back to article The Windows Phone story: From hope to dusty abandonware

We stroll down Memory Lane and ask: was this The Ultimate Curse of Fry? Spring cleaning the other day, my wife found a Windows wristband. It was in a box where ten year old 4MB MMC cards went to die, along with paperclips, odd screws and a lot of dust. Keep or chuck? Chuck, I said, before looking closer, and realising that it …

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  1. Erik4872

    I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

    Intel isn't making low-end mobile chips anymore, handset manufacturers aren't interested in making phones, Microsoft is killing or selling off their own capacity to make new phones, _and_ no one is writing Windows Store apps to the extent they write Android or iOS apps.

    I'd love to see them just drop the whole thing all at once, say "oops" and get back to focusing on Azure and Surface and software. But that won't happen -- they're just going to slowly let it bleed to death. At least HP had the guts to just shoot webOS in the head and get it over with...not the greatest decision IMO, but it was decisive.

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

      Intel aren't making low end chips because ARM do a much better job. They are mature and feature in just about every device going. Look inside switches, routers, phones, media devices, cars, GPS devices etc All ARM stuff. For once, intel had no answer, they are great at the lumbering powerhouses or even moderately low consumption devices but ARM has being doing it longer and can do it better and cheaper (plus with a lower consumption)

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

        > Intel aren't making low end chips because ARM do a much better job

        This is how a formerly great company goes tits-up. They keep conceding the "low ground" until there isn't any more high ground. This is how "oh we're the mainframe people" IBM is now struggling to survive. This is how GM became the biggest bankruptcy ever.

        1. BongoJoe

          Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

          This is how a formerly great company goes tits-up. They keep conceding the "low ground" until there isn't any more high ground.

          Ah yes, the British motorbike industry. That didn't fare too well neither, did it?

        2. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

          Well said, Gene Cash. That's exactly how it always plays out.

      2. P0l0nium

        Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

        FYI ... It is perfectly possible to make a power-competitive X86 smartphone and it has been for the past 2 generations.

        http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/mobile-phones/52109/motorola-razr-i-review

        http://www.anandtech.com/show/9251/the-asus-zenfone-2-review

        And the SAME X86 CORES at the SAME POWER LEVELS offer superior performance per watt over the ARM cores in servers - even before the advent of Intel's 14nm server chips.

        http://www.anandtech.com/show/8357/exploring-the-low-end-and-micro-server-platforms/17

        Intel's problem is not the architecture ... its the management.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

          Mobiles seem to be out of Intel's comfort zone, as does ARM for MS. Both Intel and MS have returned to x86 desktops and servers. The world outside that is too scary.

          Now there's speculation that MS will try again in a year or two with some kind of ARM Surface Phone outsourced to Foxconn and praying that the device sells on the back of the relative success of the Surface laptops. That'll make about two decades of failure in the mobile space with the success of Surface Phone to be decided, not guaranteed because of the way MS has screwed up with Windows Mobile/Phone, Lumia, and Surface (RT versions, battery life, wifi, sleep).

          1. energystar
            Holmes

            Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

            "The world outside that is too scary."

            This is childish argumentation Dan 55. This is the people bring the micro to the masses.

            Besides the coming late to the party, should be vectors favoring the actual Status Quo. Not discarding Shareholders' misguided pressures.

            "and [is?] was known for... as well as a struggle with Microsoft for control over the direction of the PC industry." Wikipedia.

            Wonder if a new struggle is in the horizon. As the reason of this HIGHLY UNUSUAL asynchrony.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

            "with the success of Surface Phone to be decided,"

            Consumers will be even less tolerant of crashy surface phones than they're proving to be of crashy $3000 surface pros.

            I don't think Surface will survive long enough for phones to appear.

        2. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

          >Intel's problem is not the architecture ... its the management.

          Or perhaps the profit margins.

          ARM gets by on very little. If Intel start producing low power, low cost x86, will it eat into the Windows laptop market, but at very low margins? Would it be hard to justify other products?

          The danger is in whether ARM will be able to move up and eat that market anyway. Or will everything go Cloud/VDI, so that ARM doesn't need to move that far up market for Intel to lose that segment?

