Windows Mobile and the enterprise Part I: Out of sight, out of mind

Builiding (Image credit: Microsoft)

How Microsoft waits for the imminent industry shift in mobile computing, however, is just as important that they wait. In a recent interview with Le Point, president of Microsoft France Vahe Torossian (opens in new tab), stated:

"We have a special position in the mobile today, focusing on the company, but we are working on the next big thing…"During this time of transition, our attention will focus on the professional market."

Microsoft knows that the paradigm shift on the horizon affects both the enterprise and consumers. The question is what is the best strategy for Microsoft to execute as it awaits (and pushes) this shift in order to most effectively introduce an OS and hardware solution that leads in the new paradigm? Silence in the consumer space to which they seem to have committed, I contend, is not an option.

Don't take it personal, it's just business

Microsoft's focus on the next big thing has been part of our analysis here at Windows Central for quite a while. Our assertion has consistently been that Microsoft is playing a long game where its strengths and assets in a pioneering universal platform and context sensitive OS and hardware would position the company for an inevitable shift in personal computing. It is Torossian's statement that Microsoft is focusing the developing mobile OS, on the enterprise and only the enterprise for the coming years that is troubling.

This notion goes beyond the retrenchment focus of first-party hardware on the enterprise and fans. With the cessation of the Lumia line Microsoft is also stating that the the mobile platform, the software, itself is being aligned strictly with the enterprise. This point was stressed at the enterprise-focused Microsoft Ignite 2016 Conference:

How will Microsoft be positioned for the paradigm shift that affects consumers and the enterprise?

Windows 10 mobile powers manufacturing partner phones (not just first-party Lumias) and is part of the consumer and enterpris—focused Universal Windows Platform, however. As Microsoft's strategy shields its developing mobile vision from the claws of competition it is also hiding it from the view of a consumer space Redmond hopes to re-enter with its "next big thing." How will this strict enterprise focus effect Redmond's long-term consumer and enterprise strategy?

Break up that fallow ground

In agriculture, the term fallow means plowed and left unseeded for a season or more. This uncultivated land is left in this state so that at a later time it might become more fruitful. While in this plowed state, however, the area becomes overgrown with weeds and thorns. Before the farmer sows his seed in this field, he must break up the fallow ground, or clear away the undesirable growth to make way for his fruit.

Microsoft has moved Windows 10 Mobile from the consumer field for a season, while its development and that of the UWP evolve toward a more cohesive union. This union will ideally yield a manifestation of a mature OS supported by a broader intelligent cloud-powered ecosystem. That ecosystem even further down the road is strategically expected to benefit from a less app-focused system of AIs and bots that support the user based on conversation as the canvas and human language as the UI. The integration of technology from Wand Labs and Xamarin may further diminish the dependence on the current app warehouse model.

Though no official timeline is given Torossian's reference to "years" denotes that Windows 10 Mobile will be an enterprise hermit for a minimum of at least two years. It could very well be longer.

Microsoft seems intent on re-entering the consumer space, however, with a category-defining "next big thing" device true to the spirit of the Surface line. Imbued with the software and ecosystem attributes of the aforementioned platform support, this Surface device seems, at least for now, destined to be introduced into a space that will have been long void of any representation of Microsoft's Mobile OS.

Microsoft needs to maintain consumer mindshare while enterprise focused.

Redmond seems unconcerned that when finally ready, they will be attempting to sow the seed of their mobile play among the weeds and thorns of the competition that will have overgrown their previous mindshare. This situation is not good for Microsoft.

During this retreat into the enterprise Microsoft, I contend, needs to break up its fallow ground in the consumer space if its long game is to be fruitful. Or put another way, they need to maintain some degree of mindshare during their years of absence from the consumer field.

Pros and cons

There are pros and cons to everything. I would be disingenuous if I did not acknowledge the positive aspects of Microsoft's retreat from the consumer space though I don't like the fact that they have retreated.

