No, Windows phone isn't dead — and it may never die

With just 0.3 percent share in Gartner's most recent report, things almost couldn't look worst for Windows phone. Blackberry's 0.0 percent (with only 200,000 phones sold last quarter), however, is worse and seems to be the inevitable direction in which Windows phone is headed.

At this point, some of you having read the title may be ready to head off to comments to share your thoughts. But keep reading. I challenge you to a more mature discussion, and you're going to need to read more than the headline.

So given Windows phone's current state, is the platform dead? That depends on who you ask.

Common ground

I recently watched the movie, "Arrival" which is based on a sci-fi short story called, "Story of your life." In the film, aliens come to earth positioning 12 ships in different locations around the planet. The beings in the ships have a completely different language and language structure, both verbal and written, than humans.

The central character in the story is a human linguist whose role is to set the stage for a dialogue between the species. To do so, she must establish common ground, ensuring that both species understand and agree upon the meaning of certain words and concepts. In essence, to have a meaningful and productive conversation she had to make sure everyone was on the same page.

The same must occur when we address whether or not Windows phone is dead.

Dead or alive?

The status of Windows phone is a polarizing topic. Many fans are passionate, and any allegation that their beloved mobile platform is dead sends them into a well-rehearsed defense.

Many critics are equally passionate, and Microsoft's consistently diminishing share fuels these critics' relentless offensive against the platform that has been reported dead several times a year for several years now.

The first thing we must establish as the fundamental underpinnings of this conversation is, "What is dead?" First, as you know, since we are talking about an inanimate object, a platform, that has never actually "lived," the terms dead and alive are applied in a more figurative sense than an actual one. With that said, the word alive means: living, not dead; alert and active; animated.

Dead means no longer active or animated.

Conversely, the word dead means: no longer alive, not alert and active; animated.

When we look at the definitions of these two words, we must think about the object to which we are applying them. Therefore, we must also agree upon what Windows on a phone is. Finally, what aspects of the inanimate Windows on phone platform are sufficiently congruous to qualities of life, to reflect "alertness, activity and animation?"

Signs of life

Emanating from Microsoft's leadership are both vision and activity in relation to its admittedly troubled mobile efforts.

Microsoft's Dona Sarkar heads the Windows Insider Program and actively releases mobile builds to Insiders.

Windows Chief Terry Myerson has expressed Microsoft's commitment to mobile.

The company's CMO Chris Capossela has confirmed Microsoft's commitment to mobile through partnerships and Redmond's category-defining hardware strategy in relation to mobile.

Finally, CEO Satya Nadella shared an "ultimate mobile device" vision.

Clearly, these few examples from Microsoft's leadership, reveal that the company has a vision for and is actively involved in developing Windows on phone. The level of that commitment can (and I'm sure will) be debated, and their failures of the past can (and I'm sure will) be rehearsed.

Empirically speaking, however, Redmond is developing the platform, along with the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Like a living thing, it is progressing, as further revealed in the forward-looking, Discover what's next for Windows 10 Mobile video from Microsoft's 2016 Ignite Conference below.

Objective observation reveals vision, development and use of Windows on phone.

Microsoft partners including Alcatel, HP and WhartonBrooks have invested millions of dollars in and embrace Windows phone. Here again, the level of success with those OEMs that have and continue to embrace Windows on phone can be debated.

What can't be refuted is that they have and are investing their resources as part of a business strategy to use the Windows platform as part of their mobile strategy.

Not yet thriving, but still alive

Finally, a host of fans (though shrinking) are actively using Windows on phone. The Windows Insiders among this user base engage in active communication with the builders of the platform. Through feedback, via official channels and social media, Windows on phone is being developed in "real time." The progress is visible as interactions are readily observable on social media and as blog posts alert of the changes in new builds.

Clearly, objective observation of the collective examples above leads us to an undeniable conclusion that "Windows on phone" has more in common with the definition of alive than dead.

Even the snarky, "brain dead but on life support" analogy some like to use may not hold up. When an individual is brain dead they cannot consciously respond to external stimuli. Following the critics' analogy through, Insiders' feedback is like external stimuli to the platform, and the responses of fixed bugs, addressed concerns, added features and more are "conscious responses" from the brain, or the Microsoft employees working on the platform. Is the platform in an unhealthy state? Yes. Is it dead? Obviously not.