          My guess is that Intel want to hold off that day for as many years as possible.

          1. HmmmYes Silver badge

            Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

            Its both - the margin and the management.

            Intel needs good chunk of $300 profit/chip to afford its fabs.

            A highend ARM SOC costs ~$60

            Intel management are so indoctrinated they cannot grasp that Intel are terrible at designing chips.

            Intel survive as they can keep chucking money at a design until it works.

    2. itzman

      Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

      Intel aren't making low end chips because there is impossibly no way a CISC based chip can get away with the number of transistors an ARM RISC does,.

      Intel would have to abandon its whole instruction set..and what would be the point?

      1. P0l0nium

        Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

        FYI ... X86 has been "RISC" since the "Ppro" in 1999

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduced_instruction_set_computing

        "While early RISC designs differed significantly from contemporary CISC designs, by 2000 the highest performing CPUs in the RISC line were almost indistinguishable from the highest performing CPUs in the CISC line"

        So your logic disappears in a puff of smoke, no ?? But that doesn't stop you posting nonsense on here, does it ??

        1. oldcoder

          Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

          It isn't nonsense when you remember that the CISC overhead is in translating that x86 instruction set into the RISC instruction stream... That takes a good bit of power, processing, and chip space.

        2. HCV

          Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

          "FYI ... X86 has been "RISC" since the "Ppro" in 1999"

          Why? Because, you quote at us...

          "the highest performing CPUs in the RISC line were almost indistinguishable from the highest performing CPUs in the CISC line"

          That has nothing to do with x86 being "RISC". That has to do with *high-end* chips being possible in either RISC or CISC implementations.

          In the *low* end -- which is what the OP was talking about -- the difference between RISC and CISC is that if you're not lugging around a large instruction set, you can implement a reasonably powerful core (or lots of cores) with a *lot* fewer transistors, meaning significantly smaller size, and much lower power.

          What would be a proof point for this? I would look for a "CISC"-bound company getting out of the low-end chip business. Oh, look at that.

      2. oldcoder

        Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

        The Intel processors already have a high speed, low power RISC processor... The problem is that the x86 translation has had to be layered on top...

        And that extra layering is expensive in power, processing, and chip space. Leaving out that layering would improve things between 15 to 25%. But that would also eliminate Microsoft software that is trapped with the x86 architecture...

        ARM is already without that overhead... and is gaining the high speed.

      3. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: I wonder when Microsoft is finally going to pull the plug.

        That's absolutely not correct anymore. The Intel instruction set is an abomination, but it gets translated into micro operations, and at this point in time (2016) the number of transistors for that translation is small compared to the size of a chip. This also gives Intel speed advantages like combining operations, sometimes not performing operations at all (pushing a value onto the stack doesn't actually adjust the stack pointer but just keeps a note in the instruction decoder).

        After decoding, there is very little difference between an ARM processor and an Intel processor.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

    1) Lack of apps. In hindsight (I know) you could have taken one hundredth of the £1billion *extra* reported here, and paid developers to create a decent enough app ecosystem to act as kindling to spark the interest of the masses

    2) How on earth did Microsoft - who are famous for crippling new operating systems in the name of compatibility (cf.IBM - can you still run VM/360 code on a iSeries ?) end up junking WinCE for WP6 for WP6.5, then WP6.5 for WP7 then WP7 for WP7.5 then WP7.5 for WP7.8 (yes, I have had phones with every variant since WinCE). With every churn you couldn't run previous apps, so developers (rightly) lost interest (and presumably money).

    There are some upsides, in a parochial vein. Our IT department which is running a "Microsoft only" shop, and refused to supply non-Windows phones as a result is now up shit creek. Especially since a lot of the senior directors (who wanted iPhones) were batted away with "you can only have Microsoft because of security" have long memories (well, they do when it comes to not getting their own way).

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

      I understand the radical redesign of Windows Phone couldn't have let Windows Mobile compatibility happen. Windows Mobile tried to put the desktop UI on a phone, and it was a mistake (just like Windows 8 attempt to put a mobile/tablet UI on a desktop/server).

