Living in the UK I am used to the "US Only" nature of Microsoft's release cycle. I remember at one point Bing Maps on my WindowsPhone actually began to deal with local public transport reasonably well just before WindowsPhone was cancelled.
One of those products is Cortana. It was supposed to be one of the most personal of personal assistants. In the UK it mostly didn't track packages at all. It occasionally provided flight information but usually didn't. It did cope with weather in Celsius so at least that worked. A mixed bag of some working things, some partially working things and a lot of stuff that never worked at all.
One of the new interfaces was voice. Cortana, as a personal assistant, would surely be part of a home speaker. Late in the day the Invoke speaker was announced and produced. It was the most expensive home speaker on the market and supported the US. Yes, the USA only.
As sales of the the second most expensive home speaker in the world tanked, only beaten in price by Apple's Homepod, there seemed little hope for the rest of the planet getting this product. Microsoft announced a partnership with Amazon so that the Echo would get Cortana skills. With affordable Amazon speakers I could get Cortana to work for me using my voice at home. There were even demos at build.
Here I am in the UK. It's July 2019. Can I use Cortana skills on my echo? Of course not. It's "US Only". Still unreleased for the rest of the planet.
Microsoft should really use the removal of Cortana as part of Windows 10 just to kill the product. It's AI might be powering Office 365 functions but just let Cortana go. Once the mobile platform disappeared, and was followed by restricting Cortana functionality to the USA and giving up on smart speakers there wasn't much point in Cortana. Let her go Microsoft.
My Nokia 8.1 has Android Pie on it and is customised with a range of Microsoft software. I use Google services but I have been embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem for a couple of decades and used a WindowsPhone for years.
The current configuration set the assistant to Cortana and has the Microsoft Launcher. I have liked the launcher a lot since coming from WindowsPhone because at least there is some synergy with my PC.
Lately Cortana seems to be suffering from entropy. Things have stopped working. My calendar no long displays, my commute is faithfully ignored. It’s like timewarp back to 2014 when Cortana itself was a US only experience that didn’t even understand celsius was a thing and the metric system was popular.
I noticed that Microsoft Launcher had Cortana built in and it was displaying my calendar. So I looked at the assistant settings for the first time in months and the Launcher could be set as the default assistant.
So I tried this. The moment I did this Cortana could deal with my calendar again. The dedicated app worked worse than the integration of the launcher. The commute is still struggling just giving me traffic reports even though I have said I travel by bus.
Cortana seems not to have much focus at Microsoft. Maybe the death of WindowsPhone really just put Cortana in intensive care and it’s another service I will need to ditch soon.
In 2013 I watched the launch of the Xbox One. The launch event, in my mind, seemed to indicate a transformation of the Xbox from a games console to a home entertainment device with AI, ability to use a Kinnect to make Skype video calls, Microsoft entertainment content, multiple catchup TV apps, and more. It also let you play games.
The games part seemed to be an add-on. In addition, the games would be orientated towards an always connected internet world of digital games. This latter bit was a little annoying. In my town, along with many in the UK, games trade in is a thing. You could pick up a second had disc for a few pounds and try something out. You could also trade in expensive games once you were done. Lots of low income families would use this to keep their kids happy too. So this seemed a negative turn of events. Also digital games cost more. You could buy a game from Amazon or your supermarket for 25% less than a digital download from Microsoft. How does that even make sense? The cost of discs, packaging and store space or posting a package is cheaper than a digital download.
Had Microsoft gone off their heads?
I did buy the Day One console. I paid a premium for the Kinect. Microsoft had made it very clear there was no way back. No backward compatibility was going to be offered. Hundreds of pounds were spent. The old Xbox 360 games were traded in or given away. I was now fully Xbox One enabled.
Then the promised new entertainment services didn’t seem to arrive. I remembered that Microsoft had a launch segment with Steven Spielberg promising some content. There were US sports which were little use in Britain but I could live with the “US Only” mentality of Microsoft – it was normal. There were some rumour of a standalone TV box for MS entertainment services.
What has happened?
The launch of a home entertainment centre was so good it gamers headed to the Playstation 4. Microsoft then “relaunched” the Xbox One as an actual games console. The home entertainment hub was gently dropped when Google released a £30 Chromecast and Amazon produced the Fire Stick. Kinect proved to be an expensive door wedge. Suddenly Microsoft announced Xbox 360 compatibility was coming. Unfortunately, I believed them when they said they won’t do that so I didn’t have any of my old favourites left. However, I could buy the digital remasters for more money than I spent on the originals.
In a sense my Xbox One was the promise of an integrated Microsoft ecosystem of services. Movies, TV, gaming, video calling, original content, integration with my WindowsPhone and PC.
I do get that Microsoft find games a good a business. I like gaming. However, the Xbox One 2013 vision has hardly been realised so I am cautious about the Xcloud and other “X” properties. Microsoft have perhaps fooled me too many times with my consumer cash.
The day I saw Cortana demonstrated on Windowsphone back in 2012(ish) at a Microsoft conference I was all in. It took a long while to arrive on my Lumia in the UK and was less functional than the demo but it had promise. This was the most personal of phones with the most personal of assistants.
I looked forward to having an ever improving experience, integration of the assistant with the services I use and the science fiction possibility of voice becoming a legitimate interface. In the current jargon – ambient computing.
Jumping forward to 2019 I find the picture has changed a lot. The promise of Cortana has evaporated as quickly as Satya Nadella’s commitment to three Windowsphones per year. Cortana never really reached full functionality in the UK. In fact it now answers fewer queries than four years ago. I doesn’t really tell me about my parcel deliveries, doesn’t work with mapping very well, knows little about public transport in the UK. As an “app” on my Android device it needs remapping to home screen but then Google Assistant has a problem. For it is the assistant that answers many of my queries on the move and integrates well with Android services. This is to be expected of course but now means two assistants are on my phone.
At home the Amazon Alexa is my assistant of choice. It integrates with my music, news and has thousands of skills that allow me to listen to podcasts just by talking to my obedient friend. The Amazon Echo became my friend because there was no Microsoft offering in that category. However, we were promised a Cortana skill to allow me integration with the Microsoft services I use. That isn’t going well in Britain. Not a hint of Alexa being friends with Cortana so I can use my Echo as a Cortana speaker. Although I understand that the USA has this.
