Microsoft Phone (Part 2)

Does anyone think it was a coincidence that Joe Belfiore’s admission Microsoft’s journey to make Windows succeed on phones was dead came just days after he had announced that Microsoft was bringing the Edge browser to Android and iOS, and had taken its Garage born Arrow Launcher for Android and rechristened it as the Microsoft Launcher?  Microsoft may not have made a grand public strategic vision statement, but it sure telegraphed one.

Let’s step back for a moment to the topic of first party Microsoft apps on iOS and Android.  Bringing the Office apps to non-Microsoft devices wasn’t part of a grand new mobile strategy, they were driven by the Office 365 effort.  If you want someone to pay you $99/year forever, vs $150-250 every 5-10 years, then it has to work on all the devices they use.  I use a consumer example, but this holds for Enterprises as well.  And so the effort to bring Office clients to iOS and Android was begun under then CEO Steve Ballmer.  Want confirmation that bringing Office clients to iOS and Android was about Office 365 and not a broader change in strategy?  Work on Office for iOS began long before Microsoft acquired Nokia’s mobile business.  Windows Phone was still the big bet.

After Satya Nadella became CEO and freed non-Windows teams to pursue strategies that were not necessarily linked to Windows, the floodgate really opened on non-Office Microsoft apps coming to iOS and Android.  MSR experiments and Garage efforts generally targeted one or the other.  Any team that had a mobile component to its strategy created clients for both.  After all, in a Cloud world client ubiquity is important.  Ballmer set Microsoft’s transition to a Cloud company in motion, Satya poured gasoline on the fire by un-shackling teams from Microsoft’s “mutually reinforcing businesses based around Windows” business model.

Separately the Windows Phone effort continued to wither.  Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia was written off.  Rumors of new devices, such as a Surface Phone, the birth of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), and bridges for bringing iOS and Android apps to the UWP kept hope alive that there was a new strategy for making Windows succeed on phones.   But that strategy soon unraveled.  Cancellation of the Android bridge really telegraphed the death of Windows on Phones.  The iOS bridge made it easier to port apps from the iPhone, and Xamarin made it easier to develop new multi-platform apps, but both relied on developers investing effort to target Windows on phones.  Running Android apps, unchanged, on Windows would have been a poor user experience.  But it would have closed the app gap.  Once Microsoft cried uncle on the app gap, Windows on phones was dead.  It took a frustrating 18 months for Microsoft to publicly acknowledge it.

I wonder how it went down.  Was there a grand discussion of a new mobile phone strategy?  Did Satya tell Terry “Everyone else in the company has a strategy for dealing with iOS and Android, what’s yours?”.  Did the Windows team just come to the realization that they were building a bunch of new features that wouldn’t really be compelling unless they could be used in conjunction with the phones people were actually carrying?  Working on something on my laptop then deciding to continue on my desktop is just “nice”.  Trying to do something on my phone that is so painful you want to scream, and being able to stop and continue on a PC where it is child’s play, now that is compelling.  And so we have Edge on both iOS and Android, and the Microsoft Launcher on Android to make that happen.

Top-down or bottom-up, these moves lead to the question, is there a bigger strategy here?  I sure hope so.  Microsoft now has all the pieces it needs to offer a preconfigured out of the box Microsoft-experience Android Phone.  You can configure one yourself right now, but it is a painful and tedious process more suitable for enthusiasts than for general users.  When I trashed Android a few years back one of the key reasons was the amount of time it would take to get it working the way I wanted.  Manually creating a Microsoft Phone with all the pieces Microsoft has created just magnifies that complaint.

Last year I bought one of those Amazon Android phones with Offers and Ads to play with.  It cost me $59, I think, and I played with it for a couple of weeks to see what Google had done with a newer version of Android.  It never even had a SIM in it.  After the Microsoft Launcher announcement I found it in my collection of abandoned toys and decided to try to configure it as a Microsoft Phone.  It took me a while, but I got it close.  I stopped when I realized cramming all that Microsoft goodness into a phone with only 8GB was a challenge.  I had to remove the Amazon apps.  I had to start removing parts of the Google ecosystem as well, which strategically is more of a concern.  And a phone that was already sluggish became even more so.  But then I was configuring an older entry-level phone the way a power user might configure a new mid-range or flagship device.  Ignore the negatives, it was entirely possible to create a Microsoft-centric experience on an Android phone.