Windows on phone rose and fell but never died

Though Microsoft's Windows-on-phone strategy has transitioned through various iterations over time, the over-arching platform never died. The central theme since its inception has always been to bring Windows to a pocketable telephony-enabled form factor. Therefore "Windows on phone" can mean any form of pocketable, telephony-capable device.

Unfortunately, the unceremonious failure of Microsoft's efforts at various stages of this vision composes a sad history that many use to point to a supposed inevitable future of more of the same. Many critics at this stage in its lifecycle claim Windows on phone is dead (something that has never historically occurred) rather than a failed iteration and transition to the next for which there is a precedence.

Windows on phone has struggled over the years but has never died.

Pocket PC, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone were all phases of Microsoft's Windows on phone vision on the path to OneCore that Redmond hoped would succeed, but which ultimately failed before transitioning to the next iteration. Windows 10 Mobile is the latest Windows on phone OS, and unlike its predecessors, it shares the same core as Windows desktops. Windows 10 Mobile, therefore, is Windows and is consequently under consistent development as part of UWP. Therein lies further evidence that Windows on phone isn't dead.

Furthermore, Windows 10 on ARM suggests that the Surface "phone" will have full Windows. If so, Microsoft's Windows on phone vision will be fully realized. The consistent progression of the Windows on phone vision, from Pocket PC to Windows 10 Mobile and potentially to full Windows on an ultramobile Surface, reflects a continuity of the Windows on phone story that, though troubled, has never died.

Windows on phone may live on as full Windows 10 on ultramobile PCs

Finally, because Microsoft's ultimate mobile device strategy reflects a vision to redefine the PC and push it into the smartphone space, it is necessary to address the use of the word "phone." If my analysis that Microsoft will be positioning an ultramobile Surface PC with telephony is accurate (which I first suggested in January 2015 and revisted in November of the same year), the Windows on phone strategy will be realized on a pocketable PC. Though the word phone is used, the spirit of the Windows on phone strategy has always included Windows on a pocketable, telephony-enabled device. Microsoft's Terry Myerson's words are consistent with this assessment:

…both cellular connectivity and ARM processors have a role in the technical landscape of the future. So we're going to continue to invest in ARM and cellular. And while I'm not saying what type of device, I think we'll see devices there, Windows devices, that use ARM chips. I think we'll see devices that have cellular connectivity. Sometimes, when you're investing into growth it's easier, but when you're investing for technical strategy or things like that, sometimes people can question it ...

Myerson's statement clearly points to the importance of Windows 10 Mobile as a technical investment for the continued development of cellular and ARM devices.

Though there are numerous paths Microsoft can take with Windows 10 Mobile, this may suggest that Windows 10 Mobile will eventually be subsumed by full Windows 10 on ARM-based, cellular-capable ultramobile PCs.

Full Windows may replace Windows 10 Mobile.

If so, the eventual absence of Windows 10 Mobile on a device, as Microsoft's Windows-on-phone vision progresses, would not be without precedence. Windows Mobile faded from devices as Window Phone replaced it. Windows 10 Mobile did the same to Windows Phone.

As long as Windows lives so does Window on phone

An interesting point to consider is that the introduction of full Windows 10 on an ultramobile PC designed to overlap the smartphone space won't have the same, "beginning with zero market share" challenge Windows Phone had in 2010. Microsoft's category-defining ultimate mobile device will run full Windows 10 and will join the currently 400 million other devices that also use the OS. This may be why Microsoft seems unmoved by Windows phone market share approaching zero percent.

Windows 10 ultramobile PCs will join 400 million other Windows 10 PCs.

As we look at the history of Windows on phone, its admittedly current dismal state (with Windows 10 Mobile), as well as the Windows-on-phone ultramobile PC vision Microsoft is working toward (full Windows on ARM), it's clear that Windows on phone is not dead.

Will Microsoft incorporate mixed-reality, inking and other innovations in its ultimate mobile device? Whatever the final product, if Microsoft is successful, the ultramobile Surface and third-party ultramobile PCs Microsoft partners may build (as they did 2-in-1s) will be category-defining Windows 10 devices. As such they will benefit from the innovations that are part of the platform, as well as the breadth and scope of Windows, as they push Microsoft's enduring Windows on phone vision forward.

