Microsoft’s new Windows Phones aren’t going to sell, but that’s part of the plan – The Verge
Not even the most optimistic forecasts for the upcoming Lumia 950 and 950 XL would suggest them as realistic challengers to the current best-selling smartphones. That might have been a big problem if Microsoft was still pursuing its old Windows Phone strategy, but it’s less so given the company’s new direction. Much like Google’s Nexus line, Windows 10 phones are not intended to grab market share or establish a profitable revenue source. The Lumias that are coming this week serve as a form of fan service and as a preview for what Microsoft will be able to do in the future. Unique functionality like Windows Hello and Continuum can still set the stage for renewed interest in Microsoft’s mobile offerings, especially among enterprise customers who’d be looking for a comprehensive security solution that can span all their devices.
More than anything, Microsoft has to convince people that Windows phones matter at all.
With consumers now increasingly entrenched in either the Apple or Google camp, and with device manufacturers dubious about partnering with Microsoft again, it was obvious that Windows 10 Mobile needed to be different. And so it is, characterized by better integration and synchronization between Microsoft’s mobile devices and its desktop software. New universal apps will be able to run across all screen sizes and versions of Windows 10, and the ultimate goal is to deliver a universal experience that transfers seamlessly between devices.
What Microsoft is selling now is an easier, more convenient life. On the mobile front, this is defined by the company’s traditional strengths of software and services, deemphasizing hardware design and uniqueness. You can see it in the relatively anonymous appearance of the new Lumias: they look functional rather than fancy. The larger of them is expected to have Surface Pen support, and both should have iris scanners to enable Windows Hello. Instead of the broad palette of colors that have come to define Nokia’s Lumias, Microsoft’s devices look set to be available in just black, white, and cyan.
Whether you use a Surface Pro 4 with an iPhone, or an iPad Pro with an Android handset, or a Lumia 950 that can be made to function like a full PC, Microsoft just wants you using its apps and services. This collaborative rather than competitive approach trades away some of the unique advantages of the Microsoft ecosystem, but it can pay dividends in the future. If Microsoft can realize its vision of universal apps and a universal experience across all varieties of Windows 10, it can indeed attract new users from the ranks of iPhone and Android owners — and they’ll be much more willing and comfortable with making the switch if they’re already using Microsoft mobile software. To complete that task, though, Microsoft has to work to bring its competitors’ apps to its own platform as well, where Google’s Gmail and YouTube have been famously absent.
Evolutionary and collaborative instead of revolutionary and adversarial
This week’s Lumias come at a weird time for Microsoft. The company is undergoing a transformation that is not yet complete, much like its Windows 10 Mobile software. But the new phones are still significant in signaling exactly where and how Microsoft intends to go with its mobile strategy. One thing working in their favor is that they’re not saddled with the unrealistic expectations that plagued Windows Phone throughout its existence. The old OS always had good and laudable aspects, but they never matured to justify the hype surrounding it. Now, without any fanfare, Microsoft can rebuild its mobile OS around Windows 10 and focus on marketing the strong features it has rather than the comprehensive mobile platform it lacks.
The Lumia 950 and its bigger sibling are intended not as a revolution, but as a solid foundation to a brighter and better future for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. They should be judged on that basis, not on whether they’re able to make a dent in the Apple and Google duopoly. To achieve that lofty goal, Microsoft will need multiple generations of devices as well as the collaboration of other service providers willing to bring their apps to its platform. Tomorrow’s event will be indicative of how progress is going along that path, while also giving us a pair of interesting new devices to talk about.