Having a bunch of pieces that users can take and configure varying levels of Microsoft-experience on their phones is good.  On iOS it is the only option.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft approached Apple about how to offer more of a Microsoft-experience iOS phone.  Given Microsoft’s enthusiasm for Android lately we can guess that Apple wasn’t very receptive.  But the bunch of pieces approach is quite limited, and on Android Microsoft could go much further.  It could work with OEMs to create Microsoft experience versions of devices that have pre-built Android images that come configured with Microsoft Launcher, Edge, etc.  Or it could find a way to do a one-button setup of the Microsoft experience.  I can think of one way to make that possible, but perhaps there are multiple.  In any case, it would be a step well beyond the Microsoft Apps app or what they’ve done with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Microsoft Edition.

Is there anything Microsoft should NOT do?  Yes, they shouldn’t try to hide or bury the other Android goodness.  Block installation of arbitrary applications from Google Play?  Death.  Have a OOBE experience that doesn’t embrace the Google ecosystem in parallel with the Microsoft ecosystem?  Death.  Lock the device to Bing?  Death. In other words, Microsoft Phone is a true Android Phone with a Microsoft-centric experience on it, not something that has Android underneath but a completely different user experience and app ecosystem ala the Amazon Fire Phone’s Fire OS.

So what will 2018 and 2019 bring?  So far Microsoft has been pretty cautious about its approach to Microsoft Phone, and I expect that to continue in 2018.  They need to bring Edge to GA.  Microsoft Launcher needs to mature some more.  Keep improving the Cortana experience on Android.  They probably have other apps and experiences in the works that will be released individually.  Maybe they can find a way to make multi-app installation easier, or even have a one-button “make it a Microsoft Phone” answer sometime during the year.

While Samsung and other large OEMs want devices that have their own OOBE, small players like BLU seem willing to try multiple things.  BLU does Amazon offers and ads phones, they also had offered Windows Phones.  It would probably be easy to get them to make a pre-configured Microsoft-experience Android Phone.  I’d be mildly surprised if Microsoft pushes hard on preconfigured Microsoft-experience devices in 2018. Given Microsoft’s failure with Windows Phone, they would be better off with a humble approach.  Keep building the base of users who are willing and able to self-configure a Microsoft-experience until it reaches the point where there is strong market pull for preconfigured devices.  Maybe that happens a year from now, but it is a safer bet that it happens in 2019.

Whatever the details of how it plays out, a replacement strategy for Windows Phone is finally apparent.  It is Android, brought to you by the Windows team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 Responses to Microsoft Phone (Part 2)

  1. So now if Mixed Reality and HoloLens gain there own Niches, this would be where UWP lands, and the Android Phone would be Microsoft mobile offering? All the while leaving UWP available for future implementation in the unlikely event that MS comes up with some future killer mobile strategy?

    I’ll take what I can get at this point. Once a fan boy, you know how it goes. I have my reasons for sticking with these guys.

    Thanks for writing this Hal, I still look forward to your Windows based posts. You have a perspective that is rarely found on the mainstream blogs.

    JF

  2. Safrane says:

    I’m glad email notifications are working on your blog.
    I appreciate every post you write about Microsoft 🙂

    On the topic of Microsoft’s strategies, my guess is also that they will try many things quietly and see what catches fire.
    I think the Windows team is now focused on ARM…