Windows on phone is not dead, and ultramobile PCs running full Windows are why the concept of Windows on phone may never die.

Following the story

Windows phone isn't dead

Smartphones are dead

The untold app gap story

Windows Mobile and the enterprise

The Surface Phone

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!

616 Comments
  • Thanks for reading folks! Microsoft's Windows on phone vision has seen the manifestation of a number of "Windows on phone" iterations over the years. Pocket PC, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone and the most recent Windows 10 Mobile. Though each of those iteration's failed to reach mass acceptance and success in the market (though Windows Mobile had above 40% share in 2007 before the iPhone), each ultimately segued to the next iteration where MS hoped the next would succeed. The failure was most certainly not Microsoft's intent, but the overall Windows on phone vision has remained unchanged, never died and persists even to this day with Windows 10 Mobile, OneCore, and a potential full Windows on ARM ultramobile Surface and partner ultramobile PCs. The declining Windows phone market share may not bother Microsoft if full Windows 10 on an ultramobile PC is in fact thier goal. The device will be a new category of telephony-enabled Windows 10 PCs
    benefiting from hundreds of millions of other Windows 10 PCs and the market share they hold. It will be interesting to see how Windows on phone vision evolves in this context. For those who did not read the piece, I challenge you to do so before commenting. Input without reading is often a reaction to the topic, title or other comments while actually claiming response to the content. Sadly, such comments often stand out like a sore thumb to those who actually read the piece since the comment often misses details that are actually in the piece. 🙁 Represent yourselves well folks, whether you agree or disagree, do so intelligently by reading the content and let's have a great discussion!!!! Well you know the drill...LET'S TALK!!!
  • Nice going there with Madoka Magica. Just finished it myself. Amazing.
  • Lol...thanks🙂👍🏿
  • Are you implying that Windows phone is as alive as Sayaka? I have some bad news for you in that case...
  • It's as alive as John Belushi was when he said "Just one more speedball" for the last time.
  • So Jason, how does it feel to have your articles be the highest commented articles on this site? I sometimes read where some accuse you of writing the same thing.  That's not the case, but even if it were, those who come to this site love reading them anyway and it shows when you continue to easily get over 200 comments.  I hope you're getting a bonus each quarter.  :)
  • I didcomment on a couple of his articles that he is repeating himself over and over again. I stand by it, but I still don't miss anythign written by Zac, Dan or Jason on this site. This article is a refreshing proof of how well he writes
  • Thanks hermalive🙂
  • Well to be fair how often do the less competent technology press keep repeating that Windows Phone is dead? Someone's got to keep refuting it.
  • Thanks Chris👍🏿
  • Hi whodaboss I enjoy encouraging people to see things in a way they may not not have seen them before, and to provoke thoughts and ideas that they, maybe, hadn't conceived. I'm am hopeful if those things occur beneficial and engaging conversation, whether someone agrees or disagrees with me, will ensue.🙂
  • @Jason, I do believe you provide a format for good discussion.  I don't always see the light at the end of the tunnel as you do, but I'm still hopeful.   My only problem is that I wished I hadn't jump on the Windows Phone bandwagon in the beginning.  Because so much that I loved about the earliest OS iteration is now gone.  That's my only complaint.  I wish they would have kept the things that made WP special (IMHO) and just added to it.  Those who were the early adopters knows what I'm referring to.  But nothing stops progress I guess, hopefully Microsoft has something noteworthy in the near future. 
  • I have always seen things the way to tell them, I always thought in the end Windows Phone would need to run Win32 apps.  It's slowly getting there, Continuum was the first step, Windows on ARM is the next. Though I originally thought it would end up with phones running on Intel Atom SoC, but Intel has dropped the Atom series and no other chip from Intel is yet good enough for power usage (Core-m might soon be good enough).
  • You can read the title, go to comments and write. And as of late these article say nothing at all so that's how people should do :D
  • Paolo, pretty much.   Jason just produces one clickbait ad after another without any useful information, I don't even read them.  :) (with my ad blocker up I have commented)  Windows Phone has been dead man walking 7 years ago, now its buried next to Elvis... facts are more useful than fantasy.  My thought is some company is paying them directly to produce these worthless articles.  Short term clicks will eventually end up hurting them with long time users.
