Windows: State of the Platform

Windows: State of the Platform

Last year was the first year that For the Love of Tech started to establish a brand, so at the end of 2014, I started a few traditions. One of those was the FTLoT Awards. Another was State of the Platform. It’s probably my favorite of the traditions that I started because I get to look back at the year that’s passed and analyze the state of the platform.

Last year, I wrote about the state of Windows Phone. The state of the platform was poor. Windows Phone ended 2014 with 25% less market share than it entered the year with. Honestly, it just seemed like a mess. The future was uncertain, as little was known about Windows 10.

This year, Microsoft has done their best to merge Windows and Windows Phone, effectively turning phones into PCs, effectively turning a loss into a win. Today, we discuss the state of the Windows platform, as the Windows Phone platform is gone.

Winter 2015

Microsoft has done a lot this year. Microsoft had announced Windows 10 in September, 2014 and they even released a few previews, but they took December off and came in with a bang in January.

January 21, 2015

At Microsoft’s January event, they announced HoloLens, the world’s first untethered holographic computing platform. HoloLens was Time Magazine’s gadget of the year and Microsoft hasn’t even sold a single unit.

HoloLens

Microsoft has since stated that HoloLens would be primarily for enterprise applications, so you can expect a hefty price tag; however, also at the January event, Microsoft stated that HoloLens would be powered by Windows 10 Holographic, which can be licensed to OEMs for third party hardware.

Microsoft also announced Surface Hub at this event, which are 55″ and 80″ Surface devices made for businesses. We later learned pricing, specs, and availability. Pricing turned out to be $6,999 and $19,999, respectively.

The sad thing about Surface Hub is the specs and availability. Both devices will ship with Intel’s fourth generation Haswell processors; however, they’re not slated to ship until January, 2016, leaving the hardware two generations behind.

Perhaps the biggest announcement of the January event was that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1. This was unprecedented.

Microsoft also announced Windows 10 Mobile at this event and released the first Technical Preview of what was then called Windows 10 for phones a few weeks later. Of course, this build was only available to a few phones: the Nokia Lumia 630, 635, 636, 638, 730, and 830.

Of course, that’s not all! Also at this event on January 21, 2015, Microsoft announced a successor to Internet Explorer, codenamed Project Spartan. Microsoft promised that Spartan would be a next generation web browser for the next generation web, built from the ground up.

March 2, 2015

Next up was Mobile World Congress, which I was lucky enough to attend. This was where Microsoft launched the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL. They promised to be built for Windows 10, despite using Windows Phone 8.1 hardware, mainly the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400.

Both the Microsoft Lumia 640 and the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL were fantastic phones for the mid-range spot. The fact that the Lumia 640 hit prices as low as $39.99 qualified it to win the Most Bang for your Buck category in the FTLoT Awards this year.

Microsoft Lumia 640 XL

Microsoft also released the Foldable Keyboard. It was an accessory that seemed a bit odd at the time. It was clearly designed around the idea of portability; however, at the time, Windows Phones didn’t support Bluetooth keyboards. Well, I should say most Windows Phones didn’t. The Microsoft Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL did, as well as any other phone that was lucky enough to receive Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2.

Spring 2015

March 30, 2015

On March 30, Microsoft launched Project Spartan in another Windows 10 Technical Preview. This was something that got under my skin.

I’ve been saying for a very long time that the biggest problem with Windows Phone is that Microsoft doesn’t make it a priority. If you watched 60 Minutes when Tim Cook was on, you’d have seen that Apple has over 800 engineers working on the iPhone camera alone, let alone the rest of the device along with iOS. I’d be surprised if Microsoft had 800 people in total working on mobile.

The point is that the iPhone is Apple’s number one priority. Mobile is so low on Microsoft’s list that when Project Spartan was released, everyone was talking about how it was released in a Windows 10 Technical Preview. No one mentioned if it was a PC build or a mobile build. It was just assumed that it was PC because that’s what Microsoft focuses on. PCs.

March 31, 2015

Microsoft announced the Surface 3. It’s not a huge milestone this year, but it’s worth noting.

Surface 3 came in four models. There was a 64 GB model with 2 GB RAM and a 128 GB model with 4 GB RAM. Both had counterparts with LTE capabilities.

