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article imageMicrosoft explains why it's still building Windows 10 Mobile

By James Walker     Nov 4, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft has again reaffirmed its commitment to supporting and developing Windows 10 Mobile. The smartphone platform now has less than one percent total market share but Microsoft still considers it important to have an OS that runs on mobile hardware.
Earlier this year, Terry Myerson, Microsoft's Executive Vice President of Windows and Devices, said smartphones aren't a "priority" for the company in 2016. It hasn't launched any new devices and only a handful of products have emerged from its third-party partners. Despite the almost non-existent hardware investment, the company has continued to push regular software updates to Windows 10 Mobile though.
Considering the platform's market share dropped below one percent a few months ago, some have questioned why Microsoft continues to keep it alive. Now would appear to be a good time to admit defeat and pull out of the market, concentrating instead on apps for iOS and Android. Microsoft is already focusing its app development on rival services and now often updates its Windows offerings after its iOS and Android ones.
In a recent interview with ZDNet, Myerson justified Microsoft's continued investment in mobile. He suggested that maintaining Windows 10 Mobile is no longer really about promoting the software to customers. Instead, the company needs to have access to the underlying technology, in case it has a need for a mobile platform in the future.
While Windows 10 for PCs and Windows 10 Mobile share a common core, they have some major differences. Most notably, the full version of Windows 10 cannot run on the ARM-based processors inside mobile devices. It doesn't support the telephony stack that runs handsets' phone and messaging features either. Windows 10 Mobile has these components. If Microsoft abandoned the OS, it would be left without this important infrastructure.
"There are really two things that are unique about Windows Mobile. One is cellular connectivity and the other one is the ARM processors that are there," said Myerson. "And I think both cellular connectivity and ARM processors have a role in the technical landscape of the future."
Microsoft's reluctance to abandon its ARM support and telephony stack can be explained by its past experiences. When the company launched Windows Phone 7 in 2010, its first true smartphone platform, it quickly ran into major problems that contributed to its failure in the industry since.
Windows Phone 7 was based on Windows Mobile 6.5. In turn, Windows Mobile used the Windows CE kernel, instead of the modern Windows NT. At the time, NT only supported desktop platforms. It had no telephony stack or ARM support, unlike the aging Windows CE. As it was coming late to the smartphone race already, Microsoft opted against building cellular connectivity into Windows NT. It went the easier route, using Windows CE as the base of Windows Phone 7.
This proved to be a disastrous decision. Windows CE wasn't designed to power modern smartphones and didn't support new and emerging features. Microsoft quickly realised it had to move its mobile efforts to Windows NT but the effort took two years of work.
In 2012, Windows Phone 8 emerged, running on modern, extendable technology. Because Microsoft had spent so much time migrating to Windows NT, it included very few new features to attract consumers though. Microsoft effectively lost two years of development time, letting its platform stagnate while it worked on a giant architectural shift, the benefits of which could never be explained to customers.
Myerson alluded to the situation, as well as other past failures, in the interview. "When you stop investing in these things, it's super hard, super, super hard to restart," he said. "And at Microsoft, we have a few of those examples where we stopped. Sometimes, when you're investing into growth, it's easier, but when you're investing for technical strategy or things like that, sometimes people question it — like you're doing right now."
Windows 10 Mobile may be getting little attention from Microsoft but the company has consistently stated it's not going away any time soon. Microsoft has previously suggested it will refocus its mobile ambitions in the coming years, once Windows 10 on PCs has become more established. It's thought the company is waiting for a chance to launch a category-defining device that will do to smartphones what the Surface did for convertible PCs.
More about Microsoft, Windows, windows 10, windows 10 mobile, Smartphones
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