Where is Microsoft going with mobility?

May 20, 2017

Since Satya Nadella has taken over as CEO of Microsoft, the company has had a new mantra Mobile First Cloud First. The company has since made some bold moves – be it embracing / supporting other OS platforms (think Office for Android and iOS) or Satya showing off his ‘iPhone PRO’ at Dreamforce 2015. However, it is hard to disagree that Microsoft is going through an evolution of sorts – every company should; to stay current, relevant and viable as a business. On the business side, Microsoft’s results speak for themselves; showing an upward trajectory with Office 365, Azure and even Surface as growing businesses.

Windows mobile is one element of Microsoft’s business which has faced an enormous amount of criticism and mockery by industry analysts, evangelist and consumers. It is obvious that Microsoft has struggled to gain market share with its mobile platform. From the consumers’ point of view, Microsoft’s mobile platform may all be dead – at least in the US. Globally the platform has had some success but still trails far behind Android and iOS.

This lack of market share can be attributed to Microsoft’s shift in strategy with its mobile platform – Windows Mobile in its prior form was scrapped to move to a fresh new Windows 7, then on to 7.8 and 8.1 as the major platform versions.

However, with the Windows 10 launch, Microsoft also had a change in its mobile strategy; yet again. This is a bold move which I believe will yield positive results based on a strategy that believes smartphones are only one of the important channels of mobility – there are other device categories popping up. Smart devices in the 6-inch to 11-inch screen size are there incarnation of sorts for what might be considered the ‘dead’ PC. Additionally, there are other devices like VR headsets, gaming consoles and machine controllers which will see explosive growth over the next decade or two. Windows 10 along with its various flavors aims to ‘run’ on all these device types. Furthermore, Microsoft aims to change the compute paradigm completely by using one device for a multitude of functions.

From a layman’s point of view, Windows 10 is adapted to work on a myriad of devices – desktops, laptops, 2-in-1s, tablets, VR sets, machines and mobile phones.

A key element of the Windows 10 ecosystem is just now taking shape for end users. It is the Universal Windows Platform based apps – these apps work on your windows 10 laptop, pc or phone. So yet again, Microsoft has shifted its strategy but seeing the success of Windows 10, this is the strategy that may boost its share of the mobile OS market.


What is UWP?

Universal Windows Platform is an application architecture introduced in Windows 10. This architecture allows for development of apps which run both on Windows 10 and Windows 10 mobile

Universal apps

Figure 1Universal Windows Platform


Why is UWP relevant?

  1. Windows 10: The new Windows launch has been quite a success, probably in part due to the free upgrade. Regardless, there are over a quarter billion installs within the first 6 months of launch. It brings new features, security and above all gives a new way for users to interact with devices of all sizes – through universal apps.
  2. Return of the big corporate customers: What is exciting is that some major corporations who had shunned their support for the WindowsPhone platform see the promise in Windows 10 and are returning back – one that I missed the most: Bank of America returns to the Windows store later this year. Others have taken to the platform like never before – Flipkart, American Express, Uber, USA Today, NPR, Instagram, Facebook, NFL, Twitter, CBS News, DailyMail, Hulu and many more.
  3. Continuum: A small hardware accessory dock which allows Windows 10 mobile devices to function like a laptop by connecting to a keyboard, screen and mouse. This could be a game changer in markets like India and China where computing and internet access can be made affordable to the masses – one device as a smartphone and a laptop.

Figure 2Microsoft’s Continuum Device

Regardless of the success and adoption of UWP, Microsoft’s mobile challenges are plagued with lack of high end devices, inadequate marketing and a plunging market share globally. OEMs have really not taken up on the OS as much as Microsoft would like them too. Some of the ones that have adopted the platform like Sony and Acer are doing so in limited geographies.

All that could change and could do so quite quickly. I am sure there are Windows Mobile fans who are hoping for a long rumored ‘Surface Phone’ – According to rumors, this will be a premium device and will add to Microsoft’s Surface line of hardware. HP announced a premium device in Feb 2016 during the Mobile World Congress – HP Elite X3 is a device which aims to change the way an Enterprise uses personal computing power.


Microsoft’s Success on other platforms

While windows mobile is not a success (at least as of now), Microsoft is making inroads into other mobile platforms in a big way: Microsoft Office, OneDrive, Skype have become mainstream applications for millions of Android and iOS users – particularly in the enterprise space. It was interesting to see the keynote presentation of the iPad Pro showing Microsoft Office apps in the slides!

Microsoft profits from patent royalties from Android devices. Also, recent acquisitions made by Microsoft cater to specific products on iOS and Android and it is a fact that Microsoft products see more frequent updates on other platforms. All this could be construed as an acknowledgement from Microsoft about the dominance of iOS and Android in the mobile space globally. However, with this acknowledgement, Microsoft is making shrewd business moves to make its products and services ubiquitous globally.

It remains to be seen as to what Microsoft will do with Xamarin. Microsoft recently acquired Xamarin – a cross platform application development toolkit. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft users this tool for development of its own apps and how developers will be incentivized to use Xamarin for cross platform development.

No matter what the future holds, it is evident that Microsoft has a long rough road ahead on its mobile endeavor. The tech giant however is aware of this and is making attempts to address it by painting the ‘big picture’ and making bold bets.

Windows 10 is off to a great start and with all the growth happening on mobile, tablets and 2-in-1 devices, the Windows 10 mobile experience will be crucial to its overall success. The mobile experience has been improving and Microsoft has been diligent in incorporating input from millions of Windows Insider members.

Good luck Microsoft!

Samvit Raina
Samvit Raina
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