      Windows Phone 7 was unluckily a son of the "everything must be .NET or Silverlight" stance of MS back then. Again, an issue of departments at MS unable to understand there's the right tool for every task, and trying always to use an hammer everywhere is just stupid. WP8 smooth experience was also due to native code applications being smaller, faster and less memory hungry. They are making the same mistake all over again now trying to make the same app work everywhere with an "adaptable" UI and a new framework again.

      It looks MS is still stuck when it had a single OS product, and that was good for everybody. Just, it was 1990 and there were just one form factor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

        At least try to make different products have different names. Microsoft seems to intentionally piss people off by calling things the same.

        "This is Windows Phone. Does that mean I can run Windows apps? Err, no."

        "Ah, but this tablet runs Windows RT. Surely I can run Windows apps on that? No. Bugger."

        "Never mind, my office needs Active Directory. I'll just fire up Azure Active Directory in the cloud. What do you mean, Azure Active Directory is nothing like Active Directory?"

        So when something comes along called "Windows Foo", the savvy technical user knows that this is probably something completely unrelated to Windows, and may well be end-of-life in a year. The less-savvy consumer may be burned once, but is never going to touch a Microsoft product again.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

      (cf.IBM - can you still run VM/360 code on a iSeries ?)

      ... Well no, but you can on a modern zSeries.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

      For me it was 2 other keys issues: price and Microsoft's long record of abandonment.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Windows

      @ac

      Finally someone who got it... So much that. Apps and features. Mostly decent apps.

      The author mentions stuff such as: "Play to DLNA was included on those launch devices, but there was no clipboard. Businesses wouldn’t get VPN or S/MIME support until three years later." but really, who cared about that? Those launch devices couldn't even decently store appointments, and todo lists were non existent. Synchronizing with Outlook? Difficult.

      Then after the first update we finally got the option to better synchronize data, everything except todo lists. That has never worked on WP7; synchronizing them with Outlook. I eventually resorted to using OneNote, which "worked" but obviously was hardly as useful as Outlook (in Outlook on my desktop I could get reminders about todo's, but not when they were stored somewhere in Onenote).

      SO yah, the author starts talking about VPN's and stuff, the problem was really much more simple than that. The launch devices simply lacked decent applications and support for common business tasks.

      And just for the record: this comment comes from a fan. I got myself a WP7.5 device, eventually upgraded to 7.6 (iirc) and even to this date I actually like it. It does what I need from it, I learned to work around the mishaps, so yah. But I'll also be the first to admit that it had fail written all over it.

      Next: Windows 8. That was a sure way to make people outright hate metro. But, that was metro on the desktop. Now, try presenting those people with a phone and then tell them that it runs metro as well. Do you honestly believe they'll even bother to try? Of course not, not with Win8 fresh in mind.

      I honestly believe that WP could have worked, it could have build a good market share. But it had one major enemy. Not Nokia, not Google, none of those... No: Microsoft.

      1. illiad

        Re: @ac

        IF they had made the GUI like apple or android or ???

        y'know small icons, with a pretty picture behind it, make a 'floating picture' one that can be re-sized, with the small icons round it????

        then it would have 'taken off'....

        1. ChrisBedford

          Re: @ac

          "IF they had made the GUI like apple or android or ???

          y'know small icons, with a pretty picture behind it, make a 'floating picture' one that can be re-sized, with the small icons round it????

          then it would have 'taken off'...."

          Uh, then it would have looked like Android or IOS and it wouldn't have been unique. Nowadays, if you see a smartphone screen you have to look for (small) telltales to know what type of phone you are holding in your hand so you can know how to proceed. The big differentiator with WP was that it didn't look like anything elese.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @ac

            You of course can make your entire android home screen have a single large widget that emulates windows phone if you wish..

            It makes your Android phone work like windows phone, and you have apps too....

            There are several apps in the play store..

          2. Dave 15 Silver badge

            Re: @ac

            The truth is I actually WANT a keyboard, I WANT something different, I WANT a phone that doesn#'t look like yet another apple clone.... but it seems I am not the person ALL the stockists are aiming at. It doesn't matter how good a product is, if I can't buy it anywhere then it wont sell anywhere (the Nokia 808 was a great camera but you could only import it from a small number of online sites...)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ac

          I loved the way WinPho8 looked. The fact it looked different. The fact it was designed around how phones were heading with app feedback being key whilst being kept within the confines of a tile. The (fairly) consistent design throughout.