  • Actually these articles are the only ones that probably aren't paid because they create enough traffic. If you notice since the phone project has failed one year ago this site started having tens of "sponsored" articles about games and hardware products.
  • Hi MakoDaniels thanks for visiting the site. Rest assured the time and effort I put into my work reflects a sincerity and level of integrity you won't find in clickbait pieces🙂 Also, by your own admission you haven't read the content, this an assessment of the "usefulness" of the information I provide you cannot logically speak to. Your comment without reading, sadly doesn't reflect what I believe is your ability to present a point by point rebuttal to the systematic presentation of the arguments and references I present to support my thesis. I welcome you to that level of discussion. Thanks again for visiting.👍🏿
  • The point is you should do politics jason. What you say can't be usually contraddicted and your reasoning is usually sound and logic. The point is your reasoning usually brings us to nothing. I.e. You are good at demostrating things which are usually void of any content. Saying that something is not dead by giving your own definition of what dead mean is kinda void. It's like looking at a corpse and saying it is not dead because there are worms on it that are actually alive so the corpse has some life in it and something that has life in it is not dead, you like how I demonstrate corpses are not dead?
  • Hi Paolo: Thanks for responding. I was fairly comfortable with what o believed the words alive and dead were, but to remove myself from the equation as the determiner of the definition I actually looked the terms up in the dictionary and posted the official definitions as the parameters of this discussion. I then proceeded to give examples of Windows on phone that objectively parallel the official definitions of what would denote life, ie. activity, animation. Objective observation when looking at the platform, continued internal development of the platform, Insider build releases, investments amounting to millions of dollars from OEM partners who embrace the platform as part of the strategic Mobile business strategy, HP, Acer, Alcatel, Panasonic, etc, users who actively use the platform and engage in observable feedback on social media with M(Dona Sarkar), blog posts from MS updating on progress on builds, the video I posted from Microsoft Ignite 2016 titled Discover the Future of Windows 10 Mobile which includes both a presentation for MS and a Q and A with the business reps and developers who have an interest and/or are potential users of the platform - all of these things together point to a platform that has more in common with the definition of "life" than "dead." Now, add to that a potential Windows on ARM ultramobile PC and there is a potential move forward beyond the current state. That may or may not work but the current state excluding this potential future action still, at this moment is more consistent with alive, though in a very dire state, than dead. So, again I didnt use my own definition, I used the dictionary's. Also my reasoning clearly leads to objective observation of a platform with real issues and problems that is still in a state more consistent with the definition of life than dead. To the point of your analogy, the life you point to in the worms are inherent to the worms, not the objectivley observable dead corpse. The examples I give point to life as an inherent quality of the platform. I submit again, a systematic rebuttal of what I present as the indicators of life are a more affective means to support your opposing position. Thanks for the feedback!🙂
  • Yet you exclude the two main indicators: marketshare and devsupport. Believe me I invested hundred of hour in app development for 8.1 apps and then UWP. As marketshare shows and my devcenter sale confirms the phone market is dead while uwp sales on pcs and tablet are on life support. Phone may be resurrected who knows but at the moment it's a flat line. I would really like to buy wp again and start developing again for the platform...
  • Actually Paolo please revisit the very beginning of the article, where you will see my opening sentence and introductory paragraph directly reference dropping market share, a market share of .3 approaching 0.0 Here's the excerpt: "Whenever Gartner releases its latest smartphone market share numbers, the expected decline in Windows phone market share is followed by the expected, "Windows phone is dead!" mantra.