Cortana is rapidly being deprecated in my personal use of Microsoft Services. It’s perhaps the inevitable consequence of Microsoft abandonment of consumers. As their consumer ambitions wither on the vine the consumers transition to other products that makes Microsoft look at their telemetry and discount the consumer market. The circle of deprecation, diminished use followed by deprecation continues.
The question in my mind is should I really start thinking as a consumer and move to the fully supported environment of Google Services. After decades of choosing Microsoft first it’s somewhat dispiriting the question is now seriously coming to my mind.
As a user of Microsoft products and services I am interested in what Satya Nadella says as CEO and how it might influence my personal technology decisions.
Shortly after becoming CEO he said that Microsoft would be producing 3 mobile phones a year; one for consumers, one for business and a premium flagship model. he also said his three target product areas were AI, virtual reality and quantum computing. As a consumer I cant yet purchase a quantum computer and I saw my main VR opportunity as integration with Xbox One. This left AI and the idea of ambient computing.
With the demise of the mobile platform after announcing his strategy using AI with Cortana become more challenging for me as a consumer. Being in the UK didn’t help either. For Microsoft you find English, outside the US, is a foreign language. Cortana has always been less functional than in the USA. Microsoft’s deep learning has problems with non-US users at many levels. However, according to Nadella, this was a key product area.
The announcement of the Invoke speaker meant that I could have the Cortana interface in my home and perhaps it was going to deliver on that promise. Months later you could by the speaker in the USA at a huge discount and it was pronounced dead. The rest of the world never even saw it.
In the meantime Amazon had released two generations of smart speakers, thousands of programmable skills and, when recently I wanted to buy a smart thermostat for my house none of the devices offered Cortana integration. So today I have Alexa everywhere. Even my TV streaming device can be voiced controlled. Back in 2013 Microsoft’s TV play was buy an Xbox One and watch TV on that. Everyone else offered a £30 usb device.
If mobile is the two horse race between IOS and Android then ambient computing is a two horse race between Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s not even because Microsoft has bad products. They actually have no products people can buy.
The new Microsoft is highly profitable. There is no doubt about that. However, if you are a user of technology in the home then Microsoft has opted out. If you don’t live in the USA then Microsoft has opted out to provide just a bare bones range of products and services mainly orientated to legacy systems.
Microsoft as an enterprise company and business company has never looked so healthy. For everything else it’s not a player. Not only has Apple envy gone but even a sense of competition seems to have been diluted.
As a consumer Microsoft is no longer my first choice. Most every other company is a better choice.
Just over a year ago I became an ex-WindowsPhone user. Right now I am using a Nokia 7 Plus as my daily phone. A pure Android version, crapware free, Android One, but with the Microsoft Launcher and Edge browser. It's pretty much customised with Microsoft services. However, I hate it. I hate IOS too. It seems an interface of icons changed little since Steve Jobs launched the iphone and started the icon grid, home screen and home button paradigm. That's probably why I used a WindowsPhone for so long - a fresh and imaginative UI that was somehow Windows in a modern world.
I thought I was over WindowsPhone angst. The slow mysterious death of WindowsPhone. Killed by neglect but with bursts of hope as Microsoft occasionally launched something new or let a rumour run for a while. Microsoft communication via the blog is notoriously opaque. That's why you need other bloggers as intermediaries to decipher the cryptic nature of a Microsoft press statement. The new Microsoft was supposed to be about empathy. Yet the death of WindowsPhone was curiously direct and insensitive. A tweet as an answer to one question - Joe Belfriore said it's dead and I like my Samsung.
The last week or so had the return of WindowsPhone angst. The re-announcement of the previous end of life announcement to make sure bloggers could write some clickbait. WindowsPhone was declared dead again. It's new death covered on Windows Weekly.
For one sudden moment of madness I looked at ebay to price a Lumia 950xl. I didn't click. I am emotionally disturbed by the death not mad.
Occasionally the muscle memory tries to click the dedicated camera button of the new Nokia I have but I suddenly realise that was a feature of my old Nokia WindowsPhone. I sometimes look for the additional "lenses" in the camera app. I also get annoyed that my calendar app doesn't exist and I use the considerably more fiddly Outlook mobile app.
However, the good news is that Microsoft is saving itself for the next wave. It is AI, ambient computing, intelligent edge. Fortunately when I moved to Android I integrated Cortana into my phone for the new promised future. My personal assistant from WindowsPhone transitioned to my Android device. I waited for the home speaker system to complete the world of ambient computing.
This week also formally announced the death of Cortana and the ambitions for ambient computing.
At least I didn't buy a Zune (US only), Band, and I migrated to Spotify when the writing was on the wall......
Out and about at the weekend I encountered some of my friend's kids. In a small church hall I was temporarily being "entertained" by a 11 year old twin girls using their ipad. I was curious if they knew about social media. I was helping them connect the ipad minis to the internet by tethering my phone while their parents were doing something else.
They explained that Facebook was for old people. Like me I suspected they wanted to say but were being polite. What about Snapchat I asked? Apparently that is "for kids". This was the authoritative view of the 11 year old experts. I then asked what they used. It turns out that it's all about Instagram and iMessage. Everyone is on iMessage.
The next day a friend of mine was talking about her daughter's Christmas present. Her 16 year old needed to update her iPhone so where could you get a cheap one. I told her such a thing didn't really exist why didn't she get an Android phone like the £200 value phone that mam was using. It was explained to me that her daughter had to have iMessage because it was the only thing the teens were using at school apart from Instagram. We talked about refurbished iPhones to get a good deal.
Thinking about this I noticed no one mentioned Skype. The mums mentioned using Whatsapp between the adults but Skype wasn't even raised.
The next generation seem already lost to Microsoft due to their strange consumer strategy. However, they have the enterprise cloud and they don't seem to mind surrender as a strategy.
I was one of the people that watched the first announcement of Cortana by Microsoft. Siri was on iPhone at that point but my experience of friends using Siri showed me that beyond asking about the weather it wasn't much good for anything.
The promise of Cortana was quite different. This was to be a personal assistant for the most personal of phones - Windowsphone. It seemed to me that a digital assistant that really worked and had Microsoft's cloud machine learning behind it would do far more than Siri. Unfortunately it was going to be a while beofe my Windowsphone could test it. Cortana was a US only product. Eventually Cortana arrived in the UK. It took a long time and many of the features just didn't work.
