I'll use my phone (now iPhone, was Lumia 920/925/1520). But, if I need to get any real work done, I pull out my Surface Book 2 (was Surface Pro 4). If I want to be super mobile in the house or in a vehicle (riding, not driving), I'll use my iPad Pro to watch a movie or read a book. Point being, if it involves consumption, I'm on iOS; development or other types of office production, Surface.
  • I don't think they will. I don't think this potential device is the unicorn that the commenters here believe it will be. Temper expectations. The market for $1000+ folding tablets doesn't really exist & while there may be some additional functionality, the average user just won't need it. I don't think you'll see a marketing blitz.
  • All on Microsoft. Failing to support current hardware at the time. Failing to provide developers with competitive API's. Failing to treat. recognize and promote the platform as part of Microsoft. Failing to provide users with viable ways to stay on the platform through their numerous reboots. None of these guys did anything but pay lip service to supporting the platform. How many times did we discover they were using either iPhones or android devices rather than their own platform? How many times were ios and android given preferential treatment? Now they try and blame others? Typical.
  • I agree, WP 7.X and 8.X were good or great products. It wasn't quality/UX/Windows CE that let them down. It was a lack of marketing and, I believe, negative association with the Microsoft brand (work/Excel, snooze) that caused mainstream rejection of the OS. Same for Zune, same for Band. Good products, but no marketing to overcome brand apathy and generate word of mouth. (Band worked fine on WP8). If you feel that you have to write multiple articles to articulate the difference between Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 ON Mobile, here, to this audience, then good luck to MS when they try to explain it in a snappy TV ad for Andromeda.
  • Or "It's not a phone, you idiot, it's a mobile device with a SIM that allows you to make and receive calls while on the go"
  • You just reminded me of those Helio commercials. "Don't call it a phone or Grandpa will have a stroke!"
  • I don't think it will be as big of a challenge as you think. I'm finding that the number of people who even know about Windows 10 Mobile is incredibly small. When I mention that my phone runs Windows 10 Mobile, a surprising high number of people will say "There's Windows on phone???" It very much reminds me of Ben Stiller in Zoolander saying to himself "The files are in the computer???" But it will be a challenge to explain how Andromeda isn't just another phone. With iOS and Android, the "phone" portion of the device is such a small part of the picture anymore. With CShell, it's probably going to look like a mobile OS. I'm hoping Microsoft sells it as a tablet/mobile computer, show inking, etc. Make it look like the Surface Mini that never came to be. Then just close out the pitch with it receiving a call. That's the type of framing they'll need to separate it from the pack. I'm not an advertising expert, but that would be my 2 cents.
  • It's sad that such a great forward thinking OS wasn't given more of a chance to survive. I really like W10M on my Idol 4S & 735. Both work great for me.
    If MS can launch something better, great. But they could have kept Windows Phone alive until such time comes.
    For them to ignore their mobile platform seems like a bad decision for many reasons. I get the fact that they want their stuff on droid & IOS.....but I'm not going to download a Microsoft account on one.
    I hope that whatever they launch (if anything) is very successful and works on cdma!
  • Just got updated atm build 15254.369
    An April released i think.
  • I agree with Brandon's assessment that they needed carriers to not just carry the devices, but support them. I did a little experiment in the days of WP7. I went to numerous carrier stores and asked about phones. Every time I even mentioned Windows Phone 7, the store clerk acted somewhere between like I just stepped on their foot and like I just insulted his/her mother. I was always strongly steered away from that idea by the clerk and often told flat out lies about the platform. Unless you went in dead set on getting WP7, you weren't walking out with WP7. It was like their pay was docked if a customer bought WP7. Thankfully, we're starting to see a shift away from carrier dependence for obtaining a phone. In the US at least, subsidies for phones are almost completely gone. More and more people are just ordering their phone online or going to a store besides the carriers'. So this new go by Microsoft, combined with PWAs could have a chance. Or I could just be an overly optimistic fan.
  • Microsoft didn't do enough to entice carriers. They were actually hostile to carriers so it isn't any surprise that carriers didn't put much effort into the platform.
  • The answer to this seems obvious: sideline the carriers. eSIM should hopefully help in this regard.
  • Carriers still have to support it and consumers will need a way to pay for it. Great idea if Microsoft can get carriers behind it an they have a finance option.
  • The carrier problem was easily solved. Just stop selling the devices in the US and focus on the rest of the world, where carriers still compete and there is no need to win them over. No problem with Windows phone carrier support and promotion in most places. Once the phones were at the right market level in other countries, only then allow US carriers to stock them. At that point, they would either be keen as they could see the profit or they just want to play the monopoly game, in which case leave them to it. It's not hard to work it out.
  • As a US citizen, I would rather Microsoft, a U.S. based company, cater to the U.S. prior to making any other country happy. If they stopped doing that for mobile, they would stop doing that for everything and I wouldn't want to see that happen. I rather have the best Microsoft has to offer and ignore what the rest of the world has to deal with. U.S. interests should always come first.
  • As a non US Citizen, The world is WAY bigger than the US. And there are many people who want windows on phone...
  • Lol I don't know if you meant it but that sounds like you feel your superior because you're an US citizen. Personally I don't care if a company brings their product first to an other country, and I don't understand why this would be that important.
  • I don't think so. It's only logical. Shouldn't an American who started a company in the US serve his own people first ? Be for real now. Has nothing to do with anyone being superior.
  • And yet, had they focused outside the US, especially in markets that were already embracing