Microsoft has less than 1% of the market. Android dominates with over 80% share and iPhone locks in the rest. The supporting ecosystem of developers, companies and the all-important consumers see the smartphone landscape as a two horse race. For instance, most companies confidently advertise their apps for "your" iPhone or Android phone. The default presumption that those are the only two options consumers use speaks volumes. Window's phone? What's a Windows phone? Exactly.

Windows phone? What's a Windows phone? - Exactly.

So hunkering the mobile portion of its universal platform under the protection of the enterprise where development can continue unabated is a good thing. If Microsoft did not have a universal platform or a strong IT enterprise presence, Windows Mobile would have no hope. Still, with a complete retreat from the consumer space, the Microsoft-Mobile-shaped hole leaves a vacuum that will be swiftly filled by rivals and may not be successfully hollowed out when Microsoft is ready for another go at the consumer market.

The profound effects of the diminishing presence of Windows phone in the consumer space can be clearly seen in the changes among the primary sources of Windows phone news: Blogs.

Out of sight out of mind(share)

Most faithful tech readers have likely noticed the name changes to many of their favorite Windows phone-focused sites. These changes are in large part in line with Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform strategy that brings a continuity across the ecosystem and demands our focus on this shift as Microsoft-focused sites. It also reflects the diminishing role of the "phone" as the primary personal computing platform as the ecosystem and mobility of experiences takes precedence.

Candidly speaking the changes also fit the current state of phone (whether this was the intent or not in the name changes) as a factor diminishing in relevance particularly in the consumer space where most of the popular tech sites thrive.

As Windows phone diminishes in relevance, so does Windows phone coverage.

With a mere 1% share and a definitive move of Window 10 Mobile to the enterprise, whether explicitly stated or not, many sites will or have already begun to focus their content elsewhere, (i.e. more game news, a blitz of enterprise content, etc.) other than phone. The phone audience is shrinking and consumer relevant phone news is diminishing. This is not good for Microsoft's mobile strategy.

Fallow ground (or Arrested development)

Most of what the public learns about the latest tech comes from tech sites where passionate writers write about the latest developments. Hungry fans, primarily in the consumer space, yearn for, comment on and share this information with friends and on social media. Moreover, enthusiast readers often become the tech influencers within their personal circles.

With a diminishing Windows phone audience on one end and Microsoft's severing Windows 10 Mobile from the life-giving zeal of the passionate consumer space, Redmond is essentially choking the primary portal through which Windows Mobile news would be breathed into the consumer conversation: tech sites.

By declaring Windows 10 Mobile an enterprise product for the coming years many consumer-facing sites have yet another reason, beyond a shrinking phone audience, to refrain from talking about Windows Mobile as much as in years past. Most of the audience doesn't like that "enterprise stuff."

Microsoft's defining Windows Mobile as an enterprise product further removes it from the conversation.

This decision, of course, will affect the Windows Mobile conversation readers engage in in the commentary of articles across the web, forums and journalistic-focused social media platforms like Twitter. This growing silence will undoubtedly affect the already precarious potential investments of developers in the platform.

If no one's talking about the platform that's a bad thing. If developers see no potential in Microsoft's "absent" representation of an all-important mobile platform they may see little reason to invest in the app Bridges, bots and other aspects of the Windows ecosystem which ultimately lead to mobile. Which of course is where developers see personal computing's focus. If developers see little Microsoft mobile presence in the consumer space today (when there is/was a consumer presence) and none in the coming years (when Microsoft is focusing on enterprise) they may have little confidence in the grand consumer and enterprise vision toward which Microsoft is working.

Can Microsoft endure the impact of years without a consumer-focused mobile play?

iPhone 7 Selfie

iPhone 7 Selfie (Image credit: Windows Central)

Keep in mind; most developers are consumer- and mobile phone focused. So though the message of the UWP has a legitimate foundation, relatively few developers (for now) are looking beyond the current "warehouse of apps" paradigm toward the benefits of creating one app for all form factors. Thus, the message of building Store apps motivated by the 400 million and growing Windows devices (primarily PCs) is likely to be even less effective now that the end game for developers – consumer facing mobile phones – are not Microsoft's focus.