One of the things I looked forward to was maps, transport and directions. Like many Europeans using public transport (transit) is the way I get about. It quickly transpired that Bing Maps was inaccurate and primarily designed for drivers. Timetable information for buses and trains was entirely absent even though most transportation systems provided APIs to link to mapping and location services. Cortana eventually got to support local buses but due to mapping inaccuracy often the most obscure routes were shown taking you miles away from a bus stop. You could literally stand at a stop and ask for times only to be advised to walk 500m in the opposite direction to catch the bus that stopped in front of you.
Yet it did get better. I stuck with it. Local scout disappeared from Windowsphone and local information got worse. Cortana when asked for a local store gave you web references hundreds of miles away. On holiday in other parts of Europe it was less reliable.
Then Windowsphone was cancelled. In the spirit of President Trump a Microsoft executive just tweeted it was over and that was it.
There is no Bing Maps on Android but I put Cortana on as my assistant. Directions improved due to Google Maps being accurate and being updated. However, Cortana was still struggling. Asking it for bus times tomorrow to get to work would give me crazy routes starting late a night and waiting overnight in the bus terminal just to travel 8 miles instead to just giving me my commute options the next morning.
So I tried Google Assistant as my default. It seemed to understand which days I worked, my route, where I got off and made sensible transport suggestions. It alerts me quickly to local stores when I ask to buy something. It doesn't seem to be missing any features reserved only for the US.
Hold on. Isn't Microsoft focused on AI and machine learning. Cortana has access to my email, calendar and texts. It knows my location. Why does Google Assistant seem to know me better since I am really a user of Microsoft services.
Cortana is utterly failing to encourage me to use it on my mobile device. I am beginning to think I would like Google Assistant on the PC.
Without a mobile platform Cortana seems an orphan. Inaccurate, partially compatible with life outside the USA, almost useless on mobile. I am not sure if I need a voice assistant on a PC however if I do it would be better not being Cortana.
When I am home I like the idea of Windows 10 notifications alerting me to text messages. When I had a Windowsphone for a short while I seem to remember Skype allowing me to make it the default SMS messenger and then having do the same job in Windows.
This didn't seem to last very long because Skype on Windowsphone lost messages, seemingly added them to random people in my contacts list and worked in a chaotic manner. I was forced to switch it off.
Then there are people with iMessage. It uses IMessage to iMessage if it can and SMS if it can't. Its quite seemless.
I can now go to Android messages and have SMS in my browser. It allows me to text people with a real keyboard. This works pretty well and a lot better than Windows 10 has managed to do.
I feel a little frustrated that Skype doesn't work like iMessage on mobile and doesn't allow SMS integration on the PC. Despite Microsoft having Skype in the product catalogue for years they seem to reboot the interface, take it apart, put it back together but fundamentally fail to get it working in the way it should work in a multi-device world. Even when Microsoft controlled Windowsphone and Skype it spent more time rebooting how it looked than getting it to work really well.
We are now in a multiple messaging world. Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and every other persons Android messaging app with encryption. Microsoft are fortunate Apple haven't brought iMessage to Android and PC.
I do feel that Skype is Microsoft product being killed by unnecessary indecision about what it is and what Microsoft want to do with it.
I would like Skype to be my go to application for integrated communication. It really doesn't work for that.
I used Windowsphone exclusively from about 2010 to just a few months ago, My last Lumia 950 got sold on ebay and my regular device is a Nokia 7 Plus. I used Cortana and Bing Maps on Windowsphone and liked the experience of live tiles. Like many people I hate the “grid of icons” experience of both Android and IOS. However, there is no choice.
As a British user of Cortana I was used to it being less functional than the USA. Until reasonably recently it didn’t understand my route to work because I travel by bus rather than drive. The mapping with Bing was well behind Google. It did the job but often put things on the wrong side of the street etc. With both products I clicked ferociously at the feedback button to correct map errors and improve the experience. I didn’t see much change myself but you can always hope. Suffice to say things were sub-optimal but improving over time.
Once on Android I put the Microsoft Launcher on and added Cortana as the default assistant. Despite Cortana’s lacklustre performance in general it could read my Outlook appointments and work with my PC. So there was reason to standardise. Cortana isn’t as good. It is really just a voice web search and not a very good one. It is quicker to search on the command line. I could go on with it still not understanding my journey to work but it seems Google Maps does. After a couple of trips it suggests my bus route and tells me about delays. I find this to be extraordinary given that Microsoft is now focused on AI and machine learning. How come Cortana didn’t know this stuff?
Gradually, on Android, I have found Cortana not to be improving but a step backwards from Windowsphone. The application this week has taken three presses to start. Sometimes it doesn’t start at all unless I restart the phone.
Google Assistant has now gone back on. Cortana is still there in the launcher but demoted.
As Microsoft is now talking about “Modern Life” consumers I reflect on the fact that my modern life outside home and work depends on information on my mobile. Usually travel, commuting, payments, search, directions, mapping and photos. I find myself drifting towards Google services that just seem to be doing these things better.
Thinking about Microsoft’s “Modern Life” for consumer. My current feeling is that presently the services consumers use are not the services Microsoft is focusing on. In fact they have slowed development in almost all of them to the point in which consumers have to make extra effort to use less useful services if they want to use Microsoft products on mobile.
If they want to do “Modern Life” then there is a lot of work to do.
When new CEO Satya Nadella was new at the job he articulated Microsoft's mission much more clearly than he does now. Instead of talking about intelligent cloud and intelligent edge he just said he wanted people to "love Windows". https://www.crn.com/news/applications-os/300075482/microsoft-ceo-nadella-we-want-people-to-love-windows-10-not-just-use-it.htm
I work in IT so my work is Windows. Windows clients, Windows server, the cloud and Office 365. I use Windows because it allows me to access the tools I need to do my work. I don't use UWP apps at all and I use a variety of other tools including PowerShell. This puts me clearly in the Microsoft ecosystem.
I actually liked this idea of "loving Windows". The idea that Windows was more than work and more than productivity, for me, was a good thing. I had a Windowsphone, a Windows PC, my old Xbox 360 was my movies and TV box and, when the family plan arrived, Groove would take over from Spotify as my music service.