The big news around Surface 3 was that it used an Intel processor. Surface 3 was the successor to Surface RT and Surface 2, both of which used ARM processors and ran on Windows RT. The release of the Surface 3 effectively marked the end of Microsoft’s run at ARM tablets.

April 29, 2015

April brought Microsoft’s annual Build conference, which is Microsoft’s developer conference. It started with a rather bold claim that Windows 10 would be on one billion devices within two to three years. Note that one billion Windows 10 devices includes PCs, phones, tablets, Xbox Ones, and IoT devices, so it’s not that bold of a claim.

Internet-Explorer-vs-Microsoft-Edge-logoMicrosoft also announced that Project Spartan would be called Microsoft Edge. They’ve also done an amazing job of convincing the general public that Edge isn’t just Internet Explorer 12.

Build was also where Microsoft announced Continuum for phones. We had heard about Continuum on PCs, which allows users to put their Windows 10 tablet in tablet mode. Continuum for phones allows users to take their Windows 10 phone, plug it into a monitor or TV, and use it as a full desktop PC. Suddenly that Foldable Keyboard makes a little more sense.

Build was also when Microsoft rebranded the Windows 10 Technical Preview to the Windows 10 Insider Preview.

Probably the biggest news to come from Build was the five bridges. We all know that the problem with Windows (not just Windows Phone) is apps. There is a huge lack of apps on the Windows Phone platform and there’s an even larger lack of tablet apps on Windows as a whole.

Microsoft started with the universal platform. The Windows 8 Store failed because Windows 8 had such a low market share. Why would a developer put an app in the Windows 8 Store for 14% of PCs when he can create a desktop app that works on 100% of Windows PCs?

Since Windows 10 is a free upgrade and therefore would have a much larger market share, developers will create apps. A universal Windows 10 app works on all Windows 10 devices, including phones and Xbox. The Universal Windows Platform uses the desktop market share to leverage the mobile platform. It’s brilliant.

But it’s not enough. Microsoft created five bridges to allow other developers to port their apps over to the Universal Windows Platform.

Project Westminster

Project Westminster allows web developers to create a universal Windows app. Any web app works. It allows the developer to plug in a URL and create an app from it. It’s pretty amazing.

Project Centennial

Project Centennial allows developers to take existing Win32 apps and turn them into universal Windows apps. This is a big deal, as it puts desktop apps in the Store. Unfortunately, Project Centennial only works on x86 devices, which means that you’re still not going to find iTunes on a Windows phone any time soon.

Project Islandwood

Project Islandwood allows developers to port their iOS apps to the Universal Windows Platform. Developers can port their Objective-C code to Visual Studio and compile it into a Windows app. This was huge news at Build.

Project Astoria

Project Astoria allows developers to port Android apps to the Universal Windows Platform. Unlike Project Islandwood, there is no need to port existing code into Visual Studio. Astoria allows the developer to package an APK as a Windows app.

Astoria also allowed users to hack their devices and flash APKs onto their devices that were running the Windows 10 Insider Preview. When build 10536 was released, Microsoft removed the Android subsystem from Windows 10 Mobile. The forums went silent. Project Astoria is unofficially dead.

The Fifth Bridge

Coming out of Build 2015, most accounted for four bridges. There was a fifth, more minor bridge. The fifth bridge allows developers to take their Silverlight apps and port them to the Universal Windows Platform.

Honestly, I’m not sure what the point is in the Silverlight bridge. After all, Silverlight apps still work on Windows 10, so what are the benefits of porting to UWP?

Summer 2015

Summer was a bit of a calm before the storm. The Windows Insider Program rolled on. Speaking of which, the Insider Program was the unsung hero of the year for Microsoft.

I’ve seen it before with OnePlus. When OnePlus released the One, users needed an invitation to purchase it. OnePlus created a loyal fan base because the invitation program forced users to be emotionally involved with their devices.

The same strategy worked with the Windows Insider Program. It created a Windows fan base. It made Microsoft cool again.

July 29, 2015

July 29 was the big day. Windows 10 was finally available to the public. Many early users claimed that the software wasn’t very stable and they were, for the most part, correct.

Microsoft had planned to release Windows 10 in the Fall, but due to OEMs that wanted to have it in time for the back to school season, they pushed it back to July. It’s fair to say that the November update is what they would have released had they kept to their original timeline.

