Microsoft needs to stop starting over with Windows phone

android apps windows rumor stop starting over phone
With the arrival of Windows 10 on September 30 came yet another refresh of Windows for phones. For a second time, Microsoft has changed the name — and the team — behind Microsoft smartphones. Despite any good intentions, Microsoft’s decision to refresh the OS may once again alienating users and developers for its smartphones.

Is the third time the charm?

Since Microsoft introduced its first “smartphones” way back in 2000 with Windows Mobile, the company has started over with its mobile products three times in total. The first big shift came in 2010, when it dumped Windows Mobile for the Zune-like “Windows Phone” to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Android devices by Google. For a few years, the company tried to temporarily push Windows Mobile to compete alongside Android and iOS, but Microsoft quickly gave up on projects like Windows Mobile 6.5.3 and the Windows Marketplace in favor of Windows Phone 7, which was a ground-up radical redesign of its mobile operating system that took heavy design cues from Microsoft’s failed iPod competitor, the Zune. Windows Mobile was deprecated, and its thousands of applications and millions of users were abandoned.

Next, Microsoft shifted its plans for mobile in 2012 with the launch of Windows Phone 8. Due to Windows Phone 7’s limited success, Microsoft essentially started over for its app developers and users alike, requiring most developers to rebuild their apps and requiring most users buy new smartphones compatible with Windows Phone 8. This left many early adopters high and dry with limited support as Microsoft decided to add a host of features and requirements that Windows Phone 7 devices just couldn’t handle.

Windows Mobile was deprecated. Its thousands of applications and millions of users were abandoned. 

Windows 10 may, yet again, bring huge changes to Microsoft smartphone owners. Microsoft didn’t share much about how it plans to bring a scaled Windows experience to mobile devices. We do know Microsoft wants to bridge the gap between the phones, tablets, and PCs that will all run the Windows platform. What we don’t know is what the phone user experience is like on the new operating system. Microsoft confirmed the desktop won’t be coming to Windows smartphones, but we don’t know anything about the changes being made.

A good mobile OS is about consistency

If there’s one thing Microsoft could learn from Google and Apple, its that you try to bring consistency and regularity to your smartphones. As much as Apple has been criticized for not changing much about its home screen UI since launching the iPhone in 2007, this also remains as one of the most identifiable features of the iPhone. Android has evolved tremendously as an OS, but updates come incrementally, allowing users in the market to update when they’re ready. Microsoft has instead chose to force change to its followers, requiring major device and software purchases to keep up with its own vision for mobile.

Microsoft seems unable to decide what its mobile experience should be like. We thought it had with Windows Phone 8 and 8.1, but Microsoft is back to the drawing board again. The company has pushed aggressive change for its products, but that doesn’t work well for mobile devices. People want consistent and reliable software for their smartphones, and Microsoft is losing the fight in reliability to Apple and Google, who have both spent years building trust with their users.

A new team is the least Windows Phone needs

With Windows 10 coming to smartphones, tablets and PCs alike, the team that has developed Windows Phone over the past four years is now merging into the overall team that develops Windows as a product. This is a decision months in the making, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella himself expressing back in July the goal to build Windows as one platform for all devices.

Windows-Phone-apps

That doesn’t mean Windows should stop caring about phones. In an email to employees, Nadella also said that the world is becoming mobile-first and cloud-first, though this move from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10 seems to focus on the opposite. We’re not sure how Microsoft is merging the remnants of the Windows Phone team into the Windows 10 team, but there’s no longer a clear distinction between the two.

As smartphones border the size and capabilities of tablets, how will Microsoft ensure a balance is kept between the goals for Windows tablets and Windows smartphones? We’re having a hard time seeing clarity in this mission, further complicated a once clear relationship between Windows and Windows Phone. This is especially concerning because we’ve finally started seeing Windows Phone updates and progress toward building a unique user experience. With Windows 10, all of this is up in the air once again.

You’re driving app developers and users crazy

Microsoft has good intentions with merging Windows into its mobile platform. Mostly it’s part of the company’s plans to develop a universal app concept so that applications on the Windows Store can run on as many devices as possible. This isn’t the first time that Microsoft tried merging its developers across platforms, and depending on the capabilities of Microsoft’s future SDKs for all platforms, this could either greatly help development for Windows smartphones, or outright destroy it.

Building an SDK (software development kit) that will power applications from four inches to 40 inches is a tall order. Unfortunately, Microsoft has done little in its Windows Store to prove it can effectively build apps across such a great scale. While it may be easy to build consistent design across tablets, laptops, and PCs, finding a way to balance that with the design of a smartphone will be a challenge. At best, Microsoft will encourage a single, robust app store for all of its products. At worst, Windows smartphone owners will yet again be left behind as developers focus on the far more popular desktop version of the OS. Along the way Microsoft will certainly anger users and developers looking for a consistent OS experience.

Microsoft has tried everything to win over customers to its mobile products from offering cheap phones to paying developers to port their apps. This move from Windows Phone to Windows 10 may simply reverse its efforts to win over developers and users to its mobile OS. We’ll have to wait and see what Microsoft announces in the coming weeks to see the true extent of this merger between Windows and Windows Phone. Whatever happens, Microsoft needs to decide once and for all the future of its mobile platform, or it may alienate the few loyal users it still has.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

It's not the sharpest tool, but the Surface Go does it all for $400

Microsoft has launched the $400 Surface Go to take on both the iPad and Chromebooks, all without compromising its core focus on productivity. Does it work as both a tablet and a PC?
Computing

Microsoft’s latest patent paves the way for Andromeda dual-screen mobile device

The latest patent discovery from Microsoft showcases a new hinge design for quickly opening a dual-screen mobile device with a single hand. Could this be additional proof surrounding the rumors of the company's Project Andromeda device?
Computing

Microsoft could split up search and Cortana in the next Windows 10 release

In the latest Insider preview build, Microsoft is exploring ways to split up Cortana and search on Windows 10. If Microsoft moves ahead with this change, we could see separate search and Cortana options in the Spring 2019 Update.
Computing

New rumors say the Pixelbook 2 could show up at CES 2019

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Google hasn't announced it, but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.
Mobile

G’day, Google: U.S. users can now give Assistant a British or Australian accent

U.S. Google Assistant users can give their Assistant a different voice. Google has updated Assistant with the ability for users to give it either a British or Australian accent, which could make it a little more personal for some.
Music

Tune in to the best internet radio stations for your listening pleasure

Even in the streaming era, radio stations get some of the best exclusives and curate some of the finest handpicked playlists around. Here are the best internet radio stations, for your listening pleasure.
Mobile

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.
Mobile

Need to record calls on an iPhone? Check out our handy guide

Are you wondering how to record calls on your iPhone? It isn't as easy as you might think, but we'll walk you through the process of doing so with Google Voice, and identify several other apps and external voice recorders that can help.
Home Theater

Set your ears free with the best completely wireless earbuds

If you can't stand the tangle of cords, or you're just excited about completely wireless earbuds, you're going to need some help separating the wheat from the chaff. Our list serves up the best true wireless earbuds around.
Mobile

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Apple has announced a series of expansions across the U.S. -- including a massive expansion to the company's Austin campus that will see it spending $1 billion to accommodate for up to 15,000 new employees.
Outdoors

Google Maps makes it easier than ever to find a Lime bike or scooter

Google Maps has added a new feature that helps you find a Lime bike or scooter in just a few taps. The feature currently works in 11 U.S. cities served by Lime, with more coming next year.
Mobile

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.
Mobile

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.