While some people are focused on Microsoft’s mobile ambitions with Windows 10 hardware, the real prize lies elsewhere. Microsoft is in a far better position to capture the cloud crown than fight for a foothold in the mobile OS market share charts.
Responding to questions at Microsoft’s recent shareholder meeting, CEO Satya Nadella stressed that the focus for Windows 10 Mobile will be on the points where it can stand apart from the crowd such as security and the capability of Continuum to allow the phone to act as a ‘base’ computer with external keyboards, mice, and monitors.
The question asked specifically about Windows 10 on mobile, and the answer focused on Microsoft’s hardware-based solutions. If Microsoft was to consider that mobile is just about hardware and producing a standalone ‘killer smartphone’ on its own, it would lose. That’s a strategy to fight the last technology war – one in which Microsoft did create a stunning mobile operating system coupled with hardware across a wide portfolio. We all know how that turned out.
Nadella’s focus is on the next war – once where there is no differentiation between using a mobile device, a desk-bound computer and everything in-between. All of these devices require connective digital tissue to create a seamless user experience. That tissue is the cloud, and that’s the war that Microsoft is focused on, not phones.
Just as Microsoft had dominance with Windows on PCs, Google has dominance with Android on mobile devices. Microsoft’s goal is not to somehow replace Android in the marketplace, but to sit on top of the Android software stack and find value there.
It’s the same strategy that many cloud-based providers are looking to implement – including Google’s own play with individual Google accounts that can sit on top of the Android OS. Get a user into your cloud and they will potentially stay with that cloud even if they change devices. How many Google users carry iPhones but still work with Gmail. Google Maps, Google Calendar and Google Music? Although the traffic in the other direction is smaller, iCloud users can work with their calendars and mail on Android, alongside services such as Apple Music.
This is where Nadella is taking Microsoft, and rightly so. This is why the mobile version of Outlook is available for Android and iOS as well as on Window 10 mobile. This is why Office 365 has clients for all the major computing platforms, both mobile and on the desk. This is why OneNote can allow you to take notes on any device and read them on any other device.
It’s an area where Microsoft has a strong skill set, has an attractive offering, and has a clear path towards sustainability and ongoing relevancy with the digital ecosystem.
Microsoft will return to the mobile hardware game during 2017 – there is far too much momentum building up around the Surface Phone that its non-appearance would be a bigger story than the moment it is revealed. When that reveal does happen there is going to be a lot of focus on Microsoft’s renewed ambitions both in hardware (with the actual device) and the use of Windows 10 as a smartphone operating system.
Just remember that the real value in the mobile space is a little bit higher up the software stack. It’s not who has mastered the hardware or the OS markets, it’s about who has the strongest cloud, who has the confidence of the users, who can make a seamless environment so everyone can live in a connected world.
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