In three years Nadella has failed to progress my love of Windows. In fact it's gone backwards. Now Windows has retreated from the central part of my technology use to being mainly something I use for work or when I need a keyboard to type.
Apple did the same thing. There was a time when an Apple user had to have a Mac to sync music, activate and upgrade an iPhone and use Apple services like iTunes. Apple then just made the Mac a component in an integrated ecosystem.
Microsoft seems to have done the same thing. It's downgraded or deprecated Windows as just part of their environment. The difference is that Microsoft don't have an ecosystem outside business and productivity. Of course there is Xbox and Minecraft. Despite their rather incompetent launch of the Xbox One in 2013 as a $500 TV box that had to have a Kinect sensor it survived the poor marketing of consumer products,
I reflect that in 2018 there is little to make a consumer "love Windows". I struggle to find a service, not related to work, that a normal non-gaming consumer would look to Microsoft for.
If you care about Windows then this is a little bothersome. Microsoft may be looking ahead to the next wave of quantum computing virtual reality headsets that interact with the cloud but Windows is disappearing. It makes me sad that I can't love Windows and no one else can in the way Apple and Google seem to generate real passion for their products. I am not sure whether UWP or PWA really matter much in the Microsoft universe when cloud interaction may not involve Windows at all in 10 years.
Nadella is and will make Microsoft shareholders a lot of money. That's what he is there to do. However, I think if you care about Windows then we have passed the peak and are heading to a future without WIndows.
Hey Google I said, followed by a request to list my appointments. I had nothing. Then I started Cortana and asked the same question. I got my list from my calendar.
It wasn't accidental. On my Nokia 7 Plus I have Google Assistant mapped to the home key and Cortana as an icon on the home screen. I can use either assistant. I was half tempted to try Alexa because she lives in my home speakers. The Echo is there because the Invoke is a US only product and, I am reliably informed by Microsoft, my Amazon devices will work with Cortana soon.
However, I am diverting myself. The key issue here is that as Microsoft retreats from the consumer ecosystem I have to use Google services. My email and calendar is on Outlook.com. In my Windowsphone days everything was integrated. Now I am split between Google that supports Windows by having the browser everyone uses but nothing else and Microsoft that barely supports it's own products for consumers.
I could go all in on Google. Forget Outlook.com, my Office 365 Home, Microsoft apps and the like. Just cave in to the feeling that Microsoft barely even notices me and move to Google.
Voice assistants are definitely part of the ecosystem. If you use one then you get drawn into the supporting products. I am now reflecting on whether I should give up on Cortana. Give up because outside the USA it's genuinely less useful and Microsoft don't really seem to be making it better. Give up because I use voice assistant help primarily on the phone and Google Assistant is just better on mobile.
Having moved from Windowsphone I am just contemplating killing Cortana. Arguably I may kill her on my own system before Microsoft pulls the plug on Cortana for consumer.
I have been reading recently that Cortana is going to change to being a "productivity" product. Since AI is a key new future wave identified by CEO Satya Nadella it would not look good if Cortana was discontinued. It will, so I read, feature in enterprise and business. It isn't dead it's just resting (with apologies to Monty Python's parrot sketch).
Since CES at the beginning of the year, the explosion of smart home devices from Google and Amazon, and PC manufacturers getting serious about Alexa, Cortana seems to be taking a back seat. Cortana has always taken a backseat here in the UK. Despite speaking English, Microsoft treat English spoken in the country that invented English as a foreign language market. You need to speak US English to get a first class seat in Cortana's world. Features in the US version have don't work in the UK at all or are reduced. Transportation in the UK includes train and public transport, like much of Europe, whereas the US is a car economy. The net result is that Cortana gets a bit lost when you choose transit or ask about trains. Bing maps is not too great either here. Buildings are mis-placed by miles, bus routes are a bit confused and any corrections you submit never get corrected.
Reminders are great. Except that they don't seem to connect to the To Do app, Outlook, Outlook.com or anything else. Cortana doesn't really understand context. I asked recently for an airport map and it showed me the centre of the nearest town. Cortana stopped working with music, can't find podcasts or understand that "home" is my home address I put into Cortana.
In short my non-US experience is a struggle and if I didn't want to use Microsoft services I would have drifted back to Google Assistant a long time ago.
I was thinking about this. I was seeing that this is a barely working service outside the USA, it hasn't improved in years, it is declining in market share, lacking in development, no mobile platform that makes it easy to take with you. It is now being "rebranded" for productivity rather than having it's shortcomings addressed.
For me this was the same pattern as Windowsphone. Non-American markets being poorly served, a product that was not being updated, denial about it being discontinued and a move to business as a revival strategy.
So I understand that Cortana is just the front end to AI at Microsoft. Bing is part of the equation along with other things. This feels like deja-vu. A Microsoft product gradually losing traction while Microsoft denies it is fading away.
Change can sometimes be planned and sometimes accidental.
For a number of years my home devices have been governed by a distinctive Microsoft slant. Going back 5 years my TV was connected to my old Xbox 360. I rented movies from the Microsoft store. I used Microsoft apps on the Xbox 360 for catchup TV. I used my Windowsphone for Groove Music (was Xbox Music) and Podcasts etc. Cortana was the digital assistant I used on the move. Maps were from Bing. Onedrive looked after the photos and was particularly appealing because of the Windowsphone bonus space for photos. Eventually an Xbox One became the living room device when I bought an Xbox One S for gaming.
Basically the digital services part of my life was Microsoft-centric.
I didn't really make a decision to move away from Microsoft. I really didn't. However, my wife needed a music service and it made financial sense to get a family plan. So Spotify became the music service. The Xbox DVD reader often failed to read my DVDs so I bought a cheap Sony device for that. Windowsphone was killed so I got an Android device then it made more sense to use a Chromecast. My Spotify connects to home speakers and, in the UK, there are no Cortana home speakers. So I got an Amazon Echo to work with Spotify.
Google gives me unlimited storage to look after my photos and there is no Bing Maps app for Android so Google Maps are the default.
The other day I looked around my personal technology and realised that, apart from my PC, I have gone Microsoft free. I never decided to do that it just happened.
I don't think I am the only one.
