Tech terminology check: Is it Windows Phone or Windows phone?

Microsoft's Windows-on-phone strategy has undergone so many transitions during the years the lingo surrounding the subject has become a tangled web of names that can make effective verbal or written communication about the subject a challenge.

Granted, in the context of certain dialogue, the specificity of the terms may not matter. But I have been in more than one conversation in article comments, on social media, or have seen in the body of some articles across the web where the terms referring to a particular iteration of Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision have been applied incorrectly.

Is it a big deal? Most of the time, no. But words are designed to convey an idea, concept or state, so the wrong words can convey the wrong message.

Consequently, two people may be "talking" about two entirely different things, fully convinced they're discussing the same topic. With rising tempers and escalating frustration they may think, "Why doesn't this dude get what I'm saying?"

Yeah, we've all been there (or at least witnessed it).

Thus, appropriately-applied terms are essential to effective communication. In that light, I come as your humble mediator in this truly light-hearted piece, with the simple goal of hopefully leading us to common ground regarding the rarely-addressed proverbial elephant in the room.

"Windows phone terminology 101" is now in session.

Purpose of this course

We will be revisiting some the terminology we've used over the years when talking about our favorite mobile platform, with the goal of eliminating any confusion when you see those terms in use or use them yourself. By the end of this session, we hope to do away with those pesky, embarrassing and sometimes infuriating moments of confusion or conflict that may arise when someone incorrectly uses one of the myriad terms Microsoft has equipped us with to keep up with its ever-morphing Windows-on-phone vision.

By the end of this course you will have mastered "geek talk."

By the end of this crash course iPhone fans, Android phone fans and of course the ever-faithful Windows phone fan will know when to use "Windows Phone" rather than "Windows phone," or "Windows Mobile" rather than "Windows 10 Mobile." You'll have a grasp of what the phrase Windows on phone means and will also understand why all of these terms, including the exciting Windows on ARM (in relation to phones), are all Windows on phone.

You'll have such a proficient grasp of geek talk that you'll be the coolest geek among, well, geeks (no offense). Well, let's take it to school!

Roll call and defining terms

Microsoft fans, Windows phone fans, iPhone and Android phone users this is for you. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Devices Chief Panos Panay, Windows Chief Terry Myerson, Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela and all you Microsofties out there, I hope you're here too. Your support after this session is essential to keeping us on track.

Let's start with defining terms and establishing context.

Pocket PC

"Pocket PC" is a name we heard a lot in the past. But what was it, and why are we beginning to hear those words again in 2017? Well, Pocket PC was the name of Microsoft's Windows CE-based OS that ran on phones from 2000 to 2003. It was a paired-down version of the Windows OS for a pocketable device. Thus, Pocket PC. Simple, right?

The proper name Pocket PC identifies an OS, and the term pocket PC is a device category.

Pocket PC as an OS is dead. It transitioned to the next OS iteration of Microsoft's Windows on phone. So, Pocket PC in this context is a proper name (as in a proper noun) referring to a particular mobile OS.

Now you may hear the term pocket PC thrown around as we speculate about what's coming next for Microsoft. In that context, we are not talking about an OS version but a category of device. Simply put, pocket (lower case "p") PC in this context is not the proper name of an OS but a descriptive term for a category.

The OS Pocket PC is dead. The category pocket PC is not. Got it? Alright, let's move on.

Windows Mobile

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Like its predecessor Pocket PC, the Windows Mobile OS was based on Windows CE (and was more a name change than an OS shift). Windows Mobile had its run from 2003 to 2010, and with over 40 percent market share at its peak, though not a consumer success, it was the most successful OS version of Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision. Unfortunately, this OS was unceremoniously axed by Microsoft in 2010 after Apple's iPhone and Android phones had aggressively hacked away most of its market share, beginning in 2007. Fans of the platform were not happy, here's why.

Windows Mobile was devastated by the competition and put to pasture by Microsoft.

Microsoft was in a frenzy to get something in the hands of consumers to save the sinking ship that was its mobile platform. In that rush, the investments that may have enabled the legacy investments by developers to endure into the next iteration of Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision were sacrificed. It would have taken too long to ensure backward compatibility for Windows Mobile apps on the next Windows-on-phone OS. Senior Product Manager for Microsoft's Mobile Developer Experience Larry Lieberman explained:

"We do recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been writing apps for Windows Mobile for some time … If we'd had more time and resources, we may have been able to do something in terms of backward compatibility."

