Author Mark Fairlie
“Recently, I actually did switch to an Android phone“. This is a comment you may have heard from many friends and family at some point in time.
However, commentators were taken aback when Bill Gates told this to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday at the end of September 2017.
The two main operating systems used in mobile phones are Android (from Google) and iOS (from Apple). But for many years, there was a third option – the Windows Phone-powered handset.
Windows Phone – Microsoft’s mobile operating system
Since the mid-eighties, Microsoft’s operating system, Windows, had powered the vast majority of the world’s desktop and laptop computers.
In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone which contained, arguably, the world’s most phone-centred operating system. Using purely a touchscreen interface instead of a keypad, the iPhone had many things in common with Microsoft Windows.
Like Microsoft Windows, you could download different programs (called apps) onto an iPhone and easily access them by selecting the relevant icon on the screen.
At about the same time, Google purchased Android, a company which was developing a similar, touch-based operating system for non-Apple phones. After acquiring the company, Google embarked on an intensive sales drive with the goal of getting as many manufacturers to make Android their standard operating system.
So powerful were the new iOS and Android phones, many of the things that consumers and businesses had relied on a desktop or a laptop to do could now be performed on a smartphone. Desktop usage started (and continues on) a long decline.
Microsoft became concerned that they couldn’t carry over their market dominance into the smartphone sector and therefore released “Windows Phone” in 2010 to try to wrestle market share for itself.
First releases of Windows Phones and the demise of Nokia
The first Windows Phones hit worldwide marketplaces in 2010. In the following year, Nokia, once the dominant manufacturer of mobile phones, agreed to install Windows Phones on all of their new models, starting with the Lumia 800 in November 2011.
The new Nokia phones weren’t popular as consumers perceived that it did not have as many apps available for it as Android and iOS phones. Nokia’s financial fortunes plummeted and in April 2014, Microsoft bought the part of the company which manufactured phones, paying £5.5bn.
Re-birth of Windows Phone and Nokia
Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia did not go well. Handset sales fell and Windows Phone’s market share dived below 1%. Microsoft announced that its brand new handset division, purchased for billions of dollars shortly before, would now be “streamlined … with up to 1,850 jobs worldwide” being lost.
Windows Phone, as a brand, was scrapped by Microsoft too. It was now to form part of the Windows 10 overall operating system encompassing desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Its new name is Windows 10 Mobile.
Neither rebranding did much to help. Between 2015 and 2016, sales of Windows Mobile 10 phones dropped 62.5% in one year, leading industry website Betanews to comment that “It’s official: Windows 10 Mobile is irrelevant”.
And Bill Gates confirmed it
Microsoft’s new focus on mobile is on getting users to download their apps on either Android or iOS phones. While Windows Mobile 10 continues to be updated, it is unlikely that many new handsets will be released for sale in the future.
What could the future look like for Microsoft Mobile? Perhaps the Samsung Galaxy S8 ‘Microsoft Edition’.
According to Microsoft, the phone is exactly the same as the standard Galaxy S8 but
“this special edition will feature Android versions of such Microsoft staples as Office 365, OneDrive, and Cortana”.
Financial analysts now seem to agree that Microsoft has moved away from hardware production and now is more interested in getting its apps and cloud services installed onto Android and iOS products instead.