The other day I was buying from an online retailer. Nothing unusual there. However, with Facebook in the news right now I was struck that the site said I could log on with my Facebook account. I have done this before on a number of sites. It's convenient and stops me creating lots of online accounts that I have to remember. Convenience over security.
So where is Microsoft on this?
If you have implemented a hybrid Office 365 environment you will know that Microsoft offer an enterprise security standard single sign on. Microsoft is a trusted brand in the area of security unlike the Microsoft of 15 years ago that needed a trustworthy computing initiative. In fact you could see the spasms that Facebook is facing today is a new version of the trust gap that hit Microsoft back in the days of Bill Gates.
Microsoft did create "passport" that morphed into the Microsoft Account (MSA). Passport was, in hindsight, another service that was way ahead of it's time and not really explained to people or promoted. Right now websites and ecommerce ought to all authenticate with MSA and not Facebook. MSA should be the trusted account people rely on for identity management. Perversely few websites do this. You can login with Facebook, Google even Spotify but rarely does MSA appear as an option. Could this be the complexity of implementation? Could it be lack of awareness?
I think it's the old Microsoft problem of identifying a problem, developing a solution, not publicising it or not making anyone aware of the advantages. Being in the first wave but leaving it to the latecomers to dominate a service that should be Microsoft's reputational ace in the hole. When people think of online security and ease of use they should think MSA. They actually think Facebook.
Although there is a lot of coverage of the Samsung Galaxy S9 one of the interesting spaces that has been vacated by Google and Apple is the well built mid-range mobile device.
Oneplus has a great phone in the mix but the recent scandal of credit cards being stolen from their online ordering system and the reluctance to update their devices quickly may present an opportunity for Nokia.
Nokia has joined the Android One programme and, looking away from the premium Nokia 8 Sirocco, the Nokia 7 Plus seems to fit the space that Google Nexus devices used to sit in. When you add in the completely stock Android implementation then it really represents some value in that space.
Nokia is certainly back from a European viewpoint. I think the Nokia 7 Plus is the most interesting of all their announcements.
My nephew started university last year and his parents bought him a laptop that came with Microsoft WIndows. They didn't buy a Surface Laptop or a Surface Book because they were way out of their budget. Instead they were directed to the HP and Lenovo devices.
For my brother and nephew Windows comes "free" with the laptop. Rather like 4 wheels and an engine come as standard with a car purchase. He bought a student version of Office on the university website. I advised him to do this when he asked me how to get Word and Excel. From his perspective he bought a 4 year license from the university. His iPhone uses Spotify for music at a student discount. His student discount app is only available on iPhone and android.
As a normal consumer the Microsoft brand barely exists.
While it is true that Wall Street loves Microsoft's strategy on enterprise, cloud, AI, etc it is also true that none of these things is very visible. Abandoning consumer products and mobile results in lack of visibility. There is nothing wrong with that. Oracle are a huge business invisible to consumers. IBM is a business service company.
Back in the 1980s Bill Gates' vision was a PC on every desk. That was business and consumer. With 90%+ of the PC market you could say the vision statement worked. Ballmer's "cloud first, mobile first" less so. Nadella says "intelligent cloud, intelligent edge" and no one has a clue what "success" looks like even if it happens.
For those of us that consumed Microsoft services over the years we are now consuming less. However the companies we work for are probably consuming more.
What is going to be interesting is watching how Microsoft is being followed in the media. The year 2017 is probably the year that Microsoft will have abandoned consumer products - with the single exception of gamers. The year 2018 will be the year that websites covering the Microsoft space will either change to more general consumer technology or alternatively become enterprise news websites. Neither is a bad thing. It will just be interesting to observe.
In a recent edition of the Sams Report Brad recommended I buy an iPhone. Of course he doesn't know me personally. I am just a listener/viewer that occasionally asks questions.
Why should I buy an iPhone?
I don't want to paraphrase too much. However, the basic argument is that Google competes with Microsoft across a range of things such as cloud, browser, mobile, ecosystem etc and is threat to Microsoft. Apple, on the other hand, has a business focused on the iPhone and consumer cloud. Given Microsoft's retreat (abandonment) of consumer this makes Apple a complementary business rather than a competitive business. I think he has a point.
The problem I have with the advice is I think that there are some difficulties. I think the nature of Microsoft fandom is different from Apple fandom or even Google fandom. Normal Apple buyers do see buying almost as a fashion statement. Sometimes I feel that Apple is to technology what Calvin Klein is to underwear. When a new iphone comes out I see buyers making sure you can see the Apple logo on their treasured purchase. The purchase itself, in an Apple retail store, is part of the experience. The first day of release for a new iPhone would be easier on the web but Apple fans, like a religious movement, seem compelled to queue outside. Something mocked by Samsung ads.
Microsoft fans seem a different bunch to me. They seem to be fans because the technology makes sense to them. The Microsoft brand, other than Xbox, is not actually something that has a wow factor. The Microsoft fan is not uncritical - often quite the reverse. These days the Microsoft fan participates via the Insider Programme. Microsoft fans are also in the enterprise - a place Apple fans are not seen other than with mobile management issues.
My view is that it's firstly a culture clash that really makes "fan" relationships unequal. Calling someone a Microsoft fan is quite different from some kind of brand ambassador in the Apple sense.
Crucially Nadella has failed in one objective to create "fans". He said he wanted people to "love Windows". Relegating Windows to a work productivity tool makes this very difficult.
Next is the cost and value proposition. I really believe Microsoft "fans" are more price sensitive. Although Microsoft, through it's Surface line of PCs, has put the premium PC into focus most users buy PCs much cheaper than these devices. The premium PC market is primarily business plus specialist markets like gamers. Apple actually loves the exclusivity buyers feel because it's expensive. it is an overtly aspirational device. Android, other than Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones, is orientated to the everyman market. Technically Android devices can be set to default to Cortana and Edge with a Microsoft Launcher whereas iPhones can just have apps.
Strategically it is true that a Microsoft "fan" wanted to support the company then iPhone is probably the best choice. I would say the Microsoft fan would want Microsoft to have viable mobile platform. In the absence of such a platform a Microsoft fan would look to a mobile device that can be customised to be a Microsoft experience. That's probably Android. Specifically as near to an vanilla stock Android as you can get. This is why the Oneplus 5T got so much attention.
