Technology

Microsoft’s new Windows phones: They’ll have to do for now


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Even Microsoft can’t decide whether Windows is relevant in the smartphone world.

Since Windows Phone launched in 2010, Microsoft has pinned its hopes on devices tied to the latest version of its Windows software. Just wait until Windows 7, the Redmond, Washington, software giant said years back with regards to its mobile ambitions. Windows 8 was the next supposed savior of Microsoft’s smartphones, followed by Windows 8.1.

Windows 8 proved frustrating, and Microsoft skipped right over Windows 9 altogether.

With Windows 10, however, a curious thing happened to Microsoft’s flagship mobile devices: They ended up an afterthought. During a New York event Tuesday, Microsoft’s new Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were overshadowed by the Surface Pro 4 tablet and the surprise Surface Book laptop.

The lower profile of the phones, which Microsoft introduced along with a grab bag of other product announcements, suggests the company isn’t pretending the Lumia 950 and 950 XL will make or break its mobile ambitions. Instead, Microsoft will take its time to create a device different enough — maybe that much-speculated Surface smartphone? — to break the spell Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices cast on consumers.

“The phones are better,” Patrick Moorhead, a consultant for Moor Insight & Strategy said of the Lumias. “But they’re not going to move the needle for consumers.”

No surprise there. Almost no one thinks of Windows Phones when buying a device. The operating system has less than 3 percent of the global smartphone market, according to IDC. By contrast, Android has nearly 83 percent and Apple’s iOS almost 14 percent of the market.

For its part, Microsoft believes the strong early adoption of Windows 10 — the company says it’s running on 110 million devices already — will drive interest in mobile. “Windows 10 has a lot of momentum,” Tulla Rytila, who runs devices marketing at Microsoft, said in an interview.

Just wait until the next flagship

In July, Microsoft put Panos Panay, the man responsible for the Surface tablet, in charge of its premium products, including the smartphone business. His appointment spurred a guessing game as when Microsoft might extend the Surface line to phones.

Panay subtly fanned that speculation at the New York event when he distanced himself from the new Lumias, saying he admired the team that created the devices but hadn’t been part of it for long.

Rytila declined to comment on the prospect of a Surface smartphone.

Not the killer app

One of the most impressive aspects of the new Lumias is their ability to work in Microsoft’s most familiar environment: the desktop.

Using phones as the brains of a computer isn’t new. Motorola attempted to do the same with its Android-powered Atrix smartphone four years ago, but it was a slow and disappointing experience.

Microsoft appears to have gotten this right, and some enthusiasts at the New York event oohed and ahhed over the function. But it’s unclear whether consumers, who have invested in their apps and music collections stored on their iPhones and Android devices, will be interested enough to give the phones a second look.

“While we were impressed with the Lumia 950’s ability to turn into a PC, we have a very difficult time envisaging this becoming a killer app,” said Cowen & Co. analyst Gregg Moskowitz.

Microsoft is trying to address the weakness of the apps available for its phones. It says it’s getting more support from developers thanks to universal apps, programs written for the PC that also work on its smartphones.

Still, analysts caution it will take time for Microsoft to build a decent mobile app store. Perhaps as much time as it will take to build a Surface smartphone.

Techdomes2015

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