Back in 2010, Microsoft launched a major new mobile operating system based on an all-new design UI language, app model, and structure. It was explicitly aimed at the consumer market, rather than the enterprise or business segments. This version of the OS, known as Windows Phone 7, was later supplanted by Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8.1, which jettisoned the Windows CE-based core of WP7 in favor of Windows NT, and generally moved Redmond’s mobile and desktop operating systems into closer step with each other. Today, Microsoft ended Windows Phone 8.1’s run. The company will no longer provide updates, including security ones, and the OS joins its predecessors in the Great Bit Bucket in the sky.
Windows 10 Mobile replaced Windows Phone 8.1 a while back, but the two simply can’t be seen as equivalent. Microsoft’s share of the modern phone market has shrunk to a fraction of 1 percent. But 80 percent of the devices in that fraction are still running Windows Phone 7, 8, or 8.1 according to information from AdDuplex.
Statistically, the percentage of devices running Windows 10 Mobile will increase as older phones are retired due to security concerns, hardware age, and unfixed bugs. Microsoft isn’t gaining market share as a result. The company shut down its own device production a year ago and fired almost all its relevant staff, but continues to pretend, contrary to all available evidence, that some kind of new Windows 10 Mobile strategy or hardware is maybe, could be, definitely in the works, with absolutely no plans to ever abandon an operating system with a market share only BlackBerry could envy.
Some WP8.1 devices can still be upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile. But keep in mind that the underlying hardware that shipped with most Windows Phone devices was midrange-grade two to three years ago. Even some of the exceptions, like the Nokia Lumia 1520, are now over three years old and are based on the aging Snapdragon 800 CPU core. Unusable? Definitely not. But nowhere near flagship level.
Worse, Microsoft’s overall updates for Windows 10 Mobile have slowed to a trickle, with the recent Creators Update adding few new features and data suggesting that Windows 10 Mobile development has split to a new “feature2” branch, as opposed to continuing under the same banner as the upcoming Fall Creators Update (Redstone 3). A handful of updates and capabilities could still ship — MS has occasionally released minor point updates like Windows Phone 7.8 — but the blog onMSFT reports that users shouldn’t expect to see “any new features” on Windows 10 Mobile based partly on comments from the Windows 10 Mobile dev team at Microsoft.
It’s a bit sad to see Microsoft’s mobile efforts end like this. I’ve often thought that the original Windows Mobile commanded far more market share than it ever deserved, while the later Windows Phone products earned less share than their superior design should have commanded. But Satya Nadella has made his moves quite clear since taking over from Ballmer, and there’s no sign he’s going back on his strategy anytime soon.
Windows 10 Mobile isn’t officially dead yet, and I won’t absolutely claim that we’ll never, ever, see a hardware refresh for the OS. But it’s difficult to see how any hardware refresh, marketing strategy, or product roadmap brings MS back from where it is now. The app gap, hardware gap, and consumer awareness gap have all grown too deep to bridge.
Top image credit: Bhupinder Nayyar.