So I think Brad is right recommending the iPhone to Microsofties of all kinds. However my expectation is that just wont happen because "fandom" is not the same.
Wunderlist was a product bought by Microsoft to allow people to create and deal with "to do" lists and the like. It was integrated with Cortana because you could add it as a connected service.
Just when I was starting to use Wunderlist Microsoft announced they were deprecating it and introducing Microsoft ToDo. Rather naively I assumed this would be a re-brand of Wunderlist but it turned out to be a whole different thing.
ToDo wasn't updated very much. On the positive side there was a UWP WindowsPhone and Windows 10 app.
Wunderlist seems still to be around and you can still download it from the Store. Cortana lists and reminders don't seem to relate to either of them.
So is Microsoft ToDo the future and the app I should be using? Is Wunderlist really going to be deprecated and should I really use that? How does Cortana lists and reminders fit into this.
ToDo lists seem to be a something straightforward. How does Microsoft end up with 3 different systems?
I try to use Microsoft services on my Android phone. This isn't just being a Microsoft "fan" but rather being compatible across devices.
On my PC Bing Maps has a lot of favourites and collections. Bing Maps is there because I have a Windowsphone. I now have moved, mainly because Windowsphone has been abandoned. I would like to carry on using my Lumia 950 but that's a different story.
Google Maps on Android is clearly an excellent app. It is probably the best maps app. However it carries the baggage of being connected to the Google ecosystem rather than what remains of the Microsoft ecosystem.
If you look for Bing in the Google Play Store there is the Bing search app. It doesn't include maps. If you look for Bing Maps there seems no official app. However, we are living in the world of PWA. So I type https://www.bing.com/maps. On a PC this gets you to Bing Maps. On Edge with an Android phone it takes you to Bing search. No maps.
As Microsoft abandons consumer services it seems to not even provide a way of getting to the Bing Maps website on mobile. Bing Maps does seem to sell services to enterprise customers. It seems the retail offering has given up the ground to Google like much else in the consumer space.
Historically readers of blogs or websites from outside the USA have looked a US based tech journalism and realised there was little global perspective. Personally I think this is a general problem in the USA.
One particular problem is Microsoft. Most of its products are either specifically locked in to the US market, have US only features, dribble out slowly internationally or require non-US users to select inappropriate regional settings to get things to work.
Cortana is a great example of a US centric AI that knows less and less when you leave the USA.
What would help would be stories tagged for readers. Tags could be.
USOnly - not globally available
Limited Globally - essentially only the US but some availability elsewhere
Key markets - available in most markets that Microsoft release to
Global - available everywhere
I suspect "global" will be the least used but tagging would help non-US readers.
I am regularly struck by the paucity of Microsoft in their communication. It almost requires a translation into English. They last year a blog telling us about their "partnership" with Spotify was really about closing down Groove.
What does this communication technique tell us about the focus on AI versus actual things that are happening.
Cortana, for example, is only really on the PC. For most users it's just a search box. In the USA Cortana has a wide range of features and there is even the Invoke speaker. For some countries, like the UK, there is a limited Cortana service and for most of the rest of the world it's not supported.
The end of Groove means Cortana can't even listen and identify music any more. So its less functional. Microsoft used to say that Gmail meant you had been "Scroogled" so has the consumer been "Grooved"?
If the big bet is on AI then why doesn't it work in most places? Why is it getting less functional or at best barely usable.
Microsoft is partnering with Amazon and their Alexa assistant. Alexa is globally available and attached to many consumer products provided by Amazon. It has had a year to perfect the smart speaker market and now has huge developer support in skills.
I don't think it's too far of a stretch to see Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 S eventually having Alexa as the default assistant with Cortana relegated to being a business AI powering Office 365. Amazon would get access to consumer desktop operating systems to sell music, tv, prime membership and the like. Microsoft could then concentrate on their core enterprise market.
AI might be a Microsoft priority but Cortana for consumer may be dead shortly.
I work in a Microsoft-centric Enterprise. The whole thing, server, services and cloud. This being Europe a couple of colleagues have old aging Windowsphones and will be moving to Android shortly because they can't buy a new flagship model.
It is a pretty well informed office too. Daily news circulations of the latest patches, updates to server, Office 365 and the like.
So in what the Americans call a "water cooler moment" I was mentioning the end of the Microsoft music service over Christmas. My own history is that I was a subscriber and waited for a family plan to include my wife and nephew but it never came. So I moved to Spotify a couple of years ago. Back to the office. The almost universal reaction was people were totally unaware Microsoft had a music service. You need to remember that Zune devices were "US Only" and Zune was barely mentioned globally. Xbox Music was only released as an app on Windows 8. So the Windows 7 enterprise never saw it.
One colleague did mention Microsoft's music service but added that he couldn't use it because it was for the Xbox and he had a PS4.
All my colleagues have Spotify subscriptions. Mainly because they buy a family plan so their kids are covered.
I didn't have to go far to find out why Groove closed.
I am in the UK and, like the rest of the world, Windowsphone was rarely promoted in retail and you struggled to buy one, I owned several models.
In Britain the Windowsphone market had reached 14%, just slightly behind the iPhone (19%), and the Lumia 1020 was released. The distinctive camera and colour meant people asked me about it. Two people in my office bought one based on the pictures I showed to them. Even salesmen in retail stores had heard of the Lumia 1020. I had the yellow model of course - just so it stood out.
I took the Lumia 1020 on holiday to San Francisco. In the UK there were no Microsoft Retail stores. So I stopped into browse the Windowsphones. There were a few low end devices in a small corner of the store with no promotion. As I was looking a sales guy approached me and I said I was expecting a couple of top class devices on display. He said they hadn't had anything like that for months and mostly it was like the sad group of budget phones in front of me. I did pull out out my Nokia Lumia 1020 to show him what I meant. He said he had heard about great phones in Europe but this was the US and they didn't get that stuff here.
So I had a cool Windowsphone for a while and, by accident, discovered why US market share was 3% at the time.
At the weekend I decided to buy a TV Series. I watched all but one on Netflix but I wanted to binge watch. I took out my (Android) smartphone and used the Google Play Store to buy a series. Later I used the phone to send the series to my TV via Chromecast.
After this I reflected. Three years ago I would have rented video using my Windowsphone and watched it via an Xbox.
