Microsoft's continuing commitment to Windows 10 Mobile means...

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"Microsoft abandons Windows 10 Mobile" is a news headline that we've heard a lot over the last year, fuelled by the tragic termination of first party hardware. And by a third party scene that's almost non-existent. But what's interesting is how the OS updates have continued. Anniversary Update (Redstone), Creators Update (Redstone 2) and beyond, with a thriving Insiders test build scene. So has Microsoft really abandoned the OS?

Looking at just some of the recent Fast ring builds of Windows 10 Mobile, all from the last month or so(!):

See the links for the changelogs, but essentially there are still plenty of bug-fixes that are specifically for mobile, e.g. sorting out Bluetooth issues with wearables or fixing landscape video playback issues on phones.

We've known for a while that Microsoft abandoned the idea of keeping the OS in lock step for desktop and mobile when they ramped up ambitions for Redstone 3 and first party unique features (think 3D, Ink) - most of the new features made no sense on mobile and 5" screens, so why bother coding for them at all, etc.? But there are lots of under-the-hood vulnerabilities that have been getting fixed, lots of optimisations, and these are indeed all coming to Windows 10 Mobile, still, at the end of H1, 2017, via the 'Feature2' branch of the OS, as we've seen.

So add in the mobile-specific fixes and it begs the question of why, in the context of a non-existent scene for new hardware, Microsoft is still throwing resources at Windows 10 Mobile? My initial thought is that the Lumia 950 and 950 XL are still within 2 years of manufacture/sale, in some case only a year old - ditto the Lumia 650. And with two years being the length of a typical phone contract and also typical of manufacturer support/guarantees these days, it's only fitting that Microsoft keeps some manpower on fixing issues and supporting users.

But there's more here than that. If it was just about supporting existing users then the furthest any OS build should have gone was the Creators Update (Redstone 2, branch. Heck, I wouldn't have been surprised if everything had been kept at Redstone, with just bug fixes, so it was quite a welcome sight to see the very latest code on phones in Spring 2017.

Yet the Fast ring builds, still issued roughly weekly, have gone way beyond Redstone 2 - OK, they're not officially 'Redstone 3' (the 162xx branch), but they shouldn't exist at all if Microsoft was just trying to fix bugs and issues. So the company is clearly trying to keep Windows 10 Mobile as current as humanly possible, at least in the test rings.

As to why, I have two theories:

  1. In the long run, Microsoft is clearly unifying its UIs (CShell) and standardising on chipsets (Snapdragon 835). Maybe the continued investment in the current (old) ARM chipsets is merely making sure that all its mobile-related code is ready to rock on whatever comes next, Surface Phone, and so on? And, after all, they have to test the software tech on something, so why not in-house and Insider Lumia 950s and Elite x3s?
  2. Perhaps HP itself is the driving force here? With a long term strategy in enterprise based on the Elite x3, the phone - despite being a year old now - is still quite young in those terms and needs active support from the OS mothership. Potentially beyond Creators Update, in order to work with newer accessories and for Continuum to fulfill its potential. HP is a big partner of Microsoft's and there may well be significant 'we're not going to abandon Windows 10 Mobile' clauses in their agreements. W10M may be getting all this extra love thanks purely to the Elite x3 and its ecosystem.

Comments welcome. Why does the 'Feature2' branch even exist? Do you have any extra theories, conspiratorial or otherwise?

HP Elite X3