Will Windows 10 Mobile and new hardware save Windows Phone?

Will Windows 10 Mobile and new hardware save Windows Phone?

Yesterday Microsoft released Windows 10 Mobile Version 15611 (10586.11) to potentially millions of Windows Insiders for testing.

It is widely believed that this version of Windows 10 Mobile is the release build that will join Windows 10 on desktops, tablets and the Xbox One console.

The larger question is – will this be enough to stop the market share slide currently being experienced by the Windows Phone platform?

Recently there have been a few indicators of the continued challenges the mobile platform is facing as Windows 10 Mobile devices finally come to market in the US, other countries, and become available to the general public.

  • Gartner released updated smartphone sales numbers this week that showed Windows Phone sales declined from 3% market share in the 3rd quarter last year to only 1.7% in the same quarter this year.  That is a 35% decline in sales between those two quarters while overall sales increased by 15%.
  • Late last week rumors began to surface that Microsoft was setting aside its Android to Windows Mobile bridge codenamed Project Astoria, introduced at BUILD 2015, which would allow Android apps to run through emulation on Windows 10 Mobile. Although Microsoft did not confirm the demise or the continuation of the bridge to Mary Jo Foley over on ZD Net, they did say the project was not ready right now.

Let’s start with the decline in sales.

Back in July of this year, just as the 3rd quarter began, Microsoft revealed that they would write down the $7.6 billion Nokia purchase from the year before and make some major changes to their Windows Phone business. Those changes included laying off almost 8,000 people and moving from having a separate phone business to building devices that would become part of the overall Windows ecosystem joining the companies Surface line of hardware devices. These devices would be built to light up the capabilities that are in Windows and its related services.

The company also announced that they would concentrate their efforts on just a few phone handsets instead of the proliferation of devices that had been the norm.  They also promised that flagship devices would arrive this fall, we now know them to be the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, along with the release of Windows 10 Mobile.

So, if the sales market was already contracting for lack of apps and hardware then it would be squeezed even more because of the promise of new hardware. I do not know many people who would buy in that market anyway.

Some of you may remember earlier this summer when a build of Windows 10 Mobile, which went out to Insiders for testing, included the ability to side load just about any Android app onto the handset and run it. Many failed because of the lack of support for the required Google Play services but this was the first time the Project Astoria emulation was seen publicly.

Many got excited about it while others were wringing their hands about the security issues related to downloading Android apps off the web and from unofficial app stores to run on their Windows 10 Mobile devices.

That build was very quickly surpassed by another one that had this ability removed and it has not been seen since.

The whole idea behind Project Astoria was to make it easy for developers to bring their apps over to the Windows mobile platform and to thus start to fill in the app gap that is talked about on a regular basis. Recently, I wrote about how I have become more aware of that gap now that I have been on an Android device for six months - it is a real thing.

Microsoft is still banking on the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and there has been a recent uptick in the number of apps that are being built that are compatible across desktops, laptops, tablets and Windows Phone devices running the Windows 10 Mobile Insider builds.

Unfortunately, I am just not sure that those efforts are going to cover every banking, insurance and any other niche apps that people want available on their handsets.

Project Islandwood, Microsoft’s Windows Bridge for iOS apps which was announced during BUILD 2015 as well, is picking up a lot of steam. Just this week during the Connect 2015 developer conference in New York City it had a very prominent spot on stage during the keynote and demos. Microsoft even gushed about it over on the Building Apps for Windows blog afterwards.  That type of gushing was noticeably absent for Project Astoria.

This bridge was built to help iOS developers re-use their current code and build a native Windows app using that same iOS code.  Where Project Astoria was limited to only running on mobile devices, Islandwood builds apps for the entire range of Windows 10 devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.

This tool has a much better chance to bring those niche apps to Windows 10 than anything else in my opinion.

Another area that Microsoft has made a huge investment around in Windows 10 Mobile is Continuum – the ability to use your phone with a full size keyboard, mouse and screen while running full screen Windows 10 Mobile apps.

A few weeks ago, while I was on the Microsoft Campus for the annual MVP Summit, one of the sessions I attended was presented entirely on a Lumia 950 using Continuum. It was impressive and practically undetectable.

During this week’s Connect 2015 developer conference in NYC, Kevin Gallo, Microsoft’s VP for the Windows Developer Platform, indicated the company was looking at supporting Win32 apps on this new generation of hardware capable of running Continuum.

While the ability to connect one of these phones to full size peripherals will increase productivity well beyond what we can do on our phones right now, having the ability to also run any desktop software on those devices would make it a very attractive alternative for on the go users.

The big question with all of this - will it be enough to save the existence of Windows 10 Mobile and grow the platform’s market share or will the platform simply exist to continue showing off the capabilities of Windows 10 Mobile and Microsoft services?

Only time will tell but that clock is ticking even faster now.

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