For over a decade, Microsoft has been an also-ran in the world of smartphones companies. In the early days, BlackBerry ruled the den, then the iPhone came along and recently Android too has been taking the lion’s share. But Microsoft has more patience than a rock sitting quietly by the riverside. Taking its time, sticking with the mobile program, and ultimately constructing a worthy rival to Android and iPhone – a worthy contender to both phones, especially if you already live in a Microsoft-centric IT world.
During my days at Redmond magazine, I spoke with dozens of Windows Phone users as they moved from version to version and their early total frustration subsided and turned to happiness as they upgraded. Now Microsoft hopes to build on this steady momentum with Windows Mobile 10; like Windows itself, Mobile is skipping version 9, hoping no one will notice.
Windows 10 Mobile for Phone (this full name is not as clever as iOS or Android) is now in its second test build. The OS only runs on a handful of Windows Phone devices such as Lumia – which are now built by, you guessed it, Microsoft (Redmond didn’t buy Nokia for nothing).
One huge change in Windows Mobile 10 however, is the browser. Internet Explorer is out, Spartan – a true tablet-style browser – is in. Spartan will also be available for Windows 10 PCs and tablets, and IE will also remain installed for those who prefer the older style of browsing. Like the PC version of Windows 10, the mobile version will be released this summer.
Windows Phone: From almost good, to good, and now to great?
The Windows Phone final breakthrough came with Windows Phone 7. Microsoft eliminated a lot of Windows Phone foibles and idiosyncrasies, and added a wealth of features to make it uniquely useful, especially to enterprise and IT users. Windows Phone 8 then took this a good step further. It finally made the smartphone a true part of the Windows family, which was done by having the phone share common tablet-style OS with its bigger PC brother. That meant that Windows 8 PC and tablet users felt immediately comfortable and productive. Making the Microsoft story stronger was the inclusion of a free mobile version of Office.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to craft a thousand-row spreadsheet or write a novel on my smartphone, but being able to natively view and edit documents while on the go is a big bonus.
Microsoft has also been pushing hooks to Office 365. This is another way to create and edit documents, and a better way to collaborate than plain-old Office. More recent Microsoft-based smartphones now also integrate with Lync.
Smartphones are a great way to promote one’s own technologies. In Microsoft’s case, the phones come with SkyDrive (now called OneDrive), and Skype (still called Skype) but the biggest inclusion has been Bing. A great way to dislodge Google is to force-feed your alternative browser on phone customers.
Ovum, a research firm, sees Windows Phones as a serious contender in the smartphone market.
“The sale of Nokia’s mobile phone business demonstrates conclusively the need for major consumer technology vendors to create ever deeper and wider offerings to consumers and ecosystem participants in terms of their device, platform and service offerings. This approach is no longer simply an option but a pre-requisite to competing successfully in this highly converged market,” said Tony Cripps, principal device analyst at Ovum.
Ovum continues by stating that while Microsoft already has many of the consumer tech market key elements in place, many of these are not on par with rivals. Yes Microsoft still holds an advantage over other smartphone manufacturers thanks to gaming (Xbob), VoIP (Skype) and the hassle free integration wit Office 365. And all that doesn’t even take into consideration Microsoft’s “huge global installed base of PCs” which make a chunky part in the online services puzzle.
What does the future hold for Windows Phones? Will it shake up the market like Apple did a decade earlier? Windows Phone 10 may be the answer that Microsoft has been looking for. It’s patience could finally pay off.