It seems like the glory days are over for windows phone, what a sad way to end things, but a single Tweet has, essentially, confirmed the end of Microsoft’s venture into the mobile space.
Microsoft’s corporate VP for Windows, Joe Belfiore, tweeted in response to a question about whether it was time to leave the Windows Phone platform, and suggested a shift in Microsoft’s strategy:
This comes just days after Microsoft promised to continue ‘developing’ the platform, in a statement sent to The Register: “We will continue to develop Windows 10 Mobile and support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950, and Lumia 950 XL, as well as devices from our OEM partners.”
Let’s be honest: this has been on the cards for a long time. Phones running Windows Phone or Windows 10 have been heavily in the minority for a number of years, and nothing was coming to change that.
The reason – and one that Belfiore confirmed – is simple: there weren’t enough apps. Every mobile operating system that’s failed in the past has struggled to get developers on board in sufficient numbers, and with sufficient commitment, to keep the momentum going.
Palm’s webOS, variants of Linux (Android not included there), BlackBerry 10… all of these offered technical capabilities that arguably outstripped what was available on the market, but if users couldn’t access their documents or play their favorite game then it was going to be a tough sell to ask them move across.
We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest.
Predictably, when we asked Microsoft for comment on whether it would continue to create new hardware or Windows 10 Mobile features, we received a vague and diverting statement:
“We get that a lot of people who have a Windows 10 device may also have an iPhone or Android phone and we want to give them the most seamless experience possible no matter what device they’re carrying.
“In the Fall Creators Update, we’re focused on the mobility of experiences and bringing the benefits of Windows to life across devices to enable our customers to create, play and get more done.
“We will continue to support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950, and Lumia 950 XL as well as devices from our OEM partners”.
The statement utterly avoids the question and instead focuses on its services, and from that it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever get a new, feature-rich Windows handset that shows off the best of the platform.
It’s an expensive endeavour to create a new phone, and without at least a modicum of confidence that such a handset would either make a profit or further the presence of the OS, it’s hard to imagine a business pushing forward.
A Little Throwback About Windows Phone
Microsoft used be to the leader in the smartphone game – at least when it came to the software that adorned devices.
Windows Mobile used to be the epitome of ‘powerful but hard to use’, the way most people thought of smartphones, something entirely for business and not the average user.
There’s a reason Steve Jobs asked the question: “Who wants a stylus?” when launching the first iPhone – the stylus was the embodiment of how you interacted with the Windows Mobile devices, and it wasn’t intuitive enough.
HTC used to be the leader in Windows Mobile development – it was the first to bring the platform to a device with a capacitive screen, and that was rumored to have been despite Microsoft saying it wasn’t possible to do such a thing.
However, in 2010 HTC was so capable of making excellent smartphones that it was the lead manufacturer for the big reboot: Windows Phone (or, more specifically, Windows Phone 7).
This was Microsoft’s big reboot, an acknowledgment that maybe the iPhone and improving Android phones were going to be the future.
It even got Apple’s most famous fan, Stephen Fry, onto the stage to extol the virtues of this new consumer-friendly OS, and proclaim it to be a really exciting new platform.
Networks got on board instantly, putting their weight behind a new horse in the mobile OS wars.
I remember watching a member of UK network O2’s team being angrily confronted by a Microsoft exec after it was uncovered they’d set up a separate launch event alongside Microsoft’s to nab some coverage for its exclusive handset – that’s how important Windows Phone 7 was seen as.
TechRadar was taken to Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington to see behind the scenes of this new OS, and the level of dedication to making sure Windows Phone 7 worked was incredible. One exec told us that Windows Phone 7 was “the most tested OS the company had ever put out”.
But it didn’t work. Windows Phone handsets reportedly didn’t exceed sales of the Windows Mobile devices left on the market, despite the HTC-made range of handsets reviewing well.
These phones were powerful, well-made and different, and the capabilities they offered app developers were strong – something different to the Android and iOS options. But it wasn’t working.
But the aforementioned issue reared its head: the apps just weren’t coming through. Time and again, press conference after press conference, Microsoft and Nokia kept talking about how many apps in the top 50 of Apple’s App Store were available on Windows Phone. Yes, they appeared, but support was patchy.
The thing is, sales figures for Windows Phone devices weren’t bad. Taken in a vacuum, Windows Phone being on one of the most popular devices in the world should have been a good thing.
But the device leading the charge was the Nokia Lumia 520, a budget phone launched in 2013. This low-cost device was priced very well for the specs it offered, and brought a similar experience to a phone four times the price.
And Belfiore’s tweets seem to tie the story off – finally, we have a tacit admission that Microsoft understands it can’t have the impact in the mobile space it wants (which must be especially galling when Google’s similar efforts with its Pixel phones seem to be yielding decent results).
The next step for the brand apparently builds on what it tried with Windows 10: a platform that flows between different styles and sizes of hardware without an issue, as the chipsets inside grow powerful enough to handle the necessary tasks to stuff a desktop into a smartphone
But the enterprise world still wants a device that’s secure, powerful and functional, and which moves seamlessly from desktop to mobile without issues – both Samsung and Apple are working hard at offering this, showing it’s something all the big brands realize is an opportunity.
Android and iOS are not desktop platforms though, and that’s where Microsoft will be looking to capitalize.
So unfortunately for Microsoft, the sign below, hanging in Redmond, wasn’t followed to help it fight the onslaught of iOS and Android – but Microsoft isn’t completely out of the mobile game yet.