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  1. Tom Westrick's Avatar
    I was unable to compress the images for this review enough, so here is a link to them.

    The past year and a half has seen Microsoft reinvent itself. While it held onto its Office suite for the longest time against competitors, late 2014 saw Word, Excel and Powerpoint release onto iOS and Android, with other applications following behind. Meanwhile, the XBOX team was working on bringing backwards compatibility to the XBOX One, letting gamers play select XBOX 360 titles on the newer console. At the same time, Windows 10 was being built in a very open beta.

    Not everything is perfect and unified just yet. Windows 10 Mobile still has a far way to come in terms of stability, app selection and features. The Universal Windows Platform (UWP)-which allows a developer to build an application once and run it on desktop, mobile, XBOX One and the upcoming Hololens-promises to erase the “app gap” between Windows 10 Mobile and Android/iOS.

    There have been steady UWP releases so far, but as I’ll discuss later, there’s some reasons a developer may not want to bother with UWP. There are some bugs and other strange behavior in both Windows 10 Mobile and the new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 that harm otherwise great devices. Microsoft’s bets for differentiation, namely Continuum, are very niche and rendered almost counter productive.

    Before I get too deep into my analysis, I want to make it clear that I like Microsoft’s OS and products, and I would love Windows 10 Mobile to be a viable third option compared to iOS and Android. I just wanted to take a bit of time and have an honest conversation about Microsoft’s strategy, and look at some of the opinions being thrown around on fan sites.

    The first thing I’ll dive into is the UWP and why it’s not the end all be all for Windows apps. The premise is that while Windows 10 Mobile only holds 1% of the global market, the vast amount of desktops and laptops running Windows 10 will make it worth the investment for developers to make Universal apps. Commonly cited missing apps include Snapchat, Google’s services, and restaurant apps like Starbucks, and there still isn’t a good reason for those developers to make Windows apps.

    Snapchat is entirely mobile focused, so the vast amount of desktop users mean nothing to them. Google’s app are web based, so they can reach more users on all desktop platforms by making their apps work best on the web, then focusing mobile applications on popular mobile OS’s like iOS and their own Android. Similarly, Starbucks and other restaurants have their website already built where users can order food ahead of time and find store locations. Again, because these chains already have a robust website, they can reach users on Windows 10, older versions of Windows, OSX and Linux already, so a Universal Windows App is redundant. Leaving out the desktop users means there back to targeting the 1% of the mobile market that uses a Windows Mobile device, so the development costs are not worth it for so few users.

    The next problem is that Microsoft’s first party devices have had horrible bugs. Now, I’m not going to pretend that other operating systems don’t have bugs. This year’s Android and iOS updates were mostly bug fixes for last year’s updates, and Apple has had numerous problems lately with OSX. But this is a critical year for Microsoft with them pushing the unified strategy behind their platform. The Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are amazing pieces of hardware, but users have suffered through bad battery life because of problems with the devices going to sleep when they should.

    Worse yet are the Lumia 950 and 950XL, the first high end Windows phones in two years, and the first phones to officially run Windows 10 Mobile. While Surface users have all had the same issues, things are a lot more inconsistent for Lumia fans. Some users have had no issues, others have had mild bugs, while others still have had devices that completely lock up and reboot on a daily basis. Specifically, I had problems with the system not downloading content (apps, music) in the background. I’d love to try it again in a few months if things get fixed, but for now it’s too much of a gamble.

    Beyond just apps and bugs, Windows 10 Mobile as an operating system is still missing features that iOS and Android have had for a while. One key feature is an NFC payment system similar to Apple Pay and Android Pay. A less flashy but still missing feature is the ability to purchase books or newspaper subscription through the Windows store. While the XBOX One is great as both a console and home media system, if you’re only interested in a home media system, there isn’t a cheaper option like a Chromecast or Apple TV for users than only need media without the gaming side. Finally, while iOS and Android have Carplay and Android Auto to easily provide an automobile-tailored interface powered by a user’s phone, there’s no such equivalent for Windows Mobile.

    While this next point isn’t bad for Microsoft as a whole, it’s not great for Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft’s apps work better and have more features on Android and iOS than they do on Windows 10 Mobile. For example, emails displayed in Outlook on Android or iOS support HTML, so graphics are displayed correctly. Meanwhile, opening an email on the Mail app in Windows 10 (both mobile and desktop) results in graphics that look horrible. I’m in no way saying that Microsoft should get rid of its iOS or Android apps. They tried to use them as leverage for Windows Phone for a few years, and it didn’t help the market share any. Google and Apple would not be happier if Google Docs or Pages took the place of Microsoft Word in people’s minds. I’m also not suggesting that Microsoft neuter its Android and iOS apps, it just needs to catch the Windows versions up.

    Some in the community (both writers and commenters) are looking to the rumored “Surface Phone” as the answer to Windows 10 Mobile’s problems. The Surface branding carries a lot of power, so the phone will get a lot of attention from casual users, which will be good for the device sales. But unless Microsoft adds news features to Windows 10 Mobile, it will be a more premium feeling phone running the same limited software.

    Other rumors have suggested it will run the full desktop version of Windows 10, meaning it can run traditional desktop programs. While I have no insight to whether that’s true or not, I can say it would be a terrible idea. The power and storage requirements for desktop programs are much higher than mobile apps, and it just wouldn’t be a good experience.

    The closest to this I can imagine is using an 8” HP Stream I purchased for my father last year. The screen size is larger than it would be on a phone, but it runs full Windows 10 and can use traditional desktop programs. On this size screen, buttons and other pieces of interface are still (barely) usable, but there’s no way it would be an adequate experience on a 5- or 6-inch screen. There’s hope that traditional programs will come in handy when used with Continuum, which brings me to my next point.

    Microsoft announced Continuum as an interesting way to bridge the desktop/mobile gap. Plug your phone into a monitor, connect a wireless keyboard and mouse, and the interface switches to a more desktop like experience. It’s not really a user facing feature because it requires someone to carry around the dock, a keyboard and mouse, when it’s easier to just carry a laptop.

    On the enterprise side, companies have already invested in desktops that will outlast the life of a smartphone. Moreover, companies already have some measure of cloud or network storage, so employees can move from to a new desk and continue their work. Businesses are also notoriously slow to buy hardware, so it may be time before they begin buying droves of Continuum-enabled phones. For phones, businesses DO buy phones far more frequently than they buy computers, but more and more businesses have also migrated towards BYOD programs thanks to Android for Work and Samsung Knox-like programs that enable workers to work on devices they own without compromising security. I think Continuum is nice for marketing and differentiation, but Microsoft needs to focus on other missing features at the same time.

    Like I said earlier, I want Windows 10 Mobile to succeed, but I don’t think the current strategy is going to be enough. Microsoft has been doing a good job of courting developers to make mobile apps, and with time I’m sure the bugs will be squashed. I hope I can look back at the end of 2016 on how well the platform has grown.
    Last edited by Tom Westrick; 01-17-2016 at 11:38 AM.
    Rugish Dapeca and EssThree like this.
    01-17-2016 11:00 AM

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