Rumours of Windows 10 Mobile's death 'have been greatly exagerated'

Published by at

I have to confess that I’m getting more than a little tired of the "ha - it's dead“ headlines across the tech press. They’ve been saying this for a year now - if it was true then, how is Windows Phone/W10M's status still newsworthy now? The problem is, I contend, that there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of how Microsoft, Windows 10 and mobile fit together in the phone world. Windows 10 Mobile - as an operating system - is alive and kicking, and has the exact same lifespan as Windows 10 on the desktop - by definition.

You've seen the headlines over the last 12 months, since Nadella's refocussing. "Windows Phone is now dead” and “Microsoft’s gives up smartphone plans”, that sort of thing. Will we still be reading the same headlines at Christmas 2016? How much longer can journalists keep saying something's dead and buried before someone sticks their hand up and says "Hang on, if this thing really is dead then why do you keep on writing about it?" 

The truth is that the tech media loves to see something/somebody in trouble and to then pile on the hate. It's a sure fire way to pile on the traffic and clicks. And because of its past dominance and corporate attitudes, Microsoft is a fond target for criticism. But the tech media are (in part) missing the big picture. And will therefore be surprised by the various Windows 10-running phones that keep popping up between now and Christmas.

Although this is fundamentally an apologetics piece, I’m not blind to the realities of the consumer smartphone space. I’m often seen out and about with an Android phone and Rafe usually has an iPhone in this pocket (don’t worry, we each have multiple SIMs and multiple pockets, so I have a Lumia 950 on me at all times and I believe Rafe still uses a Lumia 830 as his 'personal' phone).

Back in 2011 at that infamously badly orchestrated Mobile World Congress press event, Nokia chose to go all-in on “Windows Phone” (they should, in my opinion, have developed Meego more and wound Symbian down a lot more gradually, but let’s not go there again!), with the aim of helping Microsoft’s new rewritten OS and interface become the ‘third ecosystem’, a valid competitor to iOS and Android. The strategy was to produce a wide range of ‘Lumias’ across all price points, a scatter-gun approach if you will. 

Over time, it became apparent that, at the top end, only die-hard enthusiasts (raise your hand, gentle reader) were buying the top-end Lumias (and usually for the imaging capabilities) - most people with £500+ to spend were opting for iPhones and flagship Samsung Galaxy devices. The only real success in terms of sales numbers was at the low end, where the responsiveness of the Lumia 520, 630 and then 640 with Windows Phone 8.1 impressed on a £100 pay-as-you-go phone, compared to the Android competition of the time. 

Nokia Lumia 520 and 620

Sadly, there’s very little profit at the budget end of the market and you can see where this was going to end up, can’t you? Famously, Nokia started running into financial trouble, so Microsoft stepped in to buy the Devices division to ensure that the dominant devices using its mobile OS would carry on being made and supported.

Only a short term solution, of course, since the Windows Phone 8.1 space wasn’t exact generating any profit for Microsoft. If the platforms had stayed they were in 2014 then 8.1 would have been shot in the head by now and Microsoft would have given up on a first party mobile OS forever.

But that’s not what happened.

Windows 10 is a whole new vision, a new OS, a new concept, one of the most ambitious the computing world has seen, I’d argue. One operating system and application suite, kept patched up to date forever, as a service, and running on everything from augmented reality visors to tablets to Xbox consoles to laptops to desktops and, yes, to phones. In fact, the phone OS images and updates are now kept pretty much in lockstep with the Intel-compiled images and updates supplied to laptops across the world.

Windows 10 Mobile is integral to Microsoft's intentions with Windows 10 and it's not a massive amount of effort needed to keep this SKU going. Admittedly there's quite a bit of fiddling about with sorting out phone-specific drivers and pushing the right language and custom-app versions to the right network variants across the world, but the core software is the same as on the desktop and it's not a totally separate venture - think about the size of Google's Android team or Apple's iOS team - here Microsoft can easily leverage existing work being done by the central Windows 10 team.

Windows 10

It's important to draw a distinction between this OS, i.e. Windows 10 (Mobile), and Lumias, i.e. Microsoft first party hardware. One can be going strong while the other falters. With the latest sell-offs (of the feature phone business) and layoffs (from the redundant Lumia manufacturing capability), along with the prospect of no new Lumia devices, it's clear that, despite Microsoft's statement about supporting all current customers with Lumias, the first party hardware plans have been severely curtailed. For the time being, at least.

Yet, just because Microsoft is not planning any more first party Windows 10 Mobile phones for the rest of 2016 doesn't mean the OS is dead. far from it - the schedule for the Redstone 'Anniversary Update' release is going ahead this summer on time (along with the desktop/Xbox and more), ditto the schedule for the Redstone 2 release in 2017. It's just that new devices from now on in 2016 will have to come from Microsoft's partners.

You may think I'm splitting hairs. I'm not - Windows 10 Mobile does not equal 'Lumia'. And the sooner that message gets out into the blogosphere and tech world, the better. Maybe the headlines will change, at least?

And, just as Microsoft has stated, time and time again, their support for all current customers with Lumias (still in the many tens of millions), so AAWP will be unstinting in bringing you reviews of new apps, services and, yes, even devices through the rest of 2016....