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Sorry Windows Phone, you just don't matter right now

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Sorry Windows Phone, you just don't matter right now
For a while, it really felt like Windows could become the true third option when it came to mobile devices. Even as recently as the last couple years, it sounded as though Microsoft would be putting effort in to improve the app ecosystem and unify Windows across platforms. And, that has been done to a certain extent, but even so, Windows Phone just doesn't really matter anymore.

I personally had high hopes from Windows Phone. Four years ago, I made the switch to Windows Phone to test out the OS and give it an honest look. Windows Phone 7 was a solid system and I even said at the time that "Windows Phone is simply very well thought out, and there are often features that you never would have expected," and that "the core Windows Phone system can certainly stand up to Android, and even surpass Google’s offerings in some key areas." I wasn't willing to stick with Windows Phone because my life is too deeply embedded in the Google ecosystem, but I certainly saw the value of it for those who weren't living la vida Google. 

Unfortunately, aside from the addition of Cortana, the Windows Phone experience hasn't made the same leaps that Android has between Jelly Bean (4.1) and Marshmallow (6.0). Microsoft bought Nokia, but has been lax about putting out new phones, and other manufacturers have essentially abandoned Windows completely. There was a lot of promise for Windows 10 on phones, but the rollout has been painfully slow, and while universal apps have helped the ecosystem to a certain extent, Windows Phone still lags behind Android and iOS. 

Then the hammer dropped with the latest smartphone sales numbers from Gartner which showed that in Q4 2015, Android made up 80.7% of smartphones sold, iOS took 17.7%, and Windows made up a very sad 1.1%. Even worse, Windows had accounted for 2.8% of sales in Q4 2014, so sales have officially gone down the drain. 

Is there hope?


I'd like to think that there is still hope for a resurgence by Windows in the smartphone market, but I fully acknowledge that I may be trying a bit too hard to be an optimist in this situation. Ultimately, I find it hard to completely discount Microsoft from the equation. Windows 10 has been doing well on traditional PCs and Microsoft has been doing everything possible to create the hybrid tablet/laptop market with the Surface line and solid offerings from OEM partners. Microsoft has enough money to throw behind Windows Phone that the platform might not be completely dead, but until Microsoft starts putting out new hardware on a more consistent basis and can lure other manufacturers back to the platform, things look grim. 

But, grim is not the same as hopeless. A lot of the potential with Windows rides on universal apps and how well Microsoft can convince users that convergence is the way forward. Any long time readers will know that I love the idea of convergence. That idea alone gave me brief hope that Ubuntu could make a dent in the mobile market, but Microsoft has been much faster at getting to a working model of convergence with Continuum than Canonical has with Ubuntu. We're already seeing Continuum on Windows Phone handsets, but with no one buying those devices, what does it really matter?

Sorry Windows Phone, you just don't matter right now

It matters quite a lot actually. Smartphones are already the most powerful computer that most people own. Only a select group of users still bother with desktops, laptops are quickly becoming niche devices, as are tablets; and globally, there are far more people for whom a smartphone is their primary (and in some cases only) computing device. In a world like that, Microsoft has both an advantage and a disadvantage. 

The advantage that Microsoft has been trying to play up as much as possible is that for those out there who have traditional PCs, the vast majority are Windows users. So, if Microsoft can get universal apps sorted out and prove to users that all they need is a Windows smartphone to be able to do everything in mobile use cases all the way to desktop, that's a powerful thing; it's something powerful enough to revive a near-dead Windows Phone market. And, you can be sure that Microsoft is working hard on doing just that. 

On the other hand...


The disadvantage that Microsoft has is that despite Windows' dominant position in the PC world, the PC world doesn't much matter anymore. As noted above, there are a huge number of people in the world for whom a smartphone is their primacy computing device, and Android dominates that segment. 

In May of last year, Microsoft estimated that there were 1.5 billion active Windows devices in the wild -- and to be clear, this includes all Windows devices from desktops, laptops, tablets, hybrids, and phones. For comparison, Google announced 1.4 billion active Android devices in the world in September of last year -- and to be clear here as well, that only counts Android devices with Google Play services, it doesn't count Android devices in China and Russia without Google Play, which is a large number in its own right. Microsoft said its aim was to have Windows 10 running on 1 billion devices within two to three years of releasing the OS and has offered the upgrade for free to anyone on Windows 7 or higher in order to more quickly reach that number. 

Sorry Windows Phone, you just don't matter right now

Microsoft's convergence dream still holds weight here, because although the company has seemingly failed in the smartphone space, that's really the only space where Google has an advantage. Google hasn't been able to make much headway in the tablet market where the iPad is still king; Google's attempts at breaking into the TV market have largely failed; and, Google is years away from having a version of Android to be used on laptops and desktops, though word is that Google will be creating some sort of Android/Chrome OS hybrid for that task by next year. Google hasn't always been able to get developers in line, so it could be an interesting race to see if Microsoft can get devs to make universal apps faster than Google can get devs to update Android apps for bigger screens (a task it hasn't done well at with tablets). 

