Microsoft Discusses a Very Limited Future for Windows 10 Mobile

Posted on September 29, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones with 93 Comments

Microsoft Discusses a Very Limited Future for Windows 10 Mobile

Though Windows 10 Mobile made almost no appearance in Microsoft’s recent Ignite conference keynotes, the software giant did in fact discuss its future in a show session. And as you might expect given the platform’s death spiral, it’s pretty limited.

I know. But you don’t take my word for it. You can watch the sobering session, called Discover what’s next for Windows 10 Mobile for phones and small tablets, for yourself on YouTube. You can also find the slides from the presentation here.

So what’s coming in Windows 10 Mobile?

New Continuum functionality, pretty much. More specifically:

Independent Monitor Idle. A terrible name for a useful feature, Independent Monitor Idle lets one screen time out (“sleep”) while you’re working with another screen. This can help save battery life, for example, so if you’re working on the big screen, the phone’s screen can turn off.

Proximity Connect. Today, you can use Continuum with wired or wireless (Miracast) connections. Future releases will support a third option, called Proximity Connect, which will let you keep the phone in your pocket or bag, approach a wireless dock, and keep working. This is obviously the feature HP plans to use for its laptop-like dock for the Elite x3. Which you will note is not actually shipping yet.

More customizable. You’ll be able to customize the Start screen separately on the phone and on the big screen connected via Continuum.

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More PC-like features. Continuum’s full-screen experience will get more PC-like over time, adding familiar features like Start search, taskbar app pinning with context menus on right-click, a PC-like Action Center, and a system tray. But the biggest new feature here is windowing support: You will be able to run multiple apps simultaneously in floating windows, just like a Big Boy OS. You’ll also be able to run two apps side-by-side, just like Windows 8.

And .. that was it for the future. Four new Continuum features.

That said, there was a lot of other talk about momentum and business functionality, and of course some questions from the audience. So here are some further observations on what was said, and what wasn’t said during this presentation.

And small tablets? The name of the session is more than a bit insincere, given that Windows 10 Mobile isn’t actually available on small tablets, and no such devices were ever mentioned. Instead, Windows 10 Mobile is a system that runs on phones and on the handheld and ruggedized devices that you see in retail, industrial, and other vertical markets. Sorry.

Windows 10 Mobile is only for businesses. This was stressed repeatedly in different ways. There’s no consumer play here at all, and that is not changing going forward. Even the “More Personal” slide was about “Office 365 pre-installed, OneDrive for Business, Cortana for work,” and so. Businesses, not individuals/consumers.

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Windows 10 Mobile is for existing business customers, not for new customers. This one was interesting. At one point, one of the presenters said of the future, “our desire in this space is that Windows Mobile remain the safest, most manageable, most deployable solution for organizations that are already Microsoft customers. You will see that in the next year, and in the years after that.” That’s extremely limited, from an aspiration/goal standpoint. The question, by the way, was what success looked like for Windows phones.

Imagine having to present about this topic in front of a room full of Windows phone fans. Naturally, the questions in the Q&A session got increasingly testy, as if the people on stage were responsible for Microsoft shipping apps for iPhone and Android, or for the lack of a Snapchat app. Kudos for the calm responses they gave. I imagine they live under a lot of pressure day-to-day as it is.

Microsoft is “still committed” to Windows 10 Mobile. Acknowledging that Microsoft has “refocused” its in-house mobile efforts, the presenters said that Microsoft was still very much committed to Windows 10 Mobile, which is part of the Windows 10 family of solutions. He also noted that its phone partners were “enterprise-focused,” which is a way of saying “not consumer focused.”

Microsoft will still make Window phone(s) of its own. The presenters dragged out that May 2016 quote from Terry Myerson, in which he said that Microsoft and its partners would continue to make Windows phones, and said it was still true. This is certain to renew excitement in a Surface phone. But it shouldn’t. Nothing has changed, and Surface phone can’t cure this platform’s issues.

Timing. Everything Microsoft did discuss in this session are things that the firm is “actively working on,” but it would not commit on a time frame. So some new features may appear in “Redstone 2,” the Spring 2017 release of Windows 10 Mobile. But some, like Continuum Proximity Connect, may appear sooner, I’d imagine.

Remaining Continuum limitations: Win32/x86 apps do not work.Continuum continues to be stuck in a UWP sink hole, and of course Windows 10 Mobile only runs on ARM, so there’s no way to run the applications people really want in Continuum. The presenter didn’t address this at all during the session, but kudos to the attendee who called him on that. “We don’t support Win32 applications on [Windows phones in Continuum] today,” he responded. “I acknowledge that gap.” And then he recommended that the questioner move his LOB apps to UWP or RDP out to a data center that can deliver those applications from the cloud. In other words, they are not addressing the single biggest limitation in Continuum.

Remaining Continuum limitations: Not all phone apps run. Many phone apps are simply unavailable today on the big screen. Will Microsoft ever fix this? In the “long term,” they do hope to do so, but no promises on complete coverage. It’s crazy to me that Continuum will support floating windows but will not fully support all phone apps, which could/should just run in non-resizable, phone-sized windows.

Windows Ink. Microsoft has nothing to say about inking support in Windows 10 Mobile at this time. Seems like that should have been a big part of any “what’s next” talk about this platform. You know, if it were happening.

ARM64. Today, Windows 10 Mobile is a 32-bit OS, even when running on a 64-bit chipset, so it’s limited from a hardware resources (RAM, mostly) perspective. The presenters refused to address whether this would ever change when asked, but acknowledged it was “an important gap.”

Microsoft’s use of Windows phone internally. One attendee asked how Microsoft used Windows phone internally. Let me answer that one more accurately than the presenter did: They don’t. And at Microsoft Ignite this year, there was a dramatic drop in the number of Windows phones seen, especially among Microsoft employees. It was something many in the press remarked on.

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