We see developers embracing Windows 10 with universal apps while watching others leave. Alan Mendelvich of Ad Duplex's findings that the majority of his universal Ad Duplex app users are on smartphones, lends further evidence to the concern that a reliance on "selling" the UWP to developers, particularly without a consumer facing mobile play, will be tough.

Despite being a totally universal app and while not marketed specifically to mobile users, 4 out of 5 AppRaisin's daily active users are on mobile. And that number is only increasing towards mobile domination.

Is it possible that we will see an increased rate of app departures and greater lack of confidence in Microsoft's investments in mobile from potential partners like we've seen with Lenovo? Certainly, Microsoft considered these potential repercussions when they made this enterprise-focused decision. Can they endure the inevitable fallout in the coming years as they build their next generation ecosystem?

Will other company's express a lack of confidence in Redmond's strategy during these years of silence?

Rest assured that while Microsoft is silent in the consumer space, Apple and Google will continue their forward march with exciting consumer facing news. As a matter of fact, while Microsoft is building that impressive next generation ecosystem in relative silence, Apple and Google will be honing their own ecosystems in the light of the public eye. Continuity is sure to become a more comprehensive experience for those in the Apple ecosystem. And Googles Andromeda may very well come to light in the near future.

For information purposes only

I recently posed this question: should Microsoft begin marketing Windows Mobile to the masses? I believe they should. But not in an attempt to convert iPhone and Android users at this point. But rather as a means to maintain mindshare of its mobile offering and to gain mindshare for the Universal Windows Platform. Microsoft's investment in the "next big thing," which will presumably run on Windows Mobile, is paramount to their future success. Maintaining mindshare in the competitive consumer smartphone space while focused on the enterprise is, therefore, critical. And presenting an "image" of Windows 10 Mobile within the context of the larger ecosystem in which it will exist when reintroduced to the consumer space is important.

Consider this: Microsoft is currently pushing Windows 10, which is part of the UWP, to the masses and promoting its benefits on 2-in-1s and tablets via aggressive television ads. The number of ads that Microsoft has released may surprise the most astute Microsoft fans. Continuing this push while steadily introducing the currently unknown element of the Universal Windows Platform would position Microsoft to begin educating the masses to the broader and cohesive ecosystem to which all Windows products belong.

Such ads would be the perfect context in which to introduce Windows Mobile. Not as a focus, mind you, but as a creative "product placement" within a Windows 10 commercial. For instance, while maintaining focus on Windows 10 on PC a person using Continuum on a Windows phone could be clearly highlighted in the background. Maybe a subtle, fleeting, reference could be made to how the phone is also a "PC" with Continuum.

Windows 10 ads can subtly highlight Windows Mobile and Continuum.

The ad can end with a logo showing the different form factors Windows runs on. Such references can remain part of the Windows 10 campaign throughout Microsoft's years of enterprise focus for mobile. While not attempting to sell Windows phones, it keeps the platform in the public eye within the context of the UWP and supports Windows phone manufacturing partners.

When Microsoft is ready to return to the consumer space in full force the mental inertia that they will have had to contend with had they remained silent will be more pliable due to their persistent presence. The mindshare will not have been totally lost.

If they don't do this they must do something. Silence in the consumer space, I contend, is not an option.

What are your thoughts? Should Microsoft use the platform of their Windows 10 campaign to educate the masses on the UWP and Windows 10 Mobile? Sound off in comments and on Twitter!

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!

