As AAWP heads into 2018...

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No, Windows 10 Mobile isn't dead. But 2017 has been a tough year for a Nokia & Windows on phones enthusiast, I recap it below, though there are some glimmers of light in the darkness. And what of 2018? I place a few predictions, too.

I've gone over the 'not dead' status of Windows 10 Mobile a number of times here on AAWP, so I won't repeat myself. Suffice it to say that the OS remains fully supported and patched monthly until 2019/2020, depending on the branch you're thinking of.

What's more evident is the lack of hardware. Microsoft shut down the Lumia factories in 2016, as part of its slimming down in the wake of the acquisition of the Nokia Devices organisation in 2013, so by the end of 2017 it is now pretty hard to buy a Lumia 950 or 950 XL new - and even harder to find spares to repair one of these phones should you break them (or should they fail).

One of Microsoft's hopes was that third parties would license Windows 10 Mobile and produce their own hardware, much like they did at the start of Windows Phone, back in 2010, but we've only seen limited uptake in this regard. HP have had their Elite x3 for the last 18 months, but they crippled it with sky-high pricing (not least for their Lap dock), they were so used to selling business PCs and accessories that they made the x3 system prohibitive for individuals. HP has blamed Microsoft for not helping more in terms of development, but pricing is the main culprit here.

Of course, many AAWP readers still use older Nokias, the 830, 930 and 1520 especially. And these still rock along quite well with Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update, so all is well as long as they keep working. Ditto the Lumia 650, 950 and 950 XL, which are now up to two years old and on the Fall Creators Update officially. There are no real hardware weak points on these phones, so as long as you don't actually drop and smash them... Do grab spare batteries if you get the chance though.

There has been some new hardware though. Alcatel committed to making Windows 10 Mobile versions of its popular IDOL 4S (originally for Android) in 2016 and the 'with Windows 10' version appeared as an exclusive for T-Mobile in the USA in late 2016, followed by an unlocked version in North America in early 2017 and eventually the full 'world LTE' version, the IDOL 4 Pro, in August 2017. This is a much better phone than you might think, with stunning screen, feel and speakers, let down slightly by having a 'good' rather than 'excellent' camera. And it's now much cheaper, at least in the UK Store. Snap one up while you can?

And, recently, there's been the business-focussed Wileyfox Pro, which I've started to review here. It's main selling point is that, like the IDOL 4 Pro, it exists at all in a Windows 10 Mobile-hostile world.

Yes, there were some crowd-funded efforts. Wharton Brooks, TrekStor, but neither was interesting or exceptional enough to arouse interest. You've got to have a genuine USP to get a crowd funded project off the ground.

IDOL 4 Pro and Wileyfox Pro

Alcatel IDOL 4 Pro and Wileyfox Pro - the effective Windows 10 Mobile 'new' line-up as at the beginning of 2018...

So does two (or arguably three) new models for sale constitute a viable ecosystem? Probably not, but remember again the still active support for the underlying operating system and its commonality and UWP app compatibility with over half a billion laptops, tablets and hybrids across the world. The situation isn't quite as gloomy as you might think.

For fans of Windows on phones, the ultimate hope now rests on a first party 'Surface Mobile', which is becoming increasingly less mythical day by day as patents and leaks appear. The recent renders seem very believable and fit right in with Microsoft's stated intent to create hardware that defines a whole new category. Although not running Windows 10 Mobile explicitly, such a folding Surface Mobile will have an almost identical (CShell) Start screen interface, especially when folded, will have a familiar phablet form factor when needed, and will run the exact same UWP applications as we're used to (though no compatibility with older Windows Phone 8.1 Silverlight apps and games, notably).

With the advantage of the unfolded tablet and laptop modes, but also with a much higher price tag, no doubt. My best guess for such a Surface Mobile was always Spring 2018 and this still holds true, I'd expect a dedicated event in the April timeframe.

Surface Mobile render

For image credit, see the Twitter feed linked here.

Throughout 2018, UWP applications will continue to arrive and be updated, though I'm not optimistic about much of the 'app gap' being filled, relative to iOS and Android. It all depends which 'service' applications you need. At least the Edge browser gets more powerful each day by virtue of more and more companies putting more capability into their mobile-friendly web sites (think HTML5 and progressive web apps).

[If your allegiance is just as much to Microsoft's services (Outlook, Office, OneDrive, etc.) as to its OS then AAWP isn't so much for you, but you're covered well due to Microsoft's continuing development of its software properties for iOS and Android. And good luck to you. If your allegiance was always to the Nokia brand then you're also best covered elsewhere, since 'Nokia' has now made a comeback as a brand with Android phones, though don't expect all the goodies that came with their Symbian and then Lumia hardware, the human and patent resources needed just aren't there anymore.]

So... two new phones in 2017, full support at an OS level, and an exciting transforming first party flagship in 2018. Still something to talk about then, in features, reviews and comments through the year, even if overall activity gets slightly quieter as time goes by.

Thanks to Rafe Blandford for his financial support of AAWP as always, for his back end programming, and for his contributions via the podcast. Thanks to guest writers and guest podcasters. And thanks to everyone who has commented so intelligently and usefully in 2017. Let's have more of the same in 2018. Let's prove to the world that mobile isn't completely a two-horse race.