Fall 2016

October 6, 2016

Fall was the storm that I referenced above. On October 6, Microsoft had their devices event, which was a huge deal.

Microsoft announced Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Microsoft Lumia 950, Microsoft Lumia 950 XL, and Microsoft Band 2.

Most of the hardware has been poorly received, with the exception of the Microsoft Band 2. Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 have had their share of issues, more so with the Surface Book. All of these problems should be fixed with firmware updates.

The Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were also poorly received. Windows Phone fans have been waiting a year and a half for a new flagship. If you’re in the U.S., it’s a year and eight months. If you’re on AT&T (the only carrier for you if you’re a Windows Phone fan), it was a solid two years.

Microsoft Lumia 950 Mozo

Because of this, it’s safe to assume that nothing could have pleased Windows Phone fans at this point. Everyone is clamoring for a Surface Phone, but the truth is that Surface is just a brand.

Of course, Windows 10 Mobile wasn’t ready for prime time. You basically have two groups of people at this point. Those that say they’re going to wait for the Surface Phone (there is absolutely no evidence of a Surface Phone coming to market) and those that say the Lumia flagships will get better in time.

If you ask me, it’s just another example of Microsoft focusing on the desktop when mobile is the future. After all, they had Windows 10 for PCs ready back in July. They couldn’t get Windows 10 Mobile ready by the holidays? It’s frustrating.

Windows: The State of the Platform

When Microsoft announced Continuum for phones, they made a brilliant move. No, I’m not talking about how it’s “the future”. I’m talking about how they combined phones and PCs.

When Panos Panay announced the Lumia 950 and the Lumia 950 XL, he said that they run “full Windows 10”. That’s what Windows 10 Mobile is. It’s Windows on ARM. It runs the exact same universal apps that Windows 10 for PCs runs.

How is Microsoft doing in the phone business? Terrible. What do you do when you can’t win the argument? You change the conversation.

Windows Phones aren’t phones anymore. They’re PCs. How is Microsoft doing in phones? Terrible. Who is number one in PCs? Microsoft.

Because Windows Phone and Windows is now combined into one platform, it’s clear that the state of the platform is strong.

Windows Insider Program

The Windows Insider Program had a number of side effects. It allowed Microsoft to get feedback on Windows 10, but it also created a fan base around Microsoft.

In the past year, Microsoft has given tons of pre-release software to Insiders, but it has also brought Insiders to events, to parties, and delivered all kinds of special perks.

Microsoft needed a fan base. Everyone has heard of the “Cult of Mac”. If you ask me, the Cult of Android is even bigger and more loyal. Microsoft needs to compete with that.

Windows 10

Windows 10 has been coming since it was announced on September 30, 2014. While it hasn’t come to Windows Phone 8.1 devices in official capacities just yet, it’s been available for PCs since July.

When Windows 10 Mobile ships to Windows Phone 8.1 devices this month, it will have the benefit of already being installed on 200 million PCs. When the universal Store comes to Xbox One this year, that number will be even higher.

Continuum for phones requires universal apps that have responsive design. Since Windows 10 for PCs came out four months before the new Lumia flagships, those universal Windows apps already existed, such as the best app in the universe, For the Love of Tech.

People buy Macs because they enjoy their iPhone so much that they want a PC with a similar experience. Just think of the percentage of Windows users that enjoyed it so much that they wanted a phone with a similar experience.

Windows has historically been a mediocre piece of software. Windows 8.1 was a lot better, but it has design problems. Windows 10 should be the sweet spot. This is where Microsoft aims to provide the best experience.

Windows 10 isn’t done yet. This year, we’re going to see the rollout of Windows 10 Mobile, browser extensions in Microsoft Edge, the universal Store for Xbox One, the HoloLens developer kit, and that’s just the things we know about. You can bet your ass that Microsoft has more new things to announce this year.

A couple predictions: HoloLens ships in time for the holidays, Continuum for Xbox, OneDrive placeholders return, Surface Phone with an x86 processor (and since Continuum will run desktop apps, everyone will make excuses when it doesn’t work well because it’s new), and more. Microsoft isn’t done exciting us.

About the author
Rich Woods

Being a computer programmer wasn't enough to fulfill his love of technology. In 2013, Rich founded For the Love of Tech and has been writing about his love of tech ever since.