  3. Ben says:

    Your article is a tad disappointing because its very narrow compared to your insider knowledge of Microsoft as a company and its strategies. It’s not broad enough in the Windows world like your previous insider look with Windows rumours. I heard it all before with cross-strategy of iOS and Android apps and its services ecosystem and yes that’s a fact that Microsoft has headed towards in mobile. However, there is a missing hunger of innovation that is crowding up the smartphone space. 2017, is the year that smartphones has reached their full capabilities from its advanced hardware and software capabilities. The industry is heading to a next wave, a successor of the smartphone market and Microsoft alongside with Samsung, Apple and Google are building it. Microsoft will see others execute the strategy first, especially hardware makers like Samsung and LG foldable and bendable devices for 2018. As I see it, I predict, 2018 as the year where phablet consumption devices and mini consumption and productivity tablets merges under one device chassis with a foldable hinge and bendable/flexible devices with a modular tablet and mobile experience. But I see only one company, has the power to execute it better than anyone else because the platform is scalable and context aware with the natural user interface and the graphical user interface and that is Microsoft with its long term Windows 10 plan for new mobility innovative experiences that showcases what the platform can do for other device manufacturers to jump in. Microsoft has also been rumoured to partner with OEMs to create these special experiences in a similar strategy to the way they have with Windows Mixed Reality devices. Also, Microsoft is investing heavily advanced AI special silicon processor chips from HoloLens HPUs into future flagship devices such as future Surface, Xbox, HoloLens and other Microsoft devices. Furthermore, I see Microsoft pushing Windows Mixed Reality as another component for making this mini mobile device into a holographic mobile device, taking advantage of Windows 10 mixed reality experiences. This is one of their fabric of unique mobility experiences they are building in the long term, which will probably be shown off and released commercially sometime next year or 2019 the same timeframe when HoloLens v2 MR headset releases to the commercial market. So its unlikely that Microsoft flagship operating system will have no mobile presence since they are aggressively preparing setting out the layers to the strategy first with Windows 10 on ARM with LTE support and Qualcomm Snapdragon running Win32 applications from the Microsoft Store and third party app distributors online. A major Windows 10 SKU for cheaper mobile Ultrabook’s,notebooks/netbooks and tablets for this holiday season and early 2018. Get a broader perspective on this!

    • halberenson says:

      The posts were about smartphones, not the overall future for Windows or what happens when there is a paradigm shift. Or if Microsoft even has an appetite to seriously participate in the consumer products space. If a paradigm shift actually goes anywhere, which is not at all clear it will. Lots of form factors are touted, few succeed. Lots of new whiz bang capabilities never catch on. Or take decades longer than expected. Smartphones, in much the form factor we have today, are likely to be the predominant device for the next decade. If there is a paradigm shift Microsoft can take advantage of, great. They may or may not try and they may or may not succeed. But in smartphones, it is game over.

      • Ben says:

        I agree. but I want I was enlarging the shift of mobile strategy to a new niche market. I did not see that with this article. All I saw is smartphone strategy with iOS/Android which is a indirect strategy of the Microsoft phone rather than mobile strategy you painted on your article. Mobile is broader than the narrow smartphone segment. So, I still stand with my argument and for that, I have to agree to disagree with this article.

  4. tourniquet88 says:

    I still got a little problem with that strategy. Windows 10 Mobile was supposed to be more than just a phone in your pocket. With continuum it was your PC in your pocket as well. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but it was a vision for future computing.

    Sure they’ll probably make more money on android, but having no OS in that space in that time seems a bit dangerous.

    They already have lost a generation with Chromebooks and iPads. Looking at Samsung dex and what Huawei is doing now, it’s pretty clear that the phone in your pocket is going to be the PC of the future.

    By not having an OS in that space they’ll lose even more mindshare over time. That will weaken the overall Windows 10 strategy more than it would help it.

    If somebody switches to a galaxy s 8 with dex you’re going to get the full android / Ubuntu experiences in your phone. No need for Windows 10 or Microsoft apps anymore.

    I think they should’ve try harder to get Windows 10 Mobile for enterprise customers.

    • TheCyberKnight says:

      I mostly share this vision.

      Exiting the mobile arena will prove catastrophic for Microsoft. I think the collateral damages are underestimated by most.

      Also, relying (or leeching) on other’s platforms is putting them in a delicate position since they have no real control on it. Their software and integration will always be at the mercy of publicly available API.

  5. Alec says:

    How hard would it be to make the Microsoft customising of Android easy for the user?

    Download any MS app and if not already answered ask a few simple questions that enable the right apps and customisations to download automatically. Are you an office 365 business or personal user, so you want a full rich MS user experience, MS essentials only or somewhere in the middle. With each of those options identify the main differences with options to Opt out of the major changes e.g. Keep Chrome browser but give me Cortana.

    Job done, yes?

    Agree MS need a simpler user experience that appeals to general users

    • halberenson says:

      It is hard if not impossible to do because of the security model implemented on phones for third-party apps . Note, I’m not an Android expert so I’m not sure if there are mechanisms I’m unaware of. You have first (OS supplier), second (OEM/Carrier), and third (everyone else)-party apps. The apps from the first and second parties are pre-installed as part of the image on the phone. The phone image also has special capabilities, such as being logged into your Google account which has the effect that that the Google apps running on it don’t have to do individual logins. But a third party app is sandboxed. It can’t be auto-installed, each app requires a separate manual approval for installation. They can’t share data, like their logins to services. Etc. So you can’t write an auto-installer that installs multiple apps. It has to call the installer one by one, you have to do a tap or two for each app, then for each app you have to login to your Microsoft Account.

