Microsoft's mobile strategy is not to have one, implies Nadella

At BUILD 2016 last week, the absence of any sort of focus or even mentions of Microsoft's own smartphone endeavors was noticeable. Some have seen it as the writing on the wall, which was practically reaffirmed when Windows chief Terry Myerson was quoted to have said that the company won't focus on Windows phones this year. Now even CEO Satya Nadella is putting the nail on the coffin, but with a slightly different twist. The head executive seems to be saying that Microsoft does have a mobile strategy, but that strategy involves not seeing mobile as something distinct at all.

"I don't think of Windows for mobile differently than Windows for HoloLens, or Windows for Xbox now. We have only one Windows. We don't have multiple Windows." So says Nadella. What we refer to as "Windows 10 Mobile" is really just a shorthand for "Windows 10 running on a smartphone." It isn't a distinct platform, unlike Windows Phone 7 or 8. It's, more or less, the same Windows 10, just for a smaller form and usually for an ARM processor.

Nadella's strategy, then, is to focus on Windows 10 in general, whatever its form. The thrust is to provide developers the tools to write applications that run on Windows 10. That they happen to also run on a smartphone or HoloLens in addition to a desktop is, in theory, merely a side effect. Of course, in practice, it does mean also being conscious about screen sizes and user interfaces.

Nadella then proceeds to cite his favorite "Windows 10 on a smartphone" example: Continuum. Continuum is the finest expression of Microsoft's mobile strategy, basically making smartphones into PC in your pocket. Again, Nadella uses India as an example of an emerging mobile-first market. Continuum was designed in that context, providing the transition from mobile to PC. Whether you agree with that is another question. But Nadella's mobile "no strategy" has other problems of its own.

Using Continuum as the prime example of Windows 10's mobile presence is perhaps an exercise in futility. That's because, at present, there are basically just a handful of smartphones that actually support Continuum. It is a feature found only on the most expensive of Windows phones, mostly Lumias at this point, which servers as an anti-thesis to Nadella's India example. The company could improve it later on to support even mid-range smartphones. But, until then, Continuum can be considered practically invisible on almost all Windows 10 phones.

Which brings us to another pain point, there are extremely few Windows phones in the first place. Microsoft has more or less backtracked on promises of upgrading a handful of Lumias to Windows 10, and even some capable smartphones from other OEMs, like HTC and BLU Products, are being left out in the cold. None of those, mind you, qualify for Continuum anyway, but that only means there are fewer Windows 10 smartphones to begin with.

Microsoft might be more interested in simply targeting other mobile platforms with its apps, a strategy that does seem to be working well for it so far. With few Windows Phone 8.1 devices upgraded to Windows 10 and even fewer new Windows 10 smartphones this year, there is probably very little room for that "Windows 10 on a smartphone" to grow. Until Microsoft sufficiently addresses those issues, its Windows 10 on mobile vision will continue to be seen as a joke.

SOURCE: Business Insider