Today I use Spotify for my music instead of Xbox Music, primarily because Spotify has a family plan.
My work is all in the Microsoft environment but as a consumer I have an Amazon Echo and my entertainment choices, except for gaming, have moved decisively outside the Microsoft ecosystem.
My wife has a Lumia 950 and pretty soon she will probably want to upgrade he phone. She will probably find it easier at that point to go Google. Going Google is a frictionless processs.
When Microsoft abandoned the first party smartphone market it also headed dramatically towards losing the ecosystem war. They have an app for everything but customers are being nudged towards Google and Apple solutions.
Ecosystems matter, For consumers it seems Microsoft doesn't have one.
Microsoft had a payment platform on Windowsphone 8.x which they announced in 2012. It required the carriers to provide a special secure SIM, that almost no one provided, and buy in from banks.
Fortunately the Nokia devices that were the centre of the Windowsphone eco-system all had NFC and were payment ready.
This was all called Wallet. Apple didn't even have NFC in their phones.
In Europe, which had "chip and pin" technology since 2003 and where Nokia devices were in double digit sales the retail stores were moving to "tap and pay" pretty quickly. The Olympics in London during 2012 were showcasing at least one British bank's technology by having NFC payments enabled.
Microsoft introduce "tap and pay" in 2016 in the US Only, only on Lumia 950 and 950XL phones, only on limited banks, following Google and Apple that had already launched globally.
Now they have cleverly renamed their "Microsoft Wallet" as "Microsoft Pay". You might think this could be a mobile payment technology launch globally perhaps. Although since Windowsphone is now dead that's probably not the case.
What it seems to be is a sort of Edge browser plugin that uses the recently established web api for making payments. Basically a desktop web helper to store your credit card numbers using a browser with a small share of the market.
I welcome it but Microsoft seem to spend an inordinate amount of time renaming things in a confusing way. Most people in the social media thought "at last mobile payments coming to WIndowsphone outside the USA.
No. Its something to store your credit card in Edge - just like that Windows 98 thing that stored your credit cards for IE but with an internet standard attached.
Most Windowsphone users have been realistic. They know that Microsoft has lost interest but whenever they put to Microsoft representatives the question of what they are doing about WIndowsphone they have got vague answers of little substance.
Microsoft say they will "support" Windowsphone when they out it into maintenance mode. They talk about mobile "experiences" across devices. They are never seen with a Windowsphone device.
Lack of clarity was frustrating for people.
However this weekend Joe Belfiore, recently quoted as using a Samsung S8 "Microsoft Edition", came out and said it in a tweet;
"Of course we'll continue to support the platform.. bug fixes, security updates, etc. But building new features/hw aren't the focus."
" As an individual end-user, I switched platforms for the app/hw diversity. We will support those users too! Choose what's best 4 u."
"We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest. "
Back in 2016 Terry Myerson said phone was not the focus. This was taken to mean in 2016 but it meant that was it.
Personally I think this is first straightforward answer we have seen.
However without mobile there seems little point in UWP and Cortana because these technologies are only relevant on a personal device like phone. UWP has limited use as a driver to the store but overall it is really PC only for most things. Cortana on PC is fine but where you really want it is on mobile. Mostly Android phones will use Google Assistant.
The investment in mobile, in my view, was never just about mobile but rather it was the place other technologies are going to live for a while. Mobile is the personal computer. AI and mixed reality are on mobile first.
So well done Joe. You have finally said what Microsoft should have said a year ago and are closing the door on consumer computing with the exception of the Xbox.
Microsoft got rid of Windowsphone to ride the next wave. To jump ahead of the competition. One such wave was AR with Hololens and Windows Mixed Reality.
However the competition, Apple and Google, are entering the wave without any real new hardware. Instead they are leveraging the device people already have – the mobile phone.
Both companies seem to think consumers will use AR via the mobile phone acting as the lens and the interface. Hololens could remain stubbornly tied to the enterprise and maybe gamers. That need not be a bad thing for profit. However it could be that Microsoft ends up being locked out of consumer applications for AR by not having a viable mobile platform.
Moreover if the world is going mobile as the primary personal computing device the pre-requisite for the “next big thing” could be a viable mobile platform.
Microsoft may not care if consumer devices for mobile are not made by them if they run enterprise cloud services. I am not sure if Microsoft can find the next big thing for consumers now they are out of mobile.
As a Windowsphone fan I still have my Lumia 950 in a drawer but my daily driver is currently a Galaxy S6. I would love to use the Lumia but it is now so app free that I would struggle to use it for what I need.
I still take it out, update it, and wish it was more useful. However I recognise a dead platform.
Microsoft doesn't. It is in constant tease mode. They say we are not finished with mobile yet. We haven't abandoned mobile. We want to provide mobile experiences.
It's double talk. If you want to buy a Lumia today then ebay is your best bet not Microsoft. They have killed the entire consumer ecosystem and as markets where they used to have more than 10% share have no stock of new product they are reducing. Users are moving and for all practical purposes a Microsoft mobile is an Android phone with apps.
Yet there is tease from Microsoft. Microsoft need to take their first party devices off death row and just kill them formally. Just announce Microsoft making first party devices is over. Just say the "feature2" branch will fix a new bug or two but the only "feature" will be to change the date in the copyright message.
Put the last consumers out of their misery. Stop them interpreting every time the word "mobile" is mentioned as some kind of hope. Help these people have closure. They deserve at least a good bye Windowsphone party.
Part of selling a product, any product, is trust in the product. At a most basic level that something will do what it says it will do.
On a wider scale brands are valued and charge a premium because of trust. Trust that a product or service will be supported and will continue over a period. Of course there is “end of life” when new products replace it and occasionally a product that just wont sell and makes no sense in continuing. Customers understand that. However the brand trust will get over that.
Suppose now Microsoft comes out with a SurfacePhone. Who now trusts Microsoft with first party mobile devices? They spent $7.2 billion dollars on a first party mobile brand and ditched it. They have rebooted their mobile operating system 3 times since 2010. They have changed their development strategy to UWP which no one uses. They have an app free mobile platform with little to think it changes.
You can even buy your Samsung Galaxy S8 from Microsoft Retail Stores.
