Microsoft this week confirmed what we’ve known for months: it will drop the Windows Phone branding and simplify the name to just Windows. So the next generation OS for Windows Phone handsets will simply be called Windows, and it will run on both smart phone handsets and small tablets, but with a user experience specially tailored for the device type.
As I’ve long said—I’m the original Windows Phone user outside of Microsoft, after all—I love Windows Phone. But I’ve loved Windows for far longer. So this will be a great transition. 🙂
Here’s what’s happening.
Windows Phone OS is no more. It was always a custom version of Windows, really, and through the transition to Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 it came ever-closer to its Windows RT/Windows 8.x-relations. With Windows 10, that wall is coming down completely, and the OS that runs on Windows Phone handsets—or what we might now call Windows phones (with a small “p” on phones)—will be some version of Windows 10.
I would like to think of this version as Windows Mobile for nostalgic reasons, but Microsoft has called it Windows 10 for phones and tablets (and sometimes Windows 10 for phones and small tablets). But that’s not the name, it’s a description. The name is just Windows 10.
From the perspective of a Windows Phone—excuse me, Windows phone—user, Windows 10 won’t be a crazy change. Instead, it will be a very nice upgrade, with user experiences that are more cohesive with Windows 10 on (bigger) tablets and even PCs.
Please don’t consider this a complete rundown—and rest assured I’ll be writing about Windows 10 so much in the weeks ahead that it will be begging for mercy—but here are a few things that stood out in my hands-on time with Windows 10 on phones.
Start screen. In Windows Phone 8.1, you can add a Start background, but it only shows through on the tiles—and then only on some tiles—and can’t be seen on the actual background. Now, the background image is actually on the background and you can still optionally enable a tile transparency mode so you can see it there too. Nice.
Action Center. The Quick Actions tiles can be expanded to show more actions. Very nice!
All Apps. This view now shows recently installed apps right at the top. Smart.
Settings. The dumbest interface from previous Windows Phone versions—it was an unordered list that couldn’t be searched or sorted in any way—is now simpler, with logical Settings groups. Finally.
Universal apps including major Office app updates. Windows 10 on phones will run many of the same universal apps found on “big” Windows 10, including Photos, “Spartan” (new web browser), Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, Skype, Outlook Mail, Outlook Calendar, and People.
Messaging switching. Like iOS, Windows 10 will let you switch between SMS/MMS messaging and IP-based messaging services like Skype.
There’s more, but the big takeaway here should be that moving from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10 should be pretty seamless and familiar. But there are a few more things to understand.
Windows 10 is free. Like all previous Windows Phone versions, Windows 10 is a free upgrade.
Not all Windows Phones will be upgraded to Windows 10. You need to be running at least Windows Phone 8.1 to get the upgrade.
Not all Lumia handsets will be upgraded to Windows 10. We don’t have a complete list yet, but here’s how Microsoft explains this. “Not every phone will upgrade or support all possible Windows 10 features, and certain features and experiences will require more advanced future hardware. Our goal is for the majority of the Lumia phones running Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 to join the Windows  ecosystem.”
Microsoft will release one or more flagship Lumias this year. But not until Windows 10. In separate statements, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Windows head Terry Myerson both mentioned Lumia flagships coming this calendar year. But not until Windows ships.
Windows 10 will ship “this summer.” That means by the third week of September, roughly.
How will Microsoft update handsets to Windows 10? After all, they can’t even ship small updates today. (Though they can in fact ship critical security updates at any time, contrary to the conventional wisdom on phone updating.) Microsoft has a plan for this, I was told. But we need to wait until Build in late April to find out more.
It’s going to be a busy year.