    With just 0.3 percent share in Gartner's most recent report, things almost couldn't look worst for Windows phone. Blackberry's 0.0 percent (with only 200,000 phones sold last quarter), however, is worse and seems to be the inevitable direction in which Windows phone is headed." Also, I make a point in the end by addressing why MS may be unconcerned about market share: "An interesting point to consider is that the introduction of full Windows 10 on an ultramobile PC designed to overlap the smartphone space won't have the same, "beginning with zero market share" challenge Windows Phone had in 2010. Microsoft's category-defining ultimate mobile device will run full Windows 10 and will join the currently 400 million other devices that also use the OS. This may be why Microsoft seems unmoved by Windows phone market share approaching zero percent." I'm not sure if you read the piece, but your assertion above about reading the title and heading to comments, and you missing those very obvious references, particularly the opening paragraph MAY suggest you followed that advice. I hope not. We're all human. Maybe you just forgot🙂 Also, though I make no specific mention of developer support I am aware of it and it is part of my continued narrative as the pieces I link to at the end of the piece under "Follow the Story" communicate in detail. A couple of pieces there such as "If Microsoft doesnt kill at BUILD 2017 the Surface phone may be dead on arrival (Of course we know BUILD is a developers conference😎, and "This is what needs happen first in order for a Surface phone to succeed(Which is another appeal to the need for ecosystem building to support and sustain the platform)" speak in great and critical detail to the need for developer support and aggressive efforts to garner that support. In a more general address within the piece we know that lack of developer support has been a major factor in the failures of the past which I incorporate in this umbrella statement in this excerpt from the piece: "Unfortunately, the unceremonious failure of Microsoft's efforts at various stages of this vision composes a sad history that many use to point to a supposed inevitable future of more of the same." Thanks for the discussion🙂
  • About your excerpt: Again you are saying it is dead but in the future they could do something new and open a new market. Well ok, you are saying Microsoft is not dead, on that I agree since at my enterprise we use their tech every day and it's not dead at all. Change the title to microsoft isn't dead and they could be relevant again in the mobile space in some years ☺
  • Hi Paolo actually I'm not say Microsoft is not dead, though I agree with that point.🙂 I am saying that Windows on phone isn't dead as this LONG excerpt indicates:😉 "Though Microsoft's Windows-on-phone strategy has transitioned through various iterations over time, the over-arching platform never died. The central theme since its inception has always been to bring Windows to a pocketable telephony-enabled form factor. Therefore "Windows on phone" can mean any form of pocketable, telephony-capable device. "Unfortunately, the unceremonious failure of Microsoft's efforts at various stages of this vision composes a sad history that many use to point to a supposed inevitable future of more of the same. Many critics at this stage in its lifecycle claim Windows on phone is dead (something that has never historically occurred) rather than a failed iteration and transition to the next for which there is a precedence. Pocket PC, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone were all phases of Microsoft's Windows on phone vision on the path to OneCore that Redmond hoped would succeed, but which ultimately failed before transitioning to the next iteration. Windows 10 Mobile is the latest Windows on phone OS, and unlike its predecessors, it shares the same core as Windows desktops. Windows 10 Mobile, therefore, is Windows and is consequently under consistent development as part of UWP. Therein lies further evidence that Windows on phone isn't dead.
    Furthermore, Windows 10 on ARM suggests that the Surface "phone" will have full Windows. If so, Microsoft's Windows on phone vision will be fully realized. The consistent progression of the Windows on phone vision, from Pocket PC to Windows 10 Mobile and potentially to full Windows on an ultramobile Surface, reflects a continuity of the Windows on phone story that, though troubled, has never died."
  • And again, you should be a politician. I'll stop pointing out how you play with words and go in circles to demonstrate a thesis that's tailored to your own needs but that has no impact on reality, you would quote your piece again answering to everything but saying nothing, like a true politician 😂 You are saying that the concept of windows on a phone device may still be possible, well...duh!
  • You succeed in insulting me, but fail to refute my point🙂.
  • Jason, I didn't read your article because chances are its a rehash of your stupid article from last week.  imo I can only think of two things at this point, either this site is involved in silly clickbait articles and is going down the road of canibalizing its own readers which many MSM companies are now involved in or the hired someone that apparently is not able to produce anything other than comedy, you certainly don't understand the tech industry, but it could be you are well versed in clickbait schemes.   Really you are a prime example of modern content providers... it usually ends poorly.    There is nothing logical about any of your presentations to have an argument about or a discussion.    No worries though... blocking WC for all my users, I seriously doubt any of them visited this place anyway.  Jason you are prime example of how not to provide content, creating clickbait is not professional.   
  • I'm sorry to hear that. I would hop