If the SurfacePhone is launched at $500, $600 or more then what consumer doesn’t look at that price point and think about spending their money. How does a consumer trust that Microsoft is really interested in Windows on Mobile. So far the evidence is that Microsoft are totally dis-interested. They would like a successful mobile product but in the vast size of Microsoft businesses it's just another thing.
I really dont know the answer to this but it seems to me that Google Maps are the one to beat. It seems to have been like that for years.
So does anyone know why Microsoft's Bing Maps is so far behind the experience of Google Maps?
Earlier this month I changed banks to TSB in the UK. For a number of years it had a reasonable Windows 10 Mobile app which, although it was a wrapper for the website, actually worked pretty well when I tested it a few months ago.
The day I changed I discovered that TSB had dropped Windows 10 Mobile that very week and only Android/IOS was left.
Now Barclays, one of Britain's largest banks, is dropping Windows 10 Mobile support.
Pretty much the only banks left are RBS / NatWest. To be fair they seem to be actively supporting Windows 10 Mobile.
This was a marketin the UK that had 10% sales until the Nadella "memo of Windowsphone death". Now it's heading for the fractions of 1% like the US market. Completely unsustainable.
Cortana is a geographically challenged AI. She may help the Master Chief off-world but here on Earth she does weird stuff.
I am in the UK. This means Cortana is officially available on Windowsphone and PC. She is not officially available on Android. To use Cortana you need to grab the apk and sideload it.
If you do sideload the Cortana apk she is American. She recognises only the US regional settings, tells you about US sports and provides US headlines.
The reality of Cortana's geographical issues was brought home to me this week.I had ordered some items from the US and the US postal service was sending them to the UK. I was invited by the website to check them and I put the parcel number into Cortana. In the US Cortana apparently tracks parcels. Not in the UK. It sent me to the US Postal Service website. Disappointing I wouldn't be getting alerts on the Lumia 950.
I also was changing bank accounts. The bank wanted me to activate the account via a mobile app. To be fair there were alternatives but this would be the quickest. However no mobile app for Windowsphone. So I swapped my sim into the Android device and was good. Curiously Cortana alerted me to my parcel and said it was tracking it.
I quickly checked and realised that although Cortana didn't track parcels on my UK Windowsphone or my UK PC the sideloaded Cortana for Android, using the US region, was tracking it. The data had obviously been absorbed in my earlier search but was not working in the UK.
Really Microsoft! Cortana for Android is not global yet and just switch parcel tracking on because sometimes we do order stuff from the US!
Cortana, artificially more intelligent in some markets, needs to go global.
According to this recent article if your phone is not IOS or Android is part of a 0.3% market share.
This is not Windowsphone. This is Microsoft, Blackberry and everyone else who makes a phone that hasn't got Android or IOS on it. Theoretically Microsoft share of 0.3% could be 0.00001%.
Of course Windows 10 Mobile is just a compiler option on Windows 10 builds with some different libraries. Most serious writers about Microsoft have called time on it's mobile platform, Microsoft employees dont use it, Microsoft executives dont use it, most retailers dont stock it, many carriers can't remember ever selling it.
Microsoft execs never really talk about phone. They vaguely mutter something about "supporting Lumia" or "mobile devices" or "mobile experiences".
Full disclosure. I use a Lumia 950 everyday but I am resigned to an almost app free experience. There is some stuff there; a news feed, twitter, facebook and spotify. It's not great. People have spent money and are having a second class mobile experience by staying in the Microsoft ecosystem.
Microsoft need to put this thing down. It's wounded. There has been nothing released by them in a year. OEMs are thin on the ground and gaining a huge market share of Windows 10 Mobile wont add up to 1% of the mobile market.
Microsoft should treat it's customers like adults. No doublespeak. The mobile game is done. Kill the platform and move on.
One of the videos I think tells us a lot about change at Microsoft and their mobile strategy is this little digital life video;
Microsoft products are everywhere in this vision. Instant Messaging, phone, maps and location, music, directions etc etc.
The vision was not imaginary because these were working consumer facing products.
As you watch this old looking world you have sense that each product is now done by Apple and Google in an integrated ecosystem whereas Microsoft managed to evolve every item in the list to something that doesn't work as an ecosystem.
Microsoft clearly had a vision of mobile and ecosystems blending together and then made a total mess of all of them.
There is a lot of hype about Cortana in the Microsoft world, it's AI and capabilities.
I wonder how much Cortana is really used on the PC and whether the "Cortana search" is just people typing in the box as a convenience.
I am also in the UK and for many of us outside the USA Cortana features just dont exist. Cortana has never noticed an email from British Airways about my holidays. It hasn't got a clue about railway journeys in the UK, when Yodel or DPD are going to deliver a parcel, or even my local buses that it consistently gets wrong.
It also has problems about timing my trip to work because I dont have a car. Even if I did traffic conditions are an unknown quantity. There is much more but fundamentally it is not a lot of use.
Where these features are most useful are in mobile. Getting to the right place with map integration etc. However Windows 10 Mobile is not the most popular platform and in the Uk it suffers from mapping inaccuracy and poor knowledge of the locality. That's really strange because "Local Scout", the old Windowsphone "local" solution was pretty good.
Of course Cortana can't show me electronically stored tickets because it has no apps or knowledge of the local transit. That seems to be changing in the maps app but many times it's just wrong. When I am mobile it cant pop up flght delays because it can't process airline ticket stuff in Europe it seems. I have read up on this and apparently the email sent by the airline has to be in specific format. Well that's not going to happen soon because business jsut doesn't help like that. You have to develop some kind of AI recognition - a little like the skill Cortana is supposed to have.
if you have to use an Android phone for a while then Cortana disappears. Outside the USA Cortana is not even in the Play Store. You are forced to using Google Now which seems to work very well here in the UK. You can sideload Cortana manually here in Britain on your Android devicebut it only accepts US regional settings so it's less useful than the Windowsphone version.
Google just re-branded to the Google Assistant and with the non-existance of a Microsoft mobile device strategy the direction of travel is people using Google Now or Siri as their primary AI bot assistant.
Cortana had great potential when launched but all the other platforms have matured much faster than the Master Chief's AI. Microsoft are showing no real move to making Cortana's existing features to work well globally and keep adding US only features. It's a sure receipe for parochial AI. A sort of "Truman Show" AI that works great inside a limited bubble.