This weekend, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore took to Twitter to announce the death of Windows Phone. Microsoft will no longer be adding any new features into Windows Mobile and will end all support and security patches by 2019. This ends the long, sad tale of Windows Mobile.
If you had a PDA in the early or mid-2000’s, it’s was almost guaranteed to be running Windows Mobile. It was the dominant mobile platform for long time, but Microsoft failed to protect its near monopoly on smart devices.
How did we get here?
How did Microsoft go from owning the most popular mobile OS to announcing its death in 10 years? The growth of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store have a little something to do with it. Windows Mobile had been plagued by a dearth of apps in its store. A search for some of the most popular apps in the world routinely returned poorly made apps by random developers or no results at all. Despite paying app developers or even developing the apps for them, Microsoft never attracted big names to the store that it needed. A lack of apps led to a lack of users.
A lack of apps led to a lack of users
Microsoft’s last big push was Windows 10 Mobile. The new OS launched in 2015 and promised an integrated app store for its computers and mobile phones. While the Windows Store wasn’t packed with apps like the App Store or Play Store, it did feature some larger names. This was finally supposed to be the move that brought the two platforms together. Microsoft made a big bet that its massive desktop division would give the mobile division a large enough selection of apps to attract new users.
But, Windows 10 never really got off the ground. The giant push that Microsoft was expecting never happened. Big name apps like YouTube, Google Maps, Snapchat, or Pandora never came to the Windows Store and Microsoft was left with the same issues it had before. Despite all of the money and press it gave Windows 10 Mobile, it just wasn’t working. First, new hardware stopped coming, then new features started to trickle out slower and slower. Just two years after it launched, Windows 10 Mobile was pronounced dead.
Microsoft ultimately spent millions of dollars and years of development on a project that will be sunset like so many others.
Where do we go from here?
Just because Windows Mobile is biting the dust doesn’t mean Microsoft should throw the baby out with the bathwater. What some don’t realize is that Microsoft has been on a mission the last couple of years to develop Android apps too. It purchased many well-known apps like Wunderlist, Sunrise Calendar, and SwiftKey, and developed even more under its own name. Microsoft’s mobile division actually has considerable assets at its disposal. Microsoft can still create the app ecosystem it wants, but it should do it on Android instead of Windows Phone.
Microsoft can still create the app ecosystem it wants, but it should do it on Android instead of Windows Phone
To find a blueprint for this move, Microsoft should look just a half-hour west of their offices in Seattle, to Amazon. Microsoft has the advantage of learning from the mistakes of both companies. Amazon doesn’t have a massive hardware division like Microsoft, but it released the Fire Phone. Few devices had as much hype and failed so spectacularly. Amazon quickly recognized its mistake, got rid of the remaining stock, and moved on to a mobile strategy that centered around getting its apps onto your phone. Microsoft needs to do the exact same thing.
Microsoft has several key advantages that Amazon didn't
Microsoft has several key advantages that Amazon didn’t. To start out with, it has a small, loyal fanbase that absolutely loves its phones. My wife just so happens to be one of them. She’s been lamenting the death of Windows Mobile the last few days but the reality is that she hasn’t used a Windows Phone for almost two years.
The last great hope was the Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, but it was plagued with performance issues in addition to everything else that held Windows Mobile back. It didn’t last long in our household. She’s since been bouncing back and forth between iOS and Android devices in a never-ending search for something similar, but better. She’s finally landed on a Samsung Galaxy S8 but has themed it to look exactly like a Windows Phone.
She might be crazy (I kid), but she’s not alone. That dedicated base of users love Windows 10 Mobile and I think they’d happily move over to Android if Microsoft gave them the option to turn the hardware of their choosing into an Android/Windows hybrid. Microsoft already publishes over 100 apps in the Google Play Store, but not one of them emulates the Windows Mobile experience.
Yes, I can hear you all screaming at your screens that it’s because Windows Mobile failed. Why would Microsoft keep developing apps that emulate it?!
Windows Phones may not have been as popular as Android, but Microsoft sold a ton of them. Those devoted users are all looking for a new home now and a Windows Mobile launcher would go a long way to making that decision easier. Look, I know it probably sounds crazy, and maybe it is. But, just one of the launchers that emulates the Windows 10 Mobile look and functionality has been downloaded over 500,000 times.
It’s time for Microsoft to step in and do it right. Let people use their Android device exactly how they used their Windows Phone.
The Forgotten Helper
In this theoretical new Windows launcher, Microsoft needs to heavily integrate Cortana, its personal assistant. I don’t really like Windows that much, but I have enjoyed my interaction with Cortana. It’s easy to use and it feels fast and accurate. My Windows Phone-loving wife prefers Cortana to all the other assistants out there but rarely uses it. Why? Because it’s not convenient. It’s not built into the system like Siri or Google Assistant is. She can’t easily access it from any of Microsoft’s other apps. It’s just a pain to get to.
Microsoft is never going to replace Google Assistant because Google would never allow that, but it can take a lesson from across town again. Amazon recently built Alexa into the Amazon Music app. This is an easy ask from Microsoft. Add Cortana to all of your apps where it makes sense.
Cortana probably won’t win the “War of the Assistants” that’s currently being waged by Amazon, Apple, and Google, but it can find its niche. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to think people would tap on a Cortana button on a Windows launcher rather than long pressing the home button for Google Assistant. Cortana can do a lot of the same things that Assistant and Alexa can right now with the added ability to deliver alerts on both mobile and PC. And, it’s on almost every Windows 10 PC in the world! That’s a huge leg up for Microsoft and something it really needs to push. Maybe a kick-start on Android is all it needs to be a major player.
It’s the apps, stupid
Even if you have no interest in using a Windows Mobile launcher or Cortana, Microsoft still has something to offer. Right now, it publishes some amazing apps and that’s where its focus should be. SwiftKey is undoubtedly one of the most popular keyboards in the Play Store. Word and Excel have the name recognition that can’t be matched and Outlook is one of the most feature-packed email apps out there.
Microsoft should be cultivating an image of being <em>the</em> company making amazing apps for Android
Microsoft should be cultivating an image of being the company making amazing apps for Android. When you get your new Android device, your first stop should be the Microsoft listing in the Play Store since it makes your favorite apps. Make apps we can’t live without. Make apps that make our lives easier. Make apps that do it better than whats currently out there.
Learn from the death of Windows Mobile and make your apps your path forward. Take the ecosystem you were trying to develop on your platform and move it to Android where you have literally billions of potential users.
Microsoft is never going to replace Google on Android. But going all-in on Google’s platform gives it the freedom to work in a much more open environment than iOS, with over a billion potential users. Microsoft may have failed with Windows, but it can still be a mobile success story.