Microsoft Mobile, is the time nigh?

Posted on October 29, 2015

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Despite continued delays in the roll-out of Window 10 Mobile to existing Windows Mobile devices and Windows Mobile users being treated like second class Microsoft citizens when it comes to apps, Microsoft may be at last onto a winner with the help of their new Window 10 single platform strategy. Well some would say about time too! If market share and value return came from pure tenacity then Microsoft would be ruling the Mobile world having been at it for over 25 years, twice as long as any other significant player in the market.

Microsoft started their journey in 1990, yes you read that right, 25 years ago, quarter of a century! Google was not founded for another 8 years in September 1998 and did not really hit its stride till its IPO (Initial Public Offering) 6 years later in 2004. As for Android well that malware package was not released on the world till 2007 some 2 years after Google bought Android Inc. (the original creator of Android). By the end of 2014 Android had an installed base of 1.6 billion units, equating to an estimated 75% (down from an 81.2% shipping statistic in 2013) of the total number of smartphones worldwide. During the same period Apple gave birth to the iPhone and iOS was to take the best part of the remaining 25% of the market. Windows Mobile relegated to the lower single digit also ran’s, never achieving a greater traction than a sub 3% global market share. Although in a few niche markets it outperforms iPhone. Small conciliation for quarter of a centuries effort!

To complete the picture, it would be amiss not to mention the existence, during this same 25-year period, of the sub-plot comprising the Canadian born tech lovie ‘Research in Motion’ aka RIM and latterly ‘Blackberry’. Blackberry’s meteoric rise peaking in 2012 with 80 million users and similar supernova of a short lived existence before its collapse into a shadow of its former glory.

On the face of it the story so far implies a similar class of market offerings, when in fact the realities are somewhat very different:

  • Google – It was all about the Data. Google provides the FREE Android mobile OS (Operating System), Open Source constraints and other proprietary interface and design IP aside, which made this the OS of choice for hardware OEM’s (Original equipment manufacturers) who could save important margin on licence costs. For Google it was a loss leader to get as many users as possible using THEIR OS so they can hoover up as much data as they can on users through device telemetry, user behavioural monitoring and application usage to feed into their veracious advertising engine.
  • Apple – It is all about the hardware iPhone was the original play here until they stumbled on the App store and built the fastest growing mobile application ecosystem.
  • Blackberry – This was ever an enterprise class play with their focus on secure messaging subscription, with its own server eco-system. Although in one interesting market, the UK, establish a disproportionate adoption rate in the sub-25 age group to anywhere else in the world. Just shows how users can unpredictably flock to functionality, in this case it was due to their messaging system.
  • Microsoft – It was all about the software, BUT the licensing costs and the lack of application support kept it niche and premium. No fancy hardware, no unique functionality and despite a hugely loyal wider Windows developer ecosystem NO apps. So very little to compel users from the new and shiny of the other palyers in this space.

The convergence of the mobile business model around Apps and App stores has levelled the playing field somewhat and brought all players into the same chase for users. Yes, you guessed it, Microsoft sitting in last place, by a royal mile as we enter a true age of Cognative Machine Learning. If you think Siri and Cortana are advanced, Gartners leader in this field, even ahead of IBM’s Watson or ‘Google Brain’ is called ‘Amelia‘ by IPSoft. I can confirm first hand that Amelia is truely something to witness.

With the emergence of these Cognative systems something interesting could be happening with the Apps model. There are early signs that apps are starting to show their limitations when it comes to next generation AI (Artifical Intelligence) interfaces. With HTML v5 maturing and wide adoption, the more stable and pervasive high speed mobile data networks and the birth of the digital mobile assistant, there is a prospective new event horizon for mobile in the not too distant future.

The machine human relationship is in its infancy, we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible for digital personal assistants, advisors and sadly maybe in some cases, true companions. But it represents the future and we are on an inevitable collision course between the Jobs age of prodding our devices to having real intelligent conversations. Current and evolving modelling techinuees would indicate the sky is the limit in this rapidly growing field.

I am not suggesting the end of mobile apps by any means, but a shift in the balance of power when it comes to our interaction and consumption of information on our mobiles. Neilsen make it clear in their research that mobile and apps continue to be the growing consumption medium of choice. Mobile platforms are often ‘The First Screen of Choice’ and offer API’s (Application Programming Interfaces) that empower Apps to expose their data and share insights, and there will continue to be added value functionality that can only be delivered through an App.

So if it is not a mirage, the future over this new event horizon is suggesting a new world of mobile data consumption. A demotion of the ‘Walled Garden’ nature of proprietary information based Apps in favour of the open HTMLv5 based interfaces that exposes data feeds and resources to a new model of data digestion and information presentation in the form of the mobile digital assistant.

These digital assistants go by the names of:

  • Siri – Apple iOS.
  • Cortana – Microsoft Windows 10 and Windows 10 mobile. With sisters of the same name available in app form for the iOS and Android platforms, somewhat lobotomised by the constraints of these third party platforms rendering these iterations a shadow of their Windows Mobile cousin.
  • Google Now – A somewhat asexual nomenclature in typical Google style.

The thesis being that instead of the current experience of mobile app data digestion and information presentation and collaboration:

  1. Sifting through pages of Apps to find the one you want
  2. Open up the App
  3. Stutter with quivering finger as you remind yourself how to use that Apps particular interface
  4. Dodge unwanted adverts.
  5. Engage interface and find information you want.
  6. Consume the information
  7. or
  8. Attempt to collaborate with the data/information only to find that you cannot break out of that App in a consistent way
  9. Close app.
  10. Fire up a desktop and do proper collaboration.

The new world is being heralded as:

  1. Engage Siri, Cortana or Google Now using whatever trigger phrase is current such as ‘Hey Cortana’ or ‘Hey Siri’.
  2. As a question. (Your Personal Assistant will have already indexed your data and that of your chosen sources)
  3. Get information.
  4. Give instruction to share data.

The former is a two handed experience often accompanied by a somewhat frozen facial expression and hunched shoulder pose which will have any Chiropractor rubbing their hands. The latter a single handed telephone pose or even hands free Bluetooth or other headset mode of engagement.

This is all possible as data becomes more available in a consistent and compliant HTMLv5 format for digestion / search and retrieval by said digital assistants. A necessity for this panacea being a deprecation of the Apps data ‘Walled Gardens’. Reflecting on the current rate of investment in AI (Artificial Intelligence) driving theses digital assistants, in the $Billions, we can expect this to happen at the usual Internet speed of evolution.

So coming full circle back to Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile OS and its Cortana digital assistant. Microsoft is covering both bases:

  • Digital Assistant – Cortana
  • Apps – A new OS that allows code to be written once for both its desktop OS and Mobile OS.

The final feather in Microsoft cap is the Surface Device family and the prospect of a Surface Mobile phone. Being seen as the fastest growing tablet form and OS factor in the next 12 months to start eating into Apples iPad dominance. Apples iPad pro’s reception has been luke warm due to its constraints locked to the iOS, offering none of the flexibility of its desktop cousin OSX. Microsoft on the other hand have all bases covered with Windows 10, to the point that your Windows Mobile Phone can be plugged into a small cigarette box sized docking port and be turned into a full blown desktop experience.

After 25 years Microsoft are now look like they are cooking with gas, and whilst the other runners are by no means simply rubbing sticks together, they could see someone taking a lion’s share of their lunch.

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Posted in: Microsoft, Mobile