Microsoft finally admits defeat in the mobile war

Identity theft at epidemic levels.
1st September 2017

A pretty big clue arrived last month when Bill Gates admitted that he had switched to an Android phone rather than a Windows one. Now senior executive Joe Belfiore, who had headed up the PC, tablet and smartphone efforts for Windows 10, has pretty much confirmed what most of us already knew. Windows 10 Mobile is not just pining for the fjords. It is an ex-OS.

Okay, that’s maybe a slight exaggeration. Windows 10 is not being discontinued…yet. Microsoft will continue to support the operating system, and those select people who are currently using a Windows Phone – considerably less than 1% of the market, according to recent reports – will be able to carry on doing so. With Belfiore tweeting that the company will no longer “focus” on developing new features and hardware for the product, however, the death knell has most definitely been sounded for the Windows Phone.

Is anyone at Microsoft using a Windows Phone?

Gates might have devoted the last few years to philanthropic pursuits rather than working at the technological coal-face, but the company’s co-founder remains Mr Microsoft. That’s why, when he admitted to having switched to an Android it made headlines around the world.

Speaking on a Fox News segment about his relationship with late Apple guru Steve Jobs, Gates said: “Recently, I actually did switch to an Android phone with a lot of Microsoft software.”

He did suggest that switching to Apple would have been a step too far, however, responding when asked: “No, no iPhone!”

There was a tongue-in-cheek element to much of the reporting of this story but, while the exchange was brief and good-humoured, it was also telling. It’s hardly been the world’s best-kept secret that Microsoft had been struggling in the smartphone stakes, but when the company’s figurehead migrates to a rival product it does speak volumes.

Now Belfiore has admitted that he too has moved away from the Windows Phone, citing a greater range of apps, features and hardware options available on other platforms.

Asked directly whether it was time for users to leave the Windows Mobile platform, Belfiore tweeted: “As an individual end-user, I switched platforms for the app/hw diversity. We will support those users too! Choose what’s best 4 u.”

New developments and features for Windows Phone “not the focus”

Earlier, Belfiore had said that developing new features was no longer a priority for the team.

He tweeted: “Of course we’ll continue to support the platform…bug fixes, security updates, etc. But building new features/hw aren’t the focus.”

Belfiore was discussing the recent launch of a test version of the Edge web browser for Android and iOS. He said that Microsoft had “tried very hard” to incentivise app developers to make more Windows or Windows-compatible universal apps. He added that the company had tried financial inducements and even offered to help in writing the software. He admitted, however, that the user base for Windows Phones was simply too small for most companies and app developers to consider it worth investing in Windows Mobile.

Indeed, Windows most recent OS, Windows 10 Mobile, accounted for just 0.03% of the global smartphone market between April and June, according to market intelligence and research company IDC.

IDC’s Francisco Jeronimo told the BBC: “There wasn’t a wide range of devices running Windows 10 Mobile, so it wasn’t attractive to retailers or operators.

“And from a consumer perspective, the operating system didn’t provide as good an experience as Android or iOS.”

A fact that both Gates and Belfiore would appear to agree with.

“Most Microsoft applications are now available and supported on other mobile operating systems,” Jeronimo added.

“After Satya Nadella took over [as chief executive], that clearly became the strategy – and after that happened what incentive was there to buy a Windows-powered phone?”

Microsoft launched its first mobile product in 2000. The PocketPC 2000 was later rebranded Windows Mobile before evolving into Windows Phone in 2010. There have been numerous versions and heavy investment, but Microsoft’s mobile division has never enjoyed a significant share of the smartphone OS market – which is currently dominated by Android and, to a lesser extent, Apple’s iOS.

At recent conferences, the company had dropped its “mobile first, cloud first” mantra and conspicuously failed to mention updates to the mobile OS. The focus does now seem to be getting Microsoft apps and services onto other platforms, while the Windows Phone itself looks likely to be allowed to quietly wind down.