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Windows Phone’s future at Microsoft

by Adam Doud on

July 22 is going to be a very, very big day in Microsoft. Or it’ll be more of the same. Satya Nadella’s original open letter on July 10 to his employees seemed to suggest a lot of changes being made, requiring almost two weeks to “meet with senior management” to iron out all the details of what exactly is going to happen. Here’s the thing about corporations – they tend to not announce that they’re meeting with senior management if everything is status quo. So Microsoft may be getting a face lift and what will be left after that face lift is complete has some of us wondering – is Microsoft pulling the plug on the Windows Phone experiment? What is Windows Phone’s future?

There are a lot of compelling arguments for just such a move. Windows Phone is not, nor has it ever burned up the charts in terms of sales. Even with the low end phones it has been pushing for over a year now, Windows Phone is barely struggling to maintain its 4% market share. That 4% market share is mostly in emerging markets where there isn’t going to be a whole lot of profit. Folks that scrape together $50 to get a Lumia 520 ain’t exactly hopping onto the app store and spree shopping.

android-one2The Android Threat

Now enter Android One, which is by far the biggest threat to Windows Phone in quite some time. With Android One, Google is hand delivering specifications for quality, low-cost hardware and a stock Google experience for less than $100. This isn’t some OEM looking to make a quick buck by selling tablets at Walgreens. This is Google overseeing its own operating system and developing what amounts to its own hardware before turning over the keys to the factory to whoever decides to play along. Frankly, why wouldn’t anyone?

Microsoft has long been a software developer and has only recently started delving into hardware. The hardware which it has produced hasn’t taken off despite its excellent build quality and design. The Surface is a beautiful and compelling device, even if it is a bit on the overpriced side. But one of the biggest hang-ups Microsoft is facing these days is ironically is its software.

Peeps be hatin’

People don’t like Windows and they really don’t like Windows 8. Despite doing a lot of things right with Windows 8, Microsoft’s biggest blunder was pulling the carpet out from underneath the world by releasing an operating system that was so insanely different than 20 years of its predecessors.  Windows 8 is not without its flaws and neither is the Surface, but maybe it’s time for Microsoft to get back to what it’s good at – developing software.

Already we’ve seen this in Microsoft Office touch editions coming out for iOS and Android. Why not Windows? It’s such a fundamental question that doesn’t have a good answer. Why won’t Microsoft build and release a touch version of its Office suite to go along with its touch version of its operating system?

mobile-first-cloud-firstMobile first

But having said that, Microsoft has a lot of good reasons to stay in the mobile game. Nadella came right out and said that Microsoft is going to be a cloud first, mobile first company. Sure mobile could mean iOS and Android, but why have a slice of the pie when you can have the whole pie, plate, table, chairs and restaurant? It makes a lot of sense to keep chipping away at the mobile space. As long as Apple is willing to leave the emerging market behind, Microsoft could turn that landscape into a two-horse race. Android has burned a lot of bridges in the low-end market by allowing garbage hardware to come out with its name on it. Windows Phone has always been built to be light weight and because of that has the opposite reputation. Android One has yet to convince anyone that it can succeed in the low end hardware space, so the next billion is very much up in the air.

The acquisition of Nokia’s hardware division is another reason to keep on plugging away. If Microsoft wanted a good way to get into the mobile space, it got one by buying one of the best phone manufacturers out there. Now that the Nokia pipeline has cleared, the way is paved for Microsoft to start adding its own flavor to the formerly Finnish phones. Ok, they’ll still be made in Finland, but I like alliterations. With Microsoft taking a more Apple approach to hardware and software, there will be more control over everything from start to finish. We’ve already seen what Microsoft can do with hardware.

surface-pro-3-softwareAnd speaking of the Surface

Microsoft really has done a lot of things right with the Surface Pro 3. It found the right size and specifications to really make it the laptop replacement it has long sought. The size is just right, the keyboard is phenomenal and the digitizer has just the right amount of utility to make it nice but not necessary if you prefer not to use it. Microsoft has come a long way in the hardware department, so it’d be a shame to see all that progress go to waste, especially before we can see what it can do with a phone.

So what do you think? Is it time for Microsoft to throw in the towel and just focus on doing what it has always done best? Or is Microsoft just finally getting past the baby steps of initial product development – baby steps most OEMs don’t have the wherewithal to survive – and is now ready to sit at the big boy’s table? Sound off below and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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