There is a lot of focus on the death of Windows 10 Mobile, bringing an end to Microsoft’s dream of a world running Windows on every client device. But I don’t believe Microsoft feels Mobile is any less important now than it did a decade ago when the rise of the iPhone caused it try the Hail Mary pass that resulted in Windows Phone 7. Just because the Windows kernel is out of mobile doesn’t mean Microsoft is. Any effort in Mobile has to address three areas: (1) Application Platform, (2) First Party Applications, and (3) User Experience.
A decade ago Microsoft had trouble seeing a path to success without Mobile, and a path to success in Mobile other than by making Windows succeed on Mobile devices. I’m not going to revisit that entire discussion (of which I was involved in only small parts), but it took Microsoft down the road to an eventual dead-end. The good side of that failure is that Microsoft was forced to revisit alternate strategies.
For example, I was in the process of transferring to DevDiv at the time that the Windows Mobile 7 Reset (the start of the Windows Phone 7 project) occurred. My job in DevDiv was going to be to drive cross-platform development tools to allow Microsoft-oriented (e.g., C#/.NET) developers to write applications for multiple mobile platforms. By the time I started in the position the strategy had changed to put all the wood behind the Windows Phone 7 arrow, with cross-platform development abandoned. Now a decade later we have Microsoft fully back on that original DevDiv thinking, with Xamarin under its wings and most .NET technologies available as open source. There is even evidence this strategy is working.
The rise of cross-platform .NET also represents the realization of .NET as the Microsoft platform. That was always DevDiv’s dream, but proved controversial across Microsoft. .NET CLR’s contribution to the Longhorn/Vista disaster strengthened the case against .NET as a client application platform. Windows Phone 7’s bet on .NET Compact Framework for all 3rd party apps was controversial, and Terry Myerson took a lot of flack for it. Then Windows 8 tried to back away from .NET, alienating much of the developer community. Some twists and turns later, .NET has become the universal application platform.
Another strategy discussion from a decade ago was putting Microsoft Applications on the iPhone. Without revisiting, it wasn’t clear how to make that strategy succeed in the mindset of the day. For example, would Apple’s control of the platform translate into control of the productivity apps? It was also a financial problem, given selling client software was the only way to monetize most client applications at the time. And the Office client applications were the source of much of the company’s profits. Once they could be monetized in the cloud (or via enterprise servers) this problem went away. The failure of Windows Phone to take off forced Microsoft to figure out a financially viable strategy for having its apps on IOS and Android years earlier than would have happened if Windows Phone succeeded. And cloud monetization, along with the new mindset established by Satya Nadella, has led to an explosion of Microsoft applications for Android and IOS.
So we have a Microsoft Phone application platform, and we have the first party Microsoft Phone apps, what about user experience? Well this is the area I’d classify as nascent. Right now the applications are just standalone things you install from Google Play or Apple’s App Store. And you painfully (especially if you are using 2FA) have to log into each. Given Android is more flexible than IOS, Microsoft is focusing more attention on Android. There is a Microsoft Apps App to help you find the available Microsoft applications. But all it does is launch the Google Play store one by one for the apps you want. The Microsoft Store is selling the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ Microsoft Edition that gets provisioned with some of the apps as part of the out of the box experience, but I can’t find a review for what that is like. And then there is the Microsoft Launcher that starts to bring an overall Microsoft flavor to the Android experience. Microsoft Edge is in preview, an important part of linking IOS and Android to the overall Microsoft experience. Microsoft Launcher also offers to install some first party Microsoft apps for you, but it is a subset of the list in the Microsoft Apps app. And it also just launches Google Play once per app to get and install. When viewed as I want a couple of Microsoft’s apps on my phone this is all fine. But when viewed as “give me a Microsoft Phone experience” it sucks. In Part 2 I’ll delve into that and speculate on what 2018/19 will bring.