How Microsoft Can Fix Windows 10 Mobile…By Forgetting the Phone

What the Hell does that title say? Isn’t this the Dark Android Project…emphasis on the Android? It is, but that means I need to cover the mobile space in general from time-to-time, just to see where all of this–including Android–is going.

SIDE NOTE: Writing about Windows Phone–or Windows 10 Mobile–is not new to this blog, anyway. See here, here, and there’s plenty of other instances.

The recent news out of ol’Redmond probably won’t shock anybody: Microsoft is putting an end to their mobile division right and left, selling some parts of it, and laying off thousands of employees. But they’ve made it clear they’re not done with mobile yet (there’s still the successful Surface team out there that has been confirmed to be working on a phone, after all, and there’s still that HP thing that I wrote about), just that they’re going to concentrate more on enterprise, which is Microsoft’s bread and butter, anyways.

The history of Windows Phone (as compared to Windows 10 Mobile, which we’ll discuss will be very a very distinct animal, so wait for the conclusion here) is an interesting one. I think it’s absolutely true that in form or another, Microsoft invented the “smartphone” itself. I remember using Windows Mobile over a decade ago. Granted, the iPhone brought it to the masses, but like everything Apple does, they didn’t invent a category, they just made it a little more palatable to a larger amount of people. Interestingly, when Apple and Android stepped onto the smartphone stage, Microsoft had some strange marketing for their–at the time–Windows Phone 7. Take a look…

Do you get the idea? Microsoft was effectively saying that iPhones and Android phones were just distractions, keeping you from getting real shit done (thanks to the great John C. Dvorak for pointing all of this out in a recent article). Ironically, in many ways I think Microsoft was absolutely right in their marketing claim. People are just staring at these blocks of sensors, known as smartphones, and just wasting time. But this message also sent unconscious signal that you don’t need Windows Phone, because you don’t actually get anything done on it. Microsoft fucked themselves in the phone space, essentially.

It’s a long held belief that the reason Microsoft is seen as “behind the times” today is because the company couldn’t see a future where everything doesn’t revolve around the PC. They are a PC-centric company, and for understandable reasons. But this PC-centrism is what has lead to their late-coming and failure in the modern smartphone space.

But here’s the rub on all of this: What if Microsoft was right?

What if the future isn’t mobile? What if the future is a PC-like/centric environment? What if in the not-so-far future, smartphones will be a thing of the past?

x32Let’s talk about Microsoft’s Continuum technology. Continuum is an confluence of technologies (originally pioneered by Canonical for Ubuntu) that allow you to take your Windows 10 Mobile phone and connect it to a dock, and then connect a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to that dock, and suddenly your Windows 10 Mobile device will turn into a (mostly) full-fledged PC. It’s an awesome idea, and something that many people (not just me) have been wanting to come into prominence: The idea that you will just have one device, and depending on what environment you’re in, the device will simply connect (wired or wirelessly) to whatever hardware is needed for the task and you will be able to get done what you want to get done.

The HP Elite x3 is one such device. It’s a Windows 10 Mobile smartphone coming to business environments that uses Continuum to connect to monitors, keyboards, and mice, all wirelessly. In fact, it goes one step further: HP is selling an accessory for the x3 that looks like a traditional laptop, but it is merely just a screen, touchpad, and keyboard that the x3 an wirelessly connect to and turn your phone into a laptop. It’s an exciting idea, and I think Microsoft is betting on this sort of thing becoming popular in enterprise spaces, and eventually in the consumer realm.x31

And I think that this is why Microsoft renamed their mobile platform from “Windows Phone” to “Windows 10 Mobile” in the first place, because Microsoft is planning on making the phone disappear, and just be part of a larger platform that connects to “dumb accessories” (like the HP laptop…thing). Maybe they’re planning on creating a little device–not a smartphone–that transmits wirelessly to everything you need and like they were concerned about years ago…a device that doesn’t distract you or make you look like a zombie staring at a mini-Monolith.

Maybe they’re going to put Continuum in to…a smartwatch.

Imagine it: You would go to work and be able to connect to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse there just by having your wristwatch near your desk. Or you could share you documents on a co-workers screen just by telling Cortana to display it on the nearest screen? Imagine being able to go home and just connect to your television or whatever other screens and devices at home, and everything is carried with you just on your “Surface Watch”?microsoft_band_on_wrist-100620973-large

I think that’s exciting as Hell, and I’ve been pushing for some time on my tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, for the smartwatch effectively becoming the device that you carry, with everything else being a “dumb accessory”. And with recent moves of Android Wear watches becoming independent with their own GPS and SIM cards, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be possible. Also, Google announced recently that Android Wear 2.0 will be able to run apps without the need for a smartphone to wirelessly tether too. Obviously tech companies see a future in the smartwatch. While some may be concerned over whether or not a smartwatch would have enough horsepower to deliver PC-like experiences, Microsoft’s recent Lumia’s (with liquid-cooled processors, which could end up in a watch, I’m sure) were capable of some serious gaming as we’ve seen at Microsoft events.

Bottom line: The Windows 10 Mobile experience could happen on the smartwatch, and that smartwatch–thanks to Continuum (which Microsoft said it was still concentrating on)–could literally become your PC, and do everything that PC’s have ever done.

The desktop PC environment–not necessarily the hardware as we know it–could still be the center of the universe. How about that?

SIDE NOTE: My desire for totally functional standalone smartwatches, that don’t require phones or PCs, is well documented here and elsewhere. In fact, in those articles I mention how Microsoft really led the charge with smartwatches replacing smartphones by releasing one of the very first smartwatch keyboards. Yeah, I think Microsoft has thought about this for a long time.

Granted, I’m laying out some heavy speculation here, and some of the potentials still fall under “theoretical”, but I think tech companies at large have been put on notice by Amazon and its leapfrog of a new device category–the Amazon Echo–to come up with something that is truly functional, but also isn’t another high-powered slab. For Microsoft, a Continuum-based “Surface Watch” (I might be the first person to coin that) may just be that leapfrog category.

Microsoft was right, the smartphone is a distraction. Let’s get past it. And then maybe we can get to this…star-trek-themotion

Carpe lucem!