Why Microsoft isn't making a smartphone, even though you want one
Before iPhone's 2007 debut Microsoft peaked with nearly 50% of smartphone market share. Eleven years later Microsoft has no hardware horse in the iPhone/Android mobile race duality. Added to this conspicuous absence the story of Windows-on-phone's demise is wrought with anger from proponents, regret from within Microsoft and mockery from opponents.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who infamously claimed there was no room for a third mobile platform in his opposition to Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's phone business is blamed by many for Microsoft's current mobile woes. However, Microsoft's late move in 2010 to bring a consumer-friendly mobile platform to market, three years after iPhone, is the root of the problem.
Over-confidence and years of innovation "immobility" with pre-Windows Phone Windows Mobile set Microsoft's broader Windows-on-mobile strategy's progress at a snails-pace easily overtaken by the competition. Now, with established platforms, popular devices and user's forced exodus from Windows-on-phone Microsoft isn't making another smartphone, even if you want one. But Microsoft isn't done with mobile.
What makes a mobile platform successful?
Nadella was probably right in his early assessment that there was no room for a third mobile platform in the traditional slate smartphone sense. Nadella made later statements about bringing an "ultimate mobile device to market," that is "beyond the curve." This lends credence to the belief that his reservations about a third mobile platform were limited to refraining from competing in a market with entrenched rivals, invested users, an app store and developer economy that had passed slow-moving Microsoft by.
The current 11-year-old mobile infrastructure revolves around app ecosystems, strong developer and carrier relationships, OEM partnerships in the case of Google and Android, and premium hardware and software synergy for Apple.
From 2010 to 2015 Microsoft tried (perhaps half-heartedly) to adapt its mobile efforts to this infrastructure but failed miserably. Microsoft ultimately realized there was no room for another smartphone platform. And that's okay; smartphones are dead anyway.
Smartphones are dead
Early "smartphones" were more "phone" than anything else. Usage patterns on these keyboard-equipped devices with two- to three-inch screens focused on talking and light email use, text messaging, document review and little more.
Current devices with mini-tablet-like HD six-inch-plus touch displays, high-speed processors, 4 gigabytes of RAM, up to 256 gigabytes of storage, integrated artificial intelligence (A.I.) and more are mini tablet computers. This isn't semantics. What we call smartphones are pocket computers that consumers compare using the same spec categories we've traditionally used when shopping for PCs.
This hardware evolution, the accompanying order of magnitude increase in capabilities and the consistent connectivity to evolving mobile broadband is a very subtle, but notable, shift in the mobile industry. Mobile device usage patterns have shifted from one category (phones) to another (PCs). Usage is no longer phone-first focused. With web-surfing, gaming, content creation, and editing, messaging and more being the focus mobile devices are used as tablet PCs-first, that happen to have telephony. This shift is good news for Microsoft and one reason why it's not making a smartphone.
It's about the experiences
Though hardware is important to users, experiences matter most. A user isn't really concerned "how" he orders tickets to a show as long as his device helps him do it. Traditionally, tapping an app or opening a mobile website helped users accomplish tasks. That behavior and multilayered paradigm (involving developers, app stores, devices) are entrenched. Moving against the inertia of that system is difficult but it's happening …slowly.
Furthermore, digital assistants and ambient computing's evolution lets users speak to devices. Google Assistant and even Cortana now do what some apps used to do. Google demonstrated A.I. that is indistinguishable from a real person setting appointments, or answering a phone call. The experience of getting things done on our mobile devices is slowly evolving to be less app-dependent as A.I. becomes more integrated and capable.
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), hybrid app and web properties, are also slowly moving computing beyond the constraints of the app economy that Microsoft failed to gain a foothold in.
Though the technology is evolving slowly, a shift in how users experience getting things done is undeniably underway. Combined with a hardware evolution that has categorically moved from phones to literal pocket computers some of the barriers that prevented Microsoft from entering mobile with a third platform are slowly coming down. Microsoft's mythical Surface "Andromeda" needn't be defined as a phone since mobile device usage patterns are more consistent with PCs.
Living on the edge ...with Andromeda?
Microsoft's focus on edge computing and its new game streaming service xCloud leverages the power, accessibility, ubiquity, and device agnostic nature of the cloud to get things done.
Cloud computing and app and game streaming (regardless of platform) on the edge is what Microsoft's cloud strategy is about. Microsoft doesn't need a smartphone to take advantage of this. A pocket computer, that supports common user experiences thorough A.I., PWAs, cloud computing and of course apps (for now) would do.
There was no room for a third smartphone platform eight years ago. As mobile is now "pocket-PC-centric" versus phone-centric, and A.I. and PWAs are beginning to show other means than traditional apps can facilitate user's mobile experiences, perhaps room is being made for a third, non-smartphone mobile platform.
What Microsoft should do
Microsoft should wholly eschew any association with Surface Andromeda being a phone (though possessing telephony). And position it as a pocket Surface PC showcasing xCloud and Windows Ink. It would be a specific PC category with Core OS that is admittedly niche, but gaming and inking-focused but with all the capabilities of Windows via Core OS.
