This video previewing Microsoft’s upcoming Phone Companion app for Windows 10 seems to summarize Microsoft’s strategy when it comes to smartphones. At about the 3:10 mark, Joe Belfiore (Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group) says:
Today, people have this expectation that they’ll be able to take whatever device they have and have all of their content handy. They want to use the phone that’s in their pocket to take a picture in the moment that their kid is doing something cute. They want to be able to listen to their music wherever they are. And so we’ve built the Phone Companion app into Windows 10 to make it easy for people to use whichever phone they own to have a great experience that roams between the PC and the phone.”
Watch the whole thing:
On the one hand, this is simply pragmatic. Microsoft’s presence on smartphones is notoriously weak, and the road to success in that market is both long and full of very real obstacles. It’s not hard to conclude that, at least in the near term, Microsoft simply has no chance to make a Microsoft smartphone platform into anything other than a niche player or perhaps a pure enterprise play.
On the other hand, this quote could also telegraph that Microsoft’s strategy is to actually to fully concede the smartphone market to the competition, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and to focus on their own transition to a productivity solutions company. I’ve gone back and forth on this, as I wrote in my piece, “No, Microsoft Isn’t Giving Up On Smartphones.” And, things get even murkier when you consider what this means for Windows in general. If Microsoft doesn’t see smartphones as vital to their cross-platform productivity strategy, then what about tablets? Or notebooks? Or desktops? Is any device type truly important, or is Microsoft preparing for a future when they don’t own the operating system on any device type?
I don’t believe that Microsoft thinks OS X, for example, will overtake Windows. But that doesn’t mean that Microsoft can’t envision a future where something like iOS and Android are the most important platforms. Or, perhaps, they simply acknowledge that the platform itself won’t matter nearly as much. Contrary to a time when Windows dominated with a more than 90% market share, today things are much more fragmented. There’s iOS on smartphones and tablets, OS X on desktops and notebooks, Android on smartphones and tablets, and a hodgepodge of Windows versions running on all kinds of different machines. Even if Windows 10 maintains Microsoft’s lead in the traditional PC space (which I believe it will), that still leaves hundreds of millions or even billions of non-Windows machines to contend with.
Perhaps just as important, people use multiple platforms, perhaps a Windows machine at work, a Mac at home, and an Android device as a smartphone–or any other combination. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, and so Microsoft would be foolish to refuse to support every platform that any customer might use at any given time.
I’m torn between two possibilities: that Microsoft is giving up completely on building a successful smartphone platform, or just hedging their bets in case Windows 10 Mobile falls as flat as Windows Phone. In the end, I’m not really sure it matters.