Apple has always been able to get its developers in line, which is why it has solid offerings in the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac OS. But, Apple has also made it clear that it has no real plans to converge iOS and Mac OS, which would mean Apple may not have a one-device-to-rule-them-all option for a long time. The smart money there would be that Apple will wait to see if Microsoft or Google can crack that market first, then Apple will come in later, as it tends to do. In the meantime, Apple users will have to buy separate devices to fit differing needs and use cases. 

The interesting test will be whether Microsoft can crack it from the top down - get PC users to buy into Windows Phone to have a unified experience - or Google can crack it from the bottom up and get smartphone users to want to use PCs again. Given the strength of the mobile market right now, I'd probably bet on Google in that race, but technology changes quickly so it's not a certainty. 

In the meantime...


No matter what happens in that race, it's hard not to feel like Windows Phone doesn't really have a place in the world right now. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been saying since he took over the company that Microsoft would be focusing on a mobile-first and cloud-first strategy. Microsoft's cloud services have certainly been getting a lot of attention, but aside from laptop/tablet hybrids, the same can't be said for the company's efforts with mobile. 

HP showed off a beast of a Windows Phone at MWC this week with the Elite X3, and the Lumia 650 also made an appearance, but the latter doesn't even support Continuum because it is such a low-spec device. Overall, that's not much for Windows fans to get excited about. 

One small change that Microsoft could make in order to help itself out would be to put a premium label on apps in the Windows Store that are universal. It doesn't do this right now, which not only makes it more annoying to figure out what apps will play well with Continuum, but such a label would act as a bit of a mark of shame for developers that don't have universal apps. We've seen efforts like this before by other companies and it tends to work, so Microsoft should consider it. Once the app story has a brighter message, Microsoft would have a much easier time selling Windows Phone as a viable alternative. But, until Microsoft really puts some muscle behind Windows Phone, the platform isn't even an also-ran anymore. We can hope the platform is just hibernating, but that assumes Microsoft will be able to wake it up at some point. 

124 Comments
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posted on 23 Feb 2016, 21:44 18

1. Unordinary (Posts: 2231; Member since: 04 Nov 2015)


R.I.P.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 22:16 3

13. sgodsell (Posts: 4312; Member since: 16 Mar 2013)


Michael H. You clearly haven't been looking at tablet sales. Android still sells more tablets combined than Apple. 100% a fact.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 22:31 8

19. AkoSiKuting (banned) (Posts: 88; Member since: 09 Dec 2015)


waiting Michael to say sorry android tablet, sorry chromebook, sorry android wear... oh wait, Micheal article never against Google and Android :)

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 22:45

22. submar (Posts: 522; Member since: 19 Sep 2014)


and you never against apple

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 22:48 1

25. AkoSiKuting (banned) (Posts: 88; Member since: 09 Dec 2015)


Because Apple devices are OP period :)

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 23:09 7

29. TerryTerius (Posts: 2082; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)


That's true. But as far as a device from any single manufacture goes, the iPad tops everybody. That's what he meant.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 23:14 1

31. Jairus24 (Posts: 49; Member since: 20 Jan 2012)


Yet, Microsoft is still rich regardless of their mobile status because they get money from patent royalty on every Android device activated.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 23:20 2

34. TerryTerius (Posts: 2082; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)


Chromebooks have been improving YOY as far as sales go whereas PC and laptop sales have been declining/flat. Android is the most popular OS on earth by miles (and is still gaining marketshare) and Android tablets are in the majority even though Apple sells more tablets than any single manufacturer.

In order words your complaint makes no sense outside the context of wearables, updates or fragmentation. Reality is reality. Windows Mobile is currently contracting in both sales and market share, Android is the opposite. That's how things stand for the time being.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 00:46 3

44. MSi_GS70 (unregistered)


Microsoft should rip mobile win and migrate to android with their phones..

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 01:55 14

53. Joulukas (Posts: 71; Member since: 05 Jun 2013)


Over Priced, sure are!

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 02:23

58. Pavarottipig (Posts: 17; Member since: 29 Jan 2016)


R.I.P

Ask Nokia they are dead today!

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 02:29 2

59. Pavarottipig (Posts: 17; Member since: 29 Jan 2016)


Its LINUX, Linux will never die! Its open source!

