Future Of Windows On Phones Looking Dire but Microsoft Doesn’t Give Up Entirely
At one time the Windows Phone seemed like a promising smartphone worth keeping an eye out for, while it was developing its app ecosystem, as a potential competitor to Android and iOS. It had interesting integrations with Microsoft’s Office software suites among many other benefits. However, time has not been kind on Microsoft’s ambitions for the handset.
Microsoft officially ended support for Windows Phone 8 in 2017, and Windows Mobile 10 was the successor to that ill-fated effort to bring Windows to small form factors. It ran on devices with screen sizes below 7” or what most phones, phablets and mini tablets come with. Its support also has officially ended late 2019.
You may ask, what does ending support officially actually mean? No, your phone will not blow up with a kill switch all of a sudden or stop working. It merely means that Microsoft ended support via security updates and new software (including firmware updates) offerings past Dec. 10, 2019.
On Microsoft’s Windows support page, Microsoft released a FAQ (frequently asked questions) with answers related to this question and what users should expect. Here is the summary what it means for users right now:
As of December 10, 2019, Windows 10 Mobile users are no longer eligible to receive new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free assisted support options, or online technical content updates from Microsoft for free. Third parties or paid support programs may provide ongoing support, but it is important to recognize that Microsoft support will not publicly provide updates or patches for Windows 10 Mobile.
Apps, themselves may currently still be supported as they are independent of the OS Lifecycle policy. Only a Windows Phone user would know; and not too many of them ever existed compared to other smartphone owners especially now that official OS support is gone.
If you are still inclined to hand onto your Lumia 640, however, do not panic. It will still work with more unofficial methods or support going forward.
The Lumia lineup was acquired by Microsoft from Nokia as part of Microsoft’s push into handsets. The 2013 acquisition was huge with a staggering sum of money involved. According to a 2013 Microsoft’s press release, the acquisition involved EUR 3.79 billion changing hands.
In just a couple of years after the acquisition, Microsoft had to write off $7.6 billion and admitted it was a failure, according to a 2015 Computerworld report. It was an acquisition that was heavily pushed by former CEO Steve Ballmer and its objectors included names such as Satya Nadella, who succeeded Balmer as the current Microsoft CEO.
With this end of the line coming for Microsoft’s plans for Windows on small form factors, Microsoft even encourages its users to switch to rival phone makers or operating systems.
“With the Windows 10 Mobile OS end of support, we recommend that customers move to a supported Android or iOS device,” reads one answer on Microsoft’s FAQ support page.
It is also worth noting from the FAQ that Microsoft mentions device backups will also fade away and it will happen within a few months time after support ends.
“After the end of support, automatic or manual creation of new device backups for settings and some applications will continue for 3 months, ending March 10, 2020. Some services including photo uploads and restoring a device from an existing device backup may continue to work for up to another 12 months from end of support.”
Keep in mind that although Microsoft has pretty much now conceded defeat in trying to bring Windows to handsets or devices with screen sizes below 7”, the Surface tablet lineup is still kicking. The tablets currently run Windows 10 S mode by default with potential upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.
Windows 10 S is a mode where users are restricted to installing apps officially support by Microsoft by relying on the Microsoft Store. You can see which operating system the various models of Surface tablets support or can be upgraded to directly from Microsoft’s website.
Following the acquisition of Nokia’s devices and services division, Nokia continued to exist focusing on other technologies such as telecommunications infrastructure and the Internet of Things (IoT). You can read more about Nokia’s current ambitions on its ‘vision’ webpage. Topics such as machine learning, 5G networks and the Internet of Things (IoT) are mentioned.
However, the company also returned to form in a way through an intermediatery that actually purchased the rights to the Nokia mobile brand from Microsoft. A 2016 Guardian report mentions this fact and Microsoft selling the brand to a company called HMD, which was actually ran by Nokia employees in Finland.
Digging further into this story, I found the HMD Global website. It proudly displays, “Hi. We’re HMD. The home of Nokia Phones” with a “We are pleased to meet you” on its homepage, which I found welcoming enough for Nokia fans.
The company’s website’s home page, however may not be up entirely to date as it mentions its 2017 plans of entering the smartphone market with Nokia phones running Android. Despite this old news, it also shows support for Nokia 8.1, which is an active phone on the market right now.
With all these acquisitions and mobile businesses changing hands interchangeably it is easy to get confused. To compound this further, Nokia’s main website makes it look like the company may be running a phone division of sorts with a product page showing the Nokia 7 Plus.
You can check out the support page here. Upon close inspection, it appears that Nokia is simply pushing the HMD phones branded under the Nokia banner on its site. Yoube the judge. The latest version of Android is listed below on the page, although not specifying if the phones come with it or not. Thus, it is possible software-wise the phones are up to date.
Android Authority wrote an analysis of the HMD-ran Nokia business since its acquisition from Microsoft and says that in many ways it stayed true to Nokia’s former vision and in others it has made some mistakes.
For many phone users, this latest move ending support for Microsoft’s mobile OS does not come as a surprise and many saw this move coming. The list of supported devices that can run Windows 10 mobile can be found here and it mostly includes different models of the Lumia lineup of phones. However, do not count out the big Redmond-based gorilla out just yet.
A Surface-branded phone-tablet hybrid called Duo is close to release and Microsoft will be making a comeback in the recent future to its handset plans. The question is what Microsoft needs to do to make it successful with previously-failed plans and such a strong market hold both Apple and Google have on the market with their iOS and Android ecosystems. A step in the right direction is the branding of Surface rather than trying to steal Nokia’s thunder and run on that brand image.
It is good Microsoft is confident in its own hardware now and has seen success with the Surface to not have to rely on other manufacturers to make it succeed. It is a lesson the company can use if it ever launched another purely mobile OS. Maybe following the Duo, Microsoft will once attempt at making a Windows-based phone or a smaller device offer more Windows capabilities than Android and iOS offer via apps on the current mobile market.
[Edit] It appears the Duo will be much more of a phone than a tablet. Although the fact remains that it will not run Windows at all, but an Android OS with benefits of what the surface offers albeit in a smaller form factor. The fact it will be able to take calls should by definition brand it as a phone and not just a tablet.