  • Thanks reading folks! Microsoft's mobile strategy has seen a lot of flux over the years. The company is focused on a long play we have posited in great detail since last year. I do believe that if Microsoft does not keep Windows Mobile at least "visible" in the consumer space while it is focused on the enterprise its long term strategy may suffer. Rivals will continue to lock users into their ecosystems and Continuity and Andromeda may become even more profound elements of rival ecosystems. If Microsoft attempts to introduce a category-defining device (after a paradigm shift) in a space where its mobile platform option will have been an unknown entity for years, will meet with immense mental inertia. Maintaining mindshare is therefore essential. So what are your thoughts. LET'S TALK!!!
  • This is too depressing. I dont want to TALK
  • I'd be depressed if I were Google right now, CyanogenMod, the only real open source part of Android today has a new CEO, and now by default Mods are integrated with Skype + Cortana which is something that puts Microsoft in 1st place and Google in 2nd.  Google Android is now getting more like a walled garden treatment after they launched the Pixel and are now copying the iPhone, on controlling both hardware + software on the other side Microsoft is fixing iOS bridge and collaborating with Cyanogen to make Microsoft apps universal across any device. Is good to be a Microsoft fan today.  I can't wait for Surface Phone launch in Spring 2017!
  • Träum weiter, Microsoft hat verpennt. Microsoft must come away from this monotonous design and deliver something that is appealing not only to the eyes, but it is also functional. It must trigger the must have feeling in people wether Corporate or private consumers.
  • Interesting design?  You think the Pixel or iPhone are interesting?  Basic rounded slabs with buttons.  They may look trim, and smooth and well buillt but that is all that is needed.  Think luxurious design.  Think simple design.  Then you begin to have the current market hits.
  • Interesting design, yes! Like the mass devices from Samsung (with an exception considering the Edges) They all seem the same boring ungraceful rounded bodies with a rounded central button :/
  • Design does not sell phones otherwise Nokia would have done better
  • No had nothing to do with Nokias was the fact they went with Windows phone instead of android.   Thats what killed them.   If Nokia had 1020 on Android I would have sold like hotcakes!
  • No, NOKIA was long dead before they decided to use Windows as their main OS. I have always been a big fan of NOKIA, but that it were homemade issues that lead to it's decline and Windows at the time looked like it could come to the rescue. NOKIA's mistake was one that many market leaders fall for and that is that they leaned back when they were at their peak and were to slow to react to changes in the market (iPhone). They would have went down with Android too.
  • As Mary Jo Foley stated and WC has also indicated, Surface phone is going to be a hybrid computing device with a sim, not exactly a phone is what I foresee. I do hope they launch one version of a simple phone form factor for enthsiast crowd
  • @techiez Agreed, the Surface "phone" in my estimation won't be a phone at all. I actually wrote a piece back in Jan 2015, pre-WC days asking the question, "Is a 7" Surface Mini Phablet on the Horizon?" I later wrote a piece for WC last year asking "Will the rumored Surface Phone be a reimagined Surface Mini?"
    The premise being the Mini was supposedly a pen-centric device but couldn't really stand out late 2014 when mini Android tablet's were all the rage: This it was canceled.
    Panos, as we know is persistent, and in an interview with Wired he revealed he still uses his Mini as a moleskin, or notepad, that he keeps at his bedside.
    Just as he pushed the good qualities of Surface through 3 iterations until the brand hit a sweet spot I think Panos, as I wrote in the piece, is going to incorporate great pen-centric elements of the Mini which he still finds useful, into a Continuum-powered Surface device with telephony.
    I posited in that piece Continuum and Windows 10 now allow differentiation which was not available two years ago. So, yeah, I totally believe the Surface "phone" won't even use the designation phone and will be positioned as a PC- #ultramobilePC
    Articles on the Surface "phone"
  • Boy you're in for a very violent awakening...
  • "I can't wait for Surface Phone launch in Spring 2017!" Lol, good one. More like Spring 2020/never.  
  • I agree. On a separate note, Jason really should clean up his writing style, it's obtuse, awkward English that takes entire paragraphs to make a simple point, and forces the reader to reread entire sections more than once because they've forgotten what the context was by the time he makes a point.
  • .... Um. **** I hate to be a critic, especially when I dont get paid to do so. But I agree completely with this guy. I couldn't put my finger on why it was difficult to read Jason's posts. But this explanation hits it right on the nose