          Its a shame win10 lost a lot of that, and several useful features as well along the way.

          WinPho8 to me looked like it had potential. The problem I think was Microsofts obsession in the last decade or so of ditching development platforms with almost every big announcement. For apps to be incompatible and needing significant re-writes to be fully compatible with the OS between win7, win8, win8.1, win10 was just ridiculous.

    5. energystar
      Headmaster

      Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

      "...With every churn you couldn't run previous apps, so developers (rightly) lost interest (and presumably money)..." [and mind share and clientèle confidence and...]

      Microsoft conduct drove everybody mental sanity over the roof.

      If ever known the honest reasons -beyond pure hubris-, going to be textbook material.

    6. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

      I partially disagree with the lack of apps. It is more accurately the lack of good useful apps that users want. The absolute numbers is relatively meaningless since most apps are not that good. On Android, Google has provide a set of solid apps so the phone is useful to users. There are often better ones available but one has solid set to start with.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

      Have a similar story. Recently acquired by a formally large German company that still only buys Microsoft as they get special deals that were in place from way back. All the employees get windows phones, all hate them and all have proper phones too. Their Microsoft only policy is embarrassing them badly.

      Currently having TFS forced upon us from up high, replacing superior existing tools, a project that will only alienate and annoy what remaining developers they haven't yet pissed off..

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: As a consumer - 2 key issues ...

        Their Microsoft only policy is embarrassing them badly.

        Certainly this confirms one part of the comments here - that part of it is about image.

        It's like having been given a company car to drive that isn't the currently cool make.

        Or kids having the wrong brand of trainers. No one wanted to be seen in Adidas when Nike was the trend, and so on.

        People talk about "My iphone". Not just "My phone".

        In reality a phone is a phone is a phone. As long as it has the specification and functionality that people need it doesn't make bu**er all difference which one you have. Except that the cool kids all have an iPhone 6 S or whatever.

        But nothing that Microsoft can do will make the Windows phone " cool" - especially after the car crash that was Windows 8.x

  3. LDS Silver badge

    "OEMs regularly complained..."

    They couldn't put their crap on Windows phones?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "OEMs regularly complained..."

      They could put their crap on, but unlike Android guff, it takes seconds to get rid of it.

      I think I have 1 EE app on my phone and that's it.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: "OEMs regularly complained..."

        Right - they could install just regulars apps, they couldn't "mod" the OS with their crap. And I guess that's why they were complaining. Just, it was one of the reason to get a Windows Phone - no third party crap you couldn't remove.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: "OEMs regularly complained..."

          "Just, it was one of the reason to get a Windows Phone - no third party crap you couldn't remove."

          It's removable if you root. The apps are freezeable if you don't. They're not gone but they don't startup either.

  4. GBE

    "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

    "UWP apps aren't designed for desktop, tablet or phone, but can adapt to each display size. Predictably, this lowest common denominator approach has been an aesthetic disaster,"

    Yup. Over the decades, I've been involved to various extents in a number of efforts to develop a "Universal Something-or-Other. A "universal board set" for use in products with different requirements, a "universal table-driven application generator" that was going to... I'm not sure what... [I only went to a few project reviews for that one]. A universal device API/library that would allow application writers to run the same code on Windows or on various RTOSes. A "universal transmitter OS" that would [blah, blah, blah], etc.

    All were complete and utter disasters. They did nothing well and often nothing at all.

    Development often went on for years and delivered nothing. When they did deliver something the performance was awful, the resource usage was huge, and using them didn't save any development time or reduce bugs.

    They _always_ got their asses kicked (in any and all measures) by application-specific designs.

    But people keep chasing the holy grail...

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

      "But people keep chasing the holy grail..."

      will they get arrested for being 'too silly' at the end?

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

      But people keep chasing the holy grail...

      Lying behind that is probably a mistaken belief that 'we'll get it right even if everyone else has failed'.

      But on the other hand divergence can equally be a problem. Look at Google with Android, Chrome OS and, coming soon, Brillo. There is often no commonality at all bar the corporation or branding.