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 03:35 3

69. S.R.K. (banned) (Posts: 678; Member since: 11 Feb 2016)


And outdated, selling at high price.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 03:44 5

73. hemedans (Posts: 587; Member since: 01 Jun 2013)


android tablets are declining while windows tablets are rising, there is some sense in his comment

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 05:30 3

80. grbrao (Posts: 294; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)


MS need not to migrate to android, just bring the surface phone with 6"inch display with surface pro stlyus support , 4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, best cam from nokia tech with 4500mAp battery and get the major popular apps to windows store... Its as simple as that, than they making a android phone........

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 06:51 3

85. Piyath_ale (Posts: 79; Member since: 02 Nov 2015)


Y so paragraphs? This is the exact few words have to be told. Windows phone OS was not intuitive and beautiful. Sometimes it's less practical than others too. Low app count plus ungly UI + fierce competition made windows phone os RIP. Android is cheap and functional for the most part. IOS is beautiful and has many many quality apps even though it's expensive. That's why people continue to live with Android and IOS. Keep in mind, iOS is beautiful than android and it has the app advantage too over android. Android is more functional than iOS and way cheap than iOS. Windows phone OS is just ugly, no apps and less functional.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 19:50

106. S.R.K. (banned) (Posts: 678; Member since: 11 Feb 2016)


Windows phone.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 21:41

109. TerryTerius (Posts: 2082; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)


All tablet sales are falling. That's like bragging you're the biggest fish in a drying pond.

posted on 25 Feb 2016, 01:32

113. joey_sfb (Posts: 6338; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


One of the top reason why Windows Phone fans are pawn by Microsoft.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 21:46 3

2. WillieFDiaz (Posts: 127; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


I think with Bill Gates comments on siding with the FBI, users recognize that Windows is likely an unsecure device, and the company Bill formerly ran, the one he created, will give information over to the government - that alone right there says to me to stop using his operating system on devices, including my Windows 10 laptop which I am in the process of swapping to a Mac.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 21:57 14

5. another1 (Posts: 157; Member since: 25 Dec 2015)


Techie, is that you?

Such a dumb comment.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 21:59 16

7. Crispin_Gatieza (Posts: 1935; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


Bill Gates did NOT side with the FBI. It was a sensationalized headline that was inaccurate. He stated that in this particular case, it was okay for the government to hack the phone.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 02:34

60. joey_sfb (Posts: 6338; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


It's already spell out in Win10 software licensing agreement. User of Win10 has to consent to they capturing your data, backing up your local documents to their server.

And if they deem necessary they will hand it over to the authority without the need to inform you.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 07:01

87. elitewolverine (Posts: 5192; Member since: 28 Oct 2013)


Same as Google...next? Also MS is already in fights with the Gov over non US based servers, and them wanting access which they have denied.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 20:46

108. joey_sfb (Posts: 6338; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


Google don't make backup copy of my local files. This is unprecedented only happens in Windows 10.

I am surprised a lot of people are ok with that.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 22:29

110. elitewolverine (Posts: 5192; Member since: 28 Oct 2013)


They are not backing up any local documents unless you tell it too. Where it will treat photos, documents etc, that are normally system level into onedrive. So that when you save to the default pictures you are actually saving to onedrive/pictures. This is not automatic, this is accepted by the user. You can still save locally without win10 backing them up.

It is the same thing as person saying yes to google when you start up the device and say yes to backup.

And yes time and time again I have shown how Google is the exact same as MS and even worse in their cloud storage and user collection than MS. But you keep flying blind.

posted on 24 Feb 2016, 23:59

111. joey_sfb (Posts: 6338; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


Google is providing a free service while Microsoft I am willing to buy a copy of Windows 10 pro.

How can they be comparable? Microsoft need to come out to shoot down all this negative press that is surrounding their privacy invasion.

posted on 25 Feb 2016, 01:35

114. Inotamira (Posts: 173; Member since: 06 Feb 2016)


I've always, and even in the Beta of 10, have always disabled one drive and any data collection services besides usage data which what they collect with that allowance being primary things such as data for system crashes (which after the beta have to be deliberately sent in), application crashes (which you have to accept every time it happens and almost have to demand get sent in), Then they collect information for things like the xbox live stuff which....dur, it's part of their services and your login information, virtually nothing is collected unless you accept it to be so, or are to stupid to actually read through the settings and turn nothing off during the system first time setup process, and even then is easily turned off later from the system settings section. Google is next to no different aside from their ad collection, which you can't really opt out of and have to go out of your way to block, not that it's really vital that they don't get this anyway as it doesn't really affect much.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 21:49 15

3. another1 (Posts: 157; Member since: 25 Dec 2015)


Phonearena, although I completely agree, this article is absolutely awful.

It's written poorly throughout. Almost reminds me of a techie rant.

posted on 23 Feb 2016, 21:56 29

4. Crispin_Gatieza (Posts: 1935; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


I had to stop reading when the author claimed that the PC world no longer mattered. Sure Skippy, keep living in Fantasyland.

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