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Windows 10: Microsoft lays its smartphone ambitions to rest

Preston Gralla | Aug. 20, 2015
The company wants us to believe that Universal apps — usable on all Windows 10 devices — will save the day for Windows Phone. It’s already clear that won’t be happening.

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If there were ever any doubt that Windows Phone is dead, the release of Windows 10 should put them to rest. Microsoft may continue to manufacture smartphones for years, but the devices will always remain barely even also-rans, racking up user share in the low single digits as far as the eye can see.

What does the release of Windows 10 for desktops, laptops and tablets have to do with the end of Windows Phone? Plenty, and not in a place you would expect to look. It’s in the small selection of built-in apps for the operating system.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is creating an architecture in which Windows’ look and feel spans devices. Whether you’re using a desktop, tablet or phone, you’ll see a very similar operating system. That architecture is more than skin deep. What Microsoft calls Universal Windows apps will run on all Windows 10 devices, whether they be desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones.

Microsoft is betting that those Universal apps will be what saves Windows Phone. Apps sell phones, and one of Windows Phone’s major drawbacks has been that the operating system has far fewer useful apps than iOS and Android. With Windows 10, Universal Windows apps written for traditional computers will also run on phones. And Microsoft believes those Universal Windows apps will draw users to Windows Phone in droves.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made that explicit when he told ZDNet, “The reason why anybody would want to write universal apps is not because of our three percent share in phones. It's because a billion consumers are going to have a Start Menu, which is going to have your app. … If anything, the free upgrade for Windows 10 is meant to improve our phone position. That is the reason why I made that decision. If somebody wants to know whether I'm committed to Windows Phone, they should think about what I just did with the free upgrade to Window.”

Here’s the problem, though: The Windows apps built into Windows 10 are far from spectacular. And other Windows apps you can download from the Windows Store won’t get anyone to switch from iOS or Android to the Windows 10 version of Windows Phone.

Only a handful of Windows apps ship with Windows 10. There’s a useful calendar, a well-done mail app, nice sports, news, and food and drink apps, and a few more as well. They’re all pleasant enough. They’re all useful enough. But I won’t be using any of them on Windows 10, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The mail app isn’t as good as Gmail, especially Google Inbox. I don’t need apps to find news, sports and recipes — I’ve got the Web for that. Google Calendar serves me well, so I don’t need a new calendar. These apps certainly aren’t anything that would make me, or almost anyone else, want to give up an iPhone or Android phone just so I can run them.

 

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