Thus, all of those nifty apps users had invested in on their Windows Mobile phones were left in the past, as were the investments of the developers that made them. The Windows CE-based Windows Mobile is dead. It was replaced with Windows Phone.

Windows Phone

This Windows Phone OS designation is where things begin to get confusing for conversation purposes. But allow me to offer some clarity. Windows Phone with an upper case "P," like Pocket PC before it, is the proper name of an OS version. It was the touch-friendly, Live Tile-equipped, buttery-smooth consumer iteration of Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision.

The unique UI and app services that were baked right into the OS were departures from the previous iterations of that vision. It was also a stark contrast to the pages of static icons and app-focused nature of the iPhone and many Android phones. Like all of the mobile Windows OSes before it, Windows Phone made the mobile devices it ran on Windows phones, with a lower case "p." Get it?

Windows Phone is the proper name of an OS, and Windows phone is a device category.

In a nutshell, a Windows phone is a category of mobile devices that runs Windows, whereas Windows Phone is a particular OS version of Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision. So, Windows Phone is dead. (As in, it's no longer under active development by Microsoft). Window phone is not.

Windows on phone remains, as development shifted from Windows Phone to the unified Windows core across all devices including Windows 10 Mobile.

Windows 10 Mobile

Windows 10 Mobile is the current iteration of Microsoft's Windows on phone vision. As part of the realization of Microsoft's decades-long trek to a single core, OneCore, Windows 10 Mobile is the mobile version of Windows 10. Unlike previous versions, it shares a common core with Windows 10 and is in essence Windows.

Windows Mobile is dead, but Windows 10 Mobile is not.

Window 10 Mobile is an entirely different platform than the Windows CE-based Windows Mobile that preceded it. You may hear or read Window Mobile, where the "10" designation is omitted, in current conversations when someone is referring to the Windows-on-phone OS that is still under active development. Don't confuse that with the dead version of the OS with a similar name.

Windows Mobile is dead. Windows 10 Mobile (though disputed) is not.

Windows on phone and Windows phone

Microsoft's enduring vision over the years has been to put Windows on phone. And through the years, it has succeeded in doing just that, though the various iterations of Windows on phone have not seen consumer success.

Still, all the various mobile Windows OSes over the years, including Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, Window Phone and now Windows 10 Mobile, made the devices they ran on Windows phones (lower case "p"). So the term Windows phone is a descriptive term, defining a category of device that should be heard as Windows on phone.

Windows phone should be heard as Windows on phone.

Taking this a step further the next iteration of Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision may be a pocketable ultramobile-PC with telephony, running full Windows on ARM. As I've mused previously this could, though there are other options, lead to the demise of Windows 10 Mobile. Full Windows will be running on "whatever this phone-like device" will be called after all. If that occurs, Windows 10 Mobile will be dead but, Windows phone, as Windows on phone, will be as alive as it has always been.

Class dismissed

Well, there you have it, folks. For those who have been uncertain when to use Windows Phone or Windows phone, or Windows Mobile or Windows 10 Mobile, I hope you're feeling a little more comfortable after this session.

I also hope everyone has a clearer understanding of Microsoft's enduring Windows-on-phone vision and how it persists despite the cessation of specific OS iterations. Finally, I hope we all walk away with an idea of where Microsoft may be headed with full Windows on ARM and how Windows on phone (Windows phone) persists in that context.

But what if in the highly unlikely event (given that Windows is Windows and as long as there is Windows, Windows on phone can never die), Windows on phone does die?

Well, that's another session, but your homework includes reading: "If Windows Phone fails, Microsoft's Phone Companion app may herald Redmond's plan B", where I explore that very scenario.

Your homework also includes sharing this Windows-on-phone terminology 101 piece and jumping into comments for a lively and friendly discussion.

That's all for today everyone. Class dismissed!

Required reading

Windows phone isn't dead

Smartphones are dead

The untold app gap story

Windows Mobile and the enterprise

The Surface Phone

Jason Ward

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!