Why it doesn’t matter that Microsoft has abandoned the Windows Phone

Microsoft has (finally?) announced the beginning of the end for the Windows phone and Windows for mobile. It’s a revelation that won’t come as a surprise to many, as the phone never really competed as a consumer device with iPhones and the plethora of advanced Androids on the market.

Some say it went the same way as BlackBerry, which was originally marketed as a business phone; perfect for email with its revolutionary-at-the-time physical QWERTY keyboard. BlackBerry kept up with the times in terms of hardware, introducing touchscreens whilst keeping its flagship physical keyboard, combining them into the BlackBerry Torch slider phone – possible my favourite device of all time in terms of physicality. But BlackBerry failed to keep up with speedy developments in operating software, and app providers stopped making apps compatible with BlackBerry OS.

Did the Windows phone go the same way? I don’t think so.

The Windows phone and operating system were by no means behind the times, but it’s true that it didn’t keep up with the iPhone. It’s incredibly difficult to compete with Apple’s stronghold on the mobile market. Windows tried to attract its business customers with some limited success. For many, the interface was too PC-like.

Because of Apple’s mobile market dominance, and Android as its second in command, it didn’t matter how good Windows phones or operating systems were; consumers were reluctant to give up their iPhones and Androids, which were familiar and established. Even with 10.5 million devices sold at its peak, Microsoft only held 2.7% of the mobile market. This resulted in reluctance from popular app owners to develop apps specifically for Windows, which further deterred consumers from making the move to Windows mobile.

Rather than seeing this as Microsoft conceding defeat, I see it this way: Microsoft has realised that it’s not worth its time and effort trying to take control of a market dominated by two fellow monoliths. It’s going to stick to what it does best: producing applications and platforms that are second to none when it comes to integration.

If your business uses Office 365, you’ll have access to the wealth of apps it provides on your mobile phone, tablet or pretty much any device (a maximum of 5). I have the Outlook and OneDrive apps on my phone, and when I get my tablet later this year (an iPad, in case you’re interested), I’ll no doubt install the full productivity suite on it.

Microsoft isn’t abandoning hardware completely, with the Surface Pro providing serious competition to Apple’s iPad, but this move shows the shift towards focusing on software and platforms.

With business and consumer apps that are not only compatible with Androids and iPhones but feel like part of the OS, Microsoft is ensuring it has a presence across every device, meaning it can reach those people who wouldn’t dream of switching phone or OS.

Moreover, this is only beneficial to customers, because they don’t require a Windows device to access the wealth of apps at their fingertips. There’s no denying the inevitable backlash that would ensue, should Microsoft have insisted that its applications only work on Windows devices or operating systems. We’ve seen numerous backlashes to Apple ‘innovations’, including changing the 30-pin connector to the lightning port and the removal of the beloved headphone jack. These ultimately fell on deaf ears, but Apple is so sought-after and well-established that it could get away with these unpopular changes.

If we focus on PCs and laptops for a moment, the Microsoft ecosystem is a joy to behold, and Microsoft continues to integrate its services and platforms more deeply than ever. With NAV 2017, users can carry out NAV functionality directly within Outlook, removing the need for app-hopping. To make customer lives that little bit easier, Microsoft has hundreds of connections to external applications and services. It’s shrewd enough to know that most businesses won’t have a Microsoft-only ecosystem. You might be a midmarket business that uses Dynamics CRM, but a different ERP system because you’re priced out of NAV. Not a problem, because you can integrate the two disparate systems.

Microsoft’s commitment to apps that work on iOS and Android works much in the same way. It knows that statistically, most consumers and employees will have an Apple or Android device, and chances are they’re pretty loyal to it; Apple has a huge 92% retention rate, whilst leading Android Samsung devices have (still respectable) 77%. Why continue trying to take that immovable business when you can use it to your advantage – and importantly, your customers’ advantage – by creating applications that can be used on those devices?

Perhaps overall Windows phones, and Windows for mobile, were a failure. But what enterprise hasn’t had a product that’s flopped at some point? Amazon Fire phones failed spectacularly, whilst you’d need more than two hands to count the Apple products that didn’t take off – the Apple III, Apple Pippin, and the iPod shuffle 3rd generation, which flipped conventional controls on their head. Plus, we haven’t even detailed the success of the Surface Pro