Will a Plan B (Or C) Work for Windows Phone?

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Paul Thurrott, along with a few others, is among the most knowledgeable and influential writers when it comes to everything Microsoft. So, in my transition to all-Microsoft products, I’ve started to follow him a bit more closely.

His latest piece, titled “Plan B for Windows Phone?”, is interesting and makes some important points. I don’t agree with everything he writes here, but overall I think he does a good job in pointing out the challenges that Microsoft faces with Windows Phone and, somewhat obliquely, the fact that their options are both limited and broad at the same time. There’s a lot that Microsoft could do, and this is my take, but in all likelihood there’s only one path that’s going to allow them to be successful over the long term.

In short, Microsoft has to step somewhat lightly, but at the same time make some bold moves. I’d hate to be the person who has to navigate this particular minefield.

What strikes me the most about what Thurrott writes is this:

And you could always mix and match. There’s nothing wrong with someone using a Windows PC, an iPad and an Android smart phone, for example. And if you are someone who, like me, uses and relies on a wide range of Microsoft services, you will be well served by the availability of Microsoft apps on both of the mobile platforms, each tied to key Microsoft services.

I can relate to what he says here, because so far in my transition I’ve enjoyed Windows 8.1 on the desktop, notebook, tablet, and hybrid far more than I’ve enjoyed Windows Phone on the Nokia 925. Don’t misunderstand me—I like Windows Phone a great deal, but I’m terribly limited in what I can do with it by the lack of some key apps. Were I not engaged in what amounts to something of an experiment, I could easily see myself using my Nexus 5 for my smartphone while using Windows for everything else.

However, and here’s where I might disagree with Thurrott (although I’m not sure he explicitly answers the question): I don’t think that Microsoft can be successful without offering a Windows-based smartphone of some sort. Were Microsoft to switch to an Android foundation, which Thurrott presents as a “Plan C,” I think this would directly undermine their strategy of “one operating system, many platforms.”

Rather, I think that switching to a Windows RT foundation of some sort on smartphones makes far more sense and is far more likely, although I’m not sure how different that would be either to the user experience or to the strategy. After all, it’s not “Windows Phone” that’s important to what I see as Microsoft’s vision, but Windows. Indeed, switching to Android would make a mockery of the entire concept of Universal Apps in which Microsoft is so invested and that offer so much promise.

Ultimately, I think that trying to predict what Microsoft should or will do has to wait until Windows Phone 8.1 is available across the board and developers have a chance to start writing Universal Apps. While making Android apps work on Windows Phone (something else that Thurrott discusses) would make for a pragmatic short-term solution to the app gap, I would much rather see Microsoft pushing and paying developers if necessary to make apps that run consistently across all Windows devices.

I don’t know that Thurrott really tries all that hard to prognosticate about Microsoft’s future. Rather, he seems to be saying that anything’s possible, and while I suppose that’s true I don’t know that everything makes equal sense for Microsoft in the long term. I understand Microsoft’s platform agnosticism when it comes to Office and other important elements of the Microsoft ecosystem, but I don’t see how Microsoft can be successful if they don’t own the underpinning of every kind of device. Relying on Google for their smartphone OS just seems like suicide to me.

In the end, however, I agree with Thurrott’s conclusions, as such:

I will continue using Windows Phone, but I will also continue testing the latest Android and iOS devices as I have for years, so I’ll be ready if anything changes. The best part for anyone on the fence is that the pseudo-religious platform battles of the past are starting to ring hollow today: Android and iOS are both mature mobile platforms, of course, but they’re also better than they were and more applicable to the Microsoft guy. It’s no longer us or them. It can be both us and them.

But I hope Windows Phone survives and then thrives. Microsoft did something special there and it deserves to be successful.

That’s pretty much exactly how I feel, in that eventually I’ll have to decide what platforms in which to personally invest. I can’t stubbornly use Windows Phone forever if it continues to create such obstacles to my workflow. But to reiterate: while I could definitely switch back to my Nexus 5 while using Windows everywhere else, I don’t think Microsoft can survive forever with any significant number of users making such a choice.

Simply put, Apple and Google are working too hard to create single platforms to keep their users entirely within their own camps for Microsoft to succeed by keeping one foot outside their own. Put another way: their competitors seem to see the power of Microsoft’s vision, and so I think it would be foolish for Microsoft to abandon it themselves.

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  1. […] I said this before and I’ll say it again: I could switch back to using my Nexus 5 to go along with my Windows desktop, hybrid, and tablet, but I don’t really want to do so. And as Google builds out Chromebook and continues to add tremendous value to Android (Android L is looking like a powerful platform), I think that Microsoft needs people switching to Windows Phone from Android to be successful over the long term. […]

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