      Turning them into a first/second-party app by pre-installing is the only clear way to improve the experience. I have another idea, but would rather not articulate it without researching if it is at all plausible.

  6. henbo says:

    I am truly sorry if my comment below is posted multiple times, I really seem to have trouble logging on to WP.

    Hal, I always appreciate your insights and thoughtful comments.

    However, I would argue that the strategy you envision Microsoft takes is a not a winning move.
    Frankly, it lacks innovation. It is all about catch-up, again.
    Microsoft does not try and bring its forward thinking and its intellectual power to the foreign platform, as you suggest it just tries and plays along.

    Have you used Excel on the phone? I find it unbearable, if its not falling apart instantly on a somewhat larger or complex document. And on the phone, where exactly is the distinction between Word and OneNote? What about Access, or, to avoid the unloved product, any really smart list management or graph database from Microsoft is MIA on any mobile platform. Outlook on Windows Mobile was quite usable in the end; on Android, it has a long way to go, in particular for calendars views.

    Microsoft would be much more innovative if they brought something back like BillG’s Works, compatible with Office 365, so it could open all its documents but add some elegant, intuitive and smart data entry and linking, native to the mobile and cloud experiences. Having the same quantity and quality of apps as on the desktop may get points for familiarity and collaboration, but it is not really helping, because on this platform, too, the numerous apps look and behave awkwardly different where consistency and reliable integration would be expected.

    Microsoft Launcher is quite a lovely Android launcher, but there is nothing distinguishably Microsoft about it. It doesn’t help migrate or bring traits over from Windows 10, it does little to turn ugly widgets into live tiles and a usable start screen nor is it willing and able to set you free from the terrible Android system management.

    They messed up mobile before (pocket, slate, phone), does not look like it’s going to be different, this time.

    • halberenson says:

      They are out of the phone business. They are not going after the consumer business (gaming console aside), other than in the productivity space. This isn’t about winning that business, it is about making sure that you can use the phone within the Microsoft ecosystem.

      The other day my wife asked me to add something to a shared family spreadsheet that is out on OneDrive. If I’d waited until I was in front of a PC I would have forgotten all about it. I was able to do it via Excel on iOS. Later that week she needed information that was in a word document on OneDrive. I looked it up on Word on iOS. If I couldn’t do this then we’d move everything to Google Drive and use their apps. These same scenarios exist for work documents. More so actually. No you don’t write a lot on your phone, but you read and comment a lot.

  7. Gary Schroeder says:

    I was one of the last Windows Phone/Mobile fanboys. I agonized over the thought of moving to Android (already had iPhone for work and have never particularly liked it). But moving to Samsung S8+ gave me very comparable/better hardware compared to the last Lumia 950XL (including better camera), and Android with Microsoft Launcher and the Microsoft suite of apps shocked me how little I miss Windows Phone. Unfortunately for Microsoft, after being burned by my consumer investments in Media Center, Zune, Band, and Windows Phone, it will take a lot for me to ever go back to a Windows consumer-focused device in the future..

    • halberenson says:

      This matches what I believe the bulk of former Windows Phone users find. But every now and then I realize how far ahead some experiences were on WP, and in many cases are still better than what you get today on iOS and Android. I haven’t tried it on Android lately, but voice control of text messaging is still not as good on iPhone as it was on Windows Phone 7 back in 2010.

      I’ve been happy with the iPhone because I was so busy the last few years I needed something that just worked without a lot of effort on my part. Then, security issues on Android phones kept getting them kicked off the corporate network until they were patched. I know people who couldn’t access email for a year because their OEM/Carrier didn’t update the phone. Apple patches and pushes fast, so IT could send an email the moment Apple made a patch available saying something like “update by 3 days from now or you will lose mail access” and it was no problem. But given my retirement I’m getting ready to pursue the Android path. I just have requirements, from my desire for next-gen GPS to Alexa to an OEM/carrier that does a good job of updating devices.

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