Microsoft said Wednesday that its Windows Phone business is essentially dead. The firm is taking a nearly $1 billion loss and cutting about 1,850 jobs, most in Finland, between now and next summer. It’s a sad day for fans of the Windows Phone (now called Windows 10 for phones) platform, but the writing was on the wall. Microsoft should just use Android.
Microsoft’s mobile operating system market share was below 1 percent, and, if you’ve been following along, the company recently sold off its feature phone business. Even Microsoft seemed to be spending more time developing for other platforms. Its iOS and Android apps, often, were better than counterparts on Windows Phone. Microsoft’s executive vice president of Windows and Devices, Terry Myerson, in a letter to staff, said Microsoft will continue to “develop great new devices,” but admitted that it’s being “pragmatic and [embracing] other mobile platforms with [Microsoft’s] productivity services, device management services, and development tools – regardless of a person’s phone choice.” In other words, it’s still going to work to build great iOS and Android apps.
That hardware point is confusing, though. I can’t for the life of me imagine why Microsoft wants to spend any time building “great new devices.” I can only assume this means Microsoft might be working on a Surface Phone, perhaps for enterprise customers who want Continuum, but I highly doubt such a product will appeal to consumers. Microsoft had a great idea with Continuum, offering an option to run apps in a desktop-like state, but they were slow and sluggish. The execution was terrible. The app selection was slim. Unless Microsoft can pack an x86 processor into a smartphone – and that probably won’t happen now that Intel is also moving its efforts away from the mobile chip business – then the Surface Phone is also going to be a dud.
Since the very dawn of Windows Phone, Microsoft has struggled with market share, mind share and apps. Even with Windows 10, its “universal” app platform, the company couldn’t get enough developers to launch new applications. Facebook, for example, just launched the full version of Instagram for Windows Phone, an app that has been in beta since November 2013. Myerson says Microsoft is “scaling back, but we’re not out!” though it’s hard to imagine how the company isn’t completely out. A firm just doesn’t write off a $1 billion loss and lay off its mobile staff unless it’s really hitting the highway. Unless it looks to a different path. A road that’s already paved.
Android has the app foundation Microsoft so desperately needs. And Microsoft already creates excellent applications for the platform. It should use Google Play Services, but it could also take another route, launching a separate app store and individual locations for music and movies, just like Amazon has done. Microsoft could even call it Windows – Amazon’s Android operating system is called Fire OS after all, and build it out to look like what the company imagined with Windows Phone. The only difference is that consumers who buy these Android phones would also have access to a full array of applications. If I was Microsoft, though, I’d bite the bullet and license Google Play Services.
Microsoft tried valiantly, and I truly liked a lot of the options Windows Phone and, ultimately, Windows 10 for phones, had to offer. Onward and upward, Microsoft. Call your buddies in Mountain View.