  • Thanks for the feedback.:-)
  • One thing I've learned is that everyone's reading comprehension is different.  I've never had to re-read his post to get his point.  But I'm sure there are some who try to read it so fast so they can quickly make a comment in the comment section they miss the gist of the article on their first go around.
  • Sometimes I do have to reread them as well and I consider myself to have a somewhat strong comprehension, but at the same time I probably am doing it to myself by reading quickly. There are some repeated sentences (worded differently) that would make articles shorter, but I don't feel like this takes away from his points too much. Sometime things do need to be repeated more than once because it relates to different things. I don't regularly read books, in fact this site is probably the most reading I do besides gaming and work, but I still can't understand this TL/DR culture that texts, chats, and tweets have created. As far as the paragraphs, the correct writing style IS to have one point per paragraph. That is the point of a paragraph. It is to express one idea, and that can be as long or as short as it needs to be. This is why paragraphs exist, to separate different ideas or points.
  • @avatar Thanks for the sharing your views!:-)
  • Yeah, his writing style is designed to cover all refute and answer questions, all while informing. Unfortunately, it's not a style common in today's microwave blurb generation. But for this topic, and because of the presumptuousness of the WP crowd, you have to be thorough in your explanations. Because the WP crowd tend to read more into information than what is actually there.
  • Thanks for explanation. I see that
  • @STXVI Thank for throwing that in.:-) Now stop reading my mind! lol :-)
  • Haha, and I thought it was just me, the non-native speaker. :D
  • Jason is one of the best writers on the site (by any objective metric -- grammar, use of metaphor, use and defense of thesis, friendly style, etc.) and the only one besides Daniel who covers strategy. Don't change, Jason!
  • @GraniteStaeColin I appreciate that very much! We have a great team here. All of our styles together make WC the best place for your Microsoft news and analysis. I'm not sure if your into the gaming stuff, but Jez has some great long form analysis pieces that he's written. :-)
  • It is. It's not only depressing, it's scary. MS shouldn't need Jason Ward to run their business. It's just ridiculous...
    Basically, the focus of this article is. Marketing.... Jason has just said what I have said for years... "WINDOWS PHONE WILL NOT SURVIVE WITHOUT TERRIFIC MARKETING"... And, now marketing, in the context of W10M's current situation, is more important than ever. I totally agree with Jason because I'VE BEEN SAYING THIS **** FOR YEARS! It's common sense. Let people know about your product so that they literally know It's available to buy. Why is this so damn hard for MS to understand?... Why?
  • Probably because, they never received criticism for this before, tech sites like WC were continuously supporting their stupid decisions.
  • SMDH
  • Why writing in code? I guess I'm not a member of the "club"? The goal is communication, right? I researched it on "BING" and found many websites with 8 different definitions.
    Apologies to all. Please resume the good and great Windows Central comments.
    Best Wishes
  • Also, Jason is right... Even if MS releases a class leading device in the future, and does little to keep current developers onboard, we will have a WP7 situation all over again.. Zero apps from the get go, and starring fresh. MS couldn't afford to loose any apps, or market share, in the first place, because the situation was already bad enough... How are they gonna convince developers, who have struggled with WP, and now have left, to come back? I mean, we're not talking about bringing new developers in for the first time, rather developers that have had a hard time with MS, and that left. That's even harder than before, which was almost impossible.. My point is that Jason is right... MS can not afford to loose one inch of momentum. Not one..... Too, late.
  • Gotta give you props for sticking around so long. You're a dedicated fan. You seem to be one of the last of the Mohicans. I started with WP7 with the AT&T focus being my first WP. I was plannig on coming back if the UWP thing panned out. But I think I'm drinking that iPhone Kool Aid now and there's no turning back. Looking forward to an OLED iPhone next year. Join the Dark Side!
  • Exactly what I did,  after all the lies and bull from MS at the start of windows 10.....and the pure lack off commitment on anything....I went to apple.   I am MUCH happier....everything just works right.  When apple releases an update,  you get it,  and it works.  Unlike this update and break 10 and fix 1.....MS is a total JOKE.
  • Erm, this is just one example. Apple have a very storied history with borking their updates: Everyone always thinks the grass is greener on the otherside. Until they jump over the fence and realise the grass is greener because of the huge amount of horse sh*t just under the surface.....
