Yes, it’s the end of the road for Windows 10 Mobile, but is there a (rural) Road Ahead?

Kip Kniskern

HP Elite x3 prototype MWC 2017

Our former colleague Zac Bowden has taken the time over at Windows Central to read the handwriting on the wall: Microsoft’s “feature_2” branch of Windows 10 Mobile is indeed a dead end. According to Zac and his sources, Microsoft has stopped development for Windows 10 Mobile, effectively freezing current phones at Redstone 2. The report indicates that there will be some “backporting” of Redstone 3 and 4 features to W10M, giving the beleaguered OS “an extra push of life through the next year or so.”

For those of us following Microsoft closely over its history, this is no surprise. Microsoft’s vague assurances that Windows 10 Mobile is not dead are meant to appease HP and Alcatel, partners who were dumb ambitious enough to release devices running Windows 10 Mobile, devices they’re still trying valiantly to sell. Microsoft can’t hang them out to dry just yet, but that doesn’t change their plans any. Windows 10 Mobile as we know it is dead, and devices running the OS won’t be carried forward to what comes next for Microsoft’s mobile ambitions.

As Zac points out, the end of Windows 10 Mobile doesn’t mean the end of mobile devices running Windows. He points to work on “something internally referred to as Andromeda OS … modular enough to run on any form factor.” With a single OS running on ARM and Intel and everything in between, the need for a separate mobile SKU becomes redundant.

If Microsoft is to succeed in gaining ground in mobile, they’re going to have to have a bigger play than just Windows on ARM and a new Surface Phone device or devices, and we keep looking to another mobile development that may or may not change the mobile landscape, perhaps in a bigger way than smartphones ever did.

Microsoft has been toying with TV white spaces for better, cheaper, and longer range Wi-Fi for years now, first in limited trials both here in the US and in India, and coming soon to a wide swath of rural America.

But if this white spaces technology works for rural American Wi-Fi, why wouldn’t it work more broadly? A post in Wired thinks it will, for more than just rural America, and for far more than just mobile:

Here’s what’s really going on: Microsoft is aiming to be the soup-to-nuts provider of Internet of Things devices, software, and consulting services to zillions of local and national governments around the world. Need to use energy more efficiently, manage your traffic lights, target preventative maintenance, and optimize your public transport—but you’re a local government with limited resources and competence? Call Microsoft.

(btw, read the whole Wired article for some interesting insights on where Microsoft may well be heading)

Microsoft can’t accomplish these goals with carrier-controlled wireless spectrums – the connected world would be far to expensive if the carriers have their say. So Microsoft is easing the FCC and others into this concept of “cheap rural Wi-Fi = good,” while building an OS and an unlicensed spectrum of transport to connect, as Satya has been saying for years, the next generation of mobile devices.

In its latest earnings statement, Microsoft stopped using its “mobile-first, cloud-first” mantra to something more all-encompassing and presciently forward looking: “best-in-class platforms and productivity services for an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge infused with artificial intelligence (“AI”).”

Don’t get caught up in the “Windows Phone is dead” decoy, Microsoft’s ambitions aren’t about phones. They’re about what’s beyond phones and that’s right around the corner. With a new Andromeda OS, a buried legacy of Windows Phones, and concentrations on the cloud, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and unlicensed wireless spectrums, Microsoft is well on their way to making a huge play for the future of computing.