      Developers would like to 'write once, run anywhere' so it's not surprising some sort of 'universal' crops up time after time.

      1. Tchou
        Boffin

        Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

        'write once, run anywhere' is a marketing fad that have no technical reality.

        Devices have architectures, different uses, ...

        Developers who like the 'code once, run everywhere' fad are by definition sloppy programmers who don't have any interest in their job beyond knowing by heart a set of commands developed for them by a tech provider.

        The one and only interest in programming is the interaction you get with the target platform and the challenges and possibilities that comes with it.

        1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

          Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

          The allure of "write once run anywhere" is reduces the development time. But as noted by many others, each device and device class has a set of unique capabilities and requirements. Either one exploits those capabilities or they are ignored. In the first instance, the software is basically crippleware on all devices because it has to run on what is common to all. In the second case one is deliberately providing crippleware and a superior bit suitable for the device will always be preferred.

          The real key is to focus on how the software is going to be used and the best devices for that use.

        2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

          I don't know. Java has seemed to do the job of write once run everywhere to the best degree (IE functional but not perfect) from what I can see. Oh, but that's assuming you don't need gui, controls/input and all the other os/device specific stuff that is impossible to predict.

          1. Vic

            Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

            Java has seemed to do the job of write once run everywhere to the best degree

            Can't agree with that. There's a reason people have coined the term "write once, debug everywhere"...

            Oh, but that's assuming you don't need gui, controls/input and all the other os/device specific stuff that is impossible to predict.

            One of the biggest problems, IMO, is the inability to have much control over different threads of execution - which is explicitly prevented by insisting on this "run anywhere" goal. If you can't dictate the underlying threading model of the platform, you can't dictate the run order of your threads. And in a multi-threaded environment, that can be a real problem...

            Vic.

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

        >Lying behind that is probably a mistaken belief that 'we'll get it right even if everyone else has failed'.

        I don't think that was it. Their problem was that there few windows phone apps so they were hoping to leverage their desktop application dev army. Hence, the abomination which is W8.

        They should have gone for security and privacy as their USP, but they shot that idea down with W10 and then viciously stomped all over it with their backports to W7.

        So yes, I'll take the free "upgrade" to W10, but it will sit on a very lonely and under-utilised partition with a couple of games. Another freebie W10 system runs in a VM for customers who insist on that sort of thing. All *my* stuff gets done on Linux. Even my gaming purchases only go forward with that magic little "steamplay" icon.

    3. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

      Re: "Universal" anything is always a disaster...

      Great, now they decided to put a bullet in it, please can they also put a bullet in this stupid UI it's inflicted on Windows desktop too.

      Great minimalist designs need a lot of careful though, the newer UI looks like they just shot the design team to save money.

  5. sysconfig

    Shame

    Even though most people evidently prefer Android and IOS, it is always bad news for consumers when fewer competitors remain.

    1. kventin

      Re: Shame

      i'm not sure wp was doing that much for competition -- in the end they mostly competed with themselves.

      now they've turned into another mobile-os-that-might-have-been, they are in distinguished company: qnx, palm, epoc.

      maybe betamax always loses to vhs? (or is this something completely different?)

      1. Paul Shirley

        Re: " in the end they [WP] mostly competed with themselves."

        Also worth remembering Android has plenty of internal competition, with every manufacturer trying to stamp their own ideas on it's UI, built in apps and hardware (something the Android haters also tend to bundle into the 'fragmentation' theme). Then throw in all the tweaks, hacks, apps and firmware hackers independent developers create.

        Much of Android's evolution is driven by Google plucking out the best ideas from that sea of experiments. Most of the 'new' ideas in WP were being tried somewhere on Android before Microsoft 'inventet' them. Most failed.

      2. Zakhar

        Re: Shame

        "maybe betamax always loses to vhs? (or is this something completely different?)"

        It is obviously something different because Betmax was superior to the other standards.

        (And lost the same).

        1. Unicornpiss Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: Shame

          Betamax's Achilles' heel was that you couldn't fit a full-length movie on one tape. And that was indeed a deal breaker. So yes, Beta would always lose to VHS for all but speciality applications like TV stations using it for shorts and commercials.

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