Additionally, Microsoft should go all out in its support of OEMs to build this device category. No, Microsoft is not making a smartphone, even though you may want one. That time has passed. It's time for something better. The question is can Microsoft deliver?
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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!
- Edge without Content/Ad Blocking or Tracking Protection; not well optimized for the device (vs. Samsung Internet on a Samsung device, for example)
- OneNote with its molasses sync speed and 3rd rate developer support from Microsoft. Locks you into OneDrive, etc.
- OneDrive that is totally redundant, as every Platform (and some OEMs) have 1st party Cloud Storage Services with better OS integration; awful photo/video management, loss of mobile music locker, etc.
- Office with a Subscription Cost, when every platform has totally viable 1st party productivity software (Google Docs, Apple iWorks are both excellent for Mobile, rendering Office totally unnecessary unless you have a business reason for it), and LibreOffice is $0 on desktop. Have fun paying to use Office in Samsung Dex! The others work fine out of the box... no money needed.
- Outlook, To Do : Again, totally redundant, and a waste of space and battery life.
- Skype: That none of the increasingly mobile-first users out there are using, or care about (literally more people I know have Duo installed on their phones, than Skype accounts; a total embarrassment, IMHO). I actually think the move to Skype was a net loss for Microsoft in the consumer market. Literally all of my Windows Live Messenger contacts have moved onto a competing service, instead of migrating to Skype.
After using Windows Phone my GS7 still feels archaic, almost as if I'm using WinMo from 2008. But, Androids feature set is a dream to any WP fan.
After all these years Windows Phone/Mobile is still more beautiful to use than Android, and just makes more sense the way it's situated. Seems like such a waste. But, I use both, so I can accurately judge without too much bias. I'm not really sad about it anymore. Android has worlds more to offer than WP, and the N9 is pretty sick. I hope the camera is amazing.
Android is ahead of Windows Phone in every single area EXCEPT UI... The Windows Phone 8.1 UI is still the best on a smartphone. Unfortunately, UI is what shapes the experience, on the other hand, anyone who has used only Android wouldn't know the difference..........
I believe one of the key reasons why we haven't seen a Microsoft 'Andromeda' device yet, and they have 'dragged their feet' is deliberate timing, so they can time the launch of their product with the launch next year of the 5g mobile networks. Being in at the start and launching a new platform may give them a head start?
5g will bring the increased bandwidth to run all the pc functionality cloud hosted Core OS? Also with the introduction of e-sims and smart provisioning the flexibility. Oh and could it also be sold as an OS as a service?
Why do gamers mean less than those few who are not "most people"...?
Why do you think one more Windows PC on the market is a bad idea? Because it's too portable?... 🤔🤔🤔
In the Microsoft "territory" I see a lot of healthy regions linked by shiny bridges but, in the middle of that, the giant and amazing island of mobile happens to be left alone with no bridges at all.
Is it really inside the Microsoft "PC city"? Well, mobile today is about pocket PCs, isn't it? I mean, it's obvious that the island is near since who lives there is already making shiny bridges towards the PC land (clearly one-way).
I like Mr Ward's articles but I honestly find them not critical enough on this topic. No one should abandon his real territories just for the promise of a different one, maybe on some near galaxy. Mr Nadella would know it if he played Risk game some times :)
My wife lamented she wasn't able to get all the coupon apps on her lumia WP so I got her a Samsung Galaxy. She doesn't like it, finds it terribly confusing, and quirky (says "sending" for texts when they are already sent. That along with the gazillion icons, confusing navigation, and a maze for billions of settings. My settings screen has a search field :). "V..P..N" boom!! -> VPN settings, connecting!!!
MS haven't "failed miserably", they just abandoned halfway. Mobile usage has shifted toward PC, and that where WM was good at. "Moving against the inertia of that system is difficult but it's happening …slowly."
Yes, but that would happen faster if developers had 3 platforms to maintain instead of 2 ;) MS is now waiting for a paradigm shift they might have been a leading part of.
Nadella took some good decisions, but retiring WM wasn't one.
yes an OEM will use Windows Core OS Make a smartphone.
Incidentally I have just had a number of app updates so Microsoft and others are still supporting the platform.
I'm using for three months an Android phone that is a lot more expensive than my 550 was and it is the worst experience I ever had with a phone.
The UI is redundant and stupid. What are they thinking? I really need a new Microsoft phone. I want to cry :(
phones have. I am in that group. 2= People who do not want to carry 2 devices a
laptop & smart phone 3= People who want a device that best interface with their Job's
or at home Windows PC The Andromeda device will surly be for People who want to
work with a larger screen than a regular smart phone has and people who desire a
device that will interface easily with their Job's or home Windows PC. The Andromeda
Device may not replace a Laptop & Smart phone for most folks but might for
a few folks. it will be OK for those who want a device with a large screen and will
interface with Windows PC's. there will be People who buy the Andromeda
device for these reasons