  • My GF loves her iPhone 6s... So, does everyone I know that has one. The hardware is like candy... Explain that.
  • You're much happier but you don't appear ECSTATIC. You're drawn back here, but why? Why not abandon it fully, don't even waste your precious time and energy degrading something that you do not want to be associated with? Like your style.
  • You make a good point....I NEVER go over to iOS and Android sites and comment on there, I just don't have A) The time or B) Interest in pushing Windows 10 Mobile on a website dedicate to iPhones etc. Doesn't make sense
  • We got it, you love Apple, most people here don't. So stay with Apple then and sod off. This site is called Windows Central and not I like Apple better and Microsoft sucks Central.
  • I've been using windows phones since windows phone 7 released and the last one I bought was a 930. And that may be the last. Next year april when its buy the next phone if a surface phone aint there im out of options but to jump to ios. Hmm. Ms's strategy really sucks. I mean I'm pretty sure not many people in enterprise buy windows phones... And its th e consumers that make up their tiny market share and they are going to act as if consumers don't exist.. Well now its sure windows on mobile will become irrelevant soon.. I don't want that to happen but its time to stop acting as if we can't see it . Fan or not. And about the app from android..well the 930 can't post comments frm the windows central app since forever... Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • You don't HAVE to wait for the "Surface Phone" you might get a fantastic deal on a HP Elite X3 by April next year. Also I'd consider the Lumia 950 personally....£249 w/ Display Dock and you can get £40 cashback on top of that in the UK at the moment. It's a bargain for a phone that would easily last you from now until early 2018 at a fraction of the cost of paying £700+ in 2017 for a phone that might not even release/be what you expect. People complain the X3 is overpriced at ~£700 but look at Google's new phone...very similar price. The failed Galaxy Note 7....very similar price.
  • Yeah, but he won't have apps.. Lol
  • I do have to wait, since the HP Elite X3 is not available on Verizon.
  • US carriers sound like a major PITA. In the UK we can just buy sim free and use on any network.
  • Apple will probably invent wireless charging for the iPhone 8 too!
  • And then it will be best iPhone ever. Tech sites will write numerous articles about why it is the best iPhone ever. Also, that Apples own wireless charging called the Wireless Charging Engine is the best thing ever.
  • Thanks... Heck, Maybe MS has a deal with Apple to sell iPhones.. Lol
  • Developers who left the platform in the past are not very likely to return. Microsoft has been too unpredictable for the past three years. If you want to develop apps, you do that for money, and therefore you need to know what the plans are for the platform at least for the near future.
    Developers have been betrayed by MS several times. I'd be happy, but very surprised to see them return.
  • Longer time readers may recall that most of the marketing for Windows Phone was done by Nokia. When Microsoft bought Nokia it stopped.
    My personal opinion is that CEO Nadella doesn't want to invest in any thing that doesn't have a short term path to profits. He has already canceled phones and the Band.
    I agree with Jason that with no general public knowledge of MS being in the phone business (via OS only at this point) MS will not have a chance in the Enterprise space.
    Picture this. An IT department concludes Windows devices with Continuum is the way to go for the company road warriors. They ask the President and VP of marketing and all the sales people to give up their iPhones and Androids. NOT A CHANCE!!!
  • Microsoft could have easily been number two in mobile if not for numerous blatantly obvious blunders. This ending was so obvious. This is why the fans complained about what they were doing or didn't do. We told you so. Now MS wants WP consumers to go to Android or iOS, and the WC tech writers still continue to support the MS path forward, just as they did in the past under Windows Phone Central. We see how well that ended for mobile with both companies curtailing support or changing their name.
  • All very good points but frankly obvious ones. You have to assume people at MS are aware of the issues you mention. So why are they seemingly abandoning consumer sector? I don't know, it's really puzzling to me. I hope there's more to their plan than already disclosed.
  • I'm sure someone at Microsoft is reading these tech sites and seeing the issues they are faced with . MS is just slow as hell to react #no ones going to buy the iPhone it has no keyboard. smh
  • They are making more money out of cloud n office, they are selling apps on Android and IOS, next when Andromeda releases, they will release software for that as well, they have a short sig