Mobile, Mixed Reality, and the Emperor's new clothes

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If you're watching intently then you may have noticed that March's 'Patch Tuesday' updates haven't (so far) included Mobile. Sod's law says that Microsoft will issue them right after this article goes live, but in the meantime I can't help but feel frustrated about the lack of TLC given to Windows 10 Mobile and the immense resources being ploughed by Microsoft into gimmicks elsewhere.

'TLC', by the way, is 'Tender Loving Care', and it's exactly what Microsoft hasn't been giving to its Mobile efforts in the last few years. Now, much of this story has been charted and commented on here on AAWP before - the switch away from first party mobile hardware, the failure to engage third parties, and so on. But through it all I've been assured by the continuing commitment to monthly patches, fixes and security updates, whose timescales I've been charting (and occasionally circumventing, in terms of getting older hardware onto newer branches!) here on the site.

And now we find that 'Patch Tuesday' slipped to 'Patch Wednesday' in February, and we're now in 'Thursday' in the second week in March (actually the third Thursday, to be pedantic) and it's clear that the lack of TLC towards Windows 10 Mobile is showing again.

For once, too, there's actually some urgency for this particular set of OS updates, because of the way Edge's PDF handling was broken in February's update (don't worry, we have your back in terms of reading PDFs) - the March round was supposed to sort this out. And yet... silence (so far).

Then there's the situation with Windows 10 Maps (across all Windows 10 form factors) and the licensing of data from HERE. I've reported on the old (2016) maps used in some countries, I've chased my contacts at Microsoft multiple times, and... nothing. All it needs is for someone at Microsoft to pick up the phone to HERE and say "We need to renew our license for the following countries, where do we send the cheque?" But again, there's a lack of TLC - no one seems to care.

What's mind boggling about this whole situation is that Microsoft clearly does care about quite a lot of things. Its Office cash cow, the Azure cloud, Surface hardware, Windows 10 licensing generally, Xbox, and all of these areas are perfectly fair enough in terms of focus.

But then there's 'Mixed Reality'. You've seen the cool virtual reality demos of people Skyping with virtual avatars in their 'Sky lofts', you've seen the cool uses for Hololens, I can absolutely see how this is exciting and inspiring in a sci-fi way. But, like 3D TV, 'Mixed Reality' is ultimately a gimmick. A gimmick that the company is ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into, while allocating a few thousand dollars a year to the college intern they have 'looking after Windows 10 Mobile'. And not much more to the Maps team, it seems.

Look at the king!
(image source)

At which point my headline starts to come into focus - you'll know the original story, of course. In my retelling, the emperor is told by his advisors that the next big thing is Mixed Reality, so he starts to go around with a headset on all the time. Bumping into things, making a hash out of his duties, bumping into everything, hardly able to function. Yet all around him, his courtiers 'ooh' and 'aah' and tell him how cool and futuristic he looks.

Then, one day, a little boy stands up and says "Look at the emperor, he's nearly blind! He's got a dorky headset on and - by the way - his smartphone runs an OS from another company!"

The shock, the horror, as the truth sinks in. Later in 2018, no doubt. That the general public doesn't want - or need - 'Mixed Reality', that billions of man hours of work have been effectively wasted, that Microsoft's crown jewels (Windows) have been massively compromised and relegated to mere infrastructure, and that something went badly wrong a year or two ago.

That 'something', of course, was Satya Nadella's decision to give up on first party smartphones prematurely. As with Stephen Elop's fateful decision to execute Symbian prematurely at Nokia in 2011, Nadella's axing of the Lumia programme in 2016 (in favour of putting resources into blue sky gimmicks like Mixed Reality) may prove just as costly in the long run.

Is it too late? Probably, the die have been cast, etc. But at the very least, until the next wave of mobile is on us (Surface Mobile, anyone), I'd like to see some TLC applied. Get the updates out on time, fix up the licensing issues with Windows 10 Maps, and so on.

I know I'm in a minority in the tech world, but I really like Windows 10 Mobile as an OS and as a user interface. Which is why I shout so passionately when I see it falling by the wayside for lack of Tender Loving Care.