Editor's Picks Tech

In the battle for smartphones, Microsoft still has a chance to win.

microsoft
Google and Apple are trying to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop, but Microsoft doesn’t seem to need to redefine computers to win the future of smartphones. Its advantage lies in the “monopoly position” of the desktop market, the development of the processor, and the importance of Microsoft’s own software.

Beyond the essence of its products, computers are a platform that unlocks the power of personal/home consumer software, electronic services and virtual content.

We can say with certainty that today’s smartphones and tablets are powerful enough to be used the same as computers. The only difference is execution.

The development of smartphones in the early 21st century is like reinventing a computer, but always consider user experience and accessibility. Unlike computers, smartphones are designed to serve a wider range of people than just scientists and professionals. Smartphones benefit from feedback from users on consumer computers (professional tools for the average consumer). But at the same time, developing a smartphone means that the size of the device has to be adapted, and we can’t expect to run a cumbersome desktop operating system on such thin hardware.

Reinventing the computer included reinventing the operating system. Today’s Android and iOS systems are built from scratch. Engineers had to rethink the system to get the smoothest, most intuitive user experience on the phone as much as possible. You can’t move Windows or OSX directly to the mobile platform: The first issue is the compatibility of the computer processing unit architecture. Smartphones typically run on an ARM architecture (more suitable for portable low-consumption devices), while computers use x86 or x64 CPUs (more power, larger). The limitations of today’s mobile operating systems come directly from the need for developers to frame and control user activities to maintain system stability and reliability.

New computer

But as mobile systems become more advanced (and thanks to the technology that follows), it’s clear that today they represent the ideal, efficient, consumer-oriented system. Not only are they fast, user friendly, and reliable, but also they add new features every year at the speed of light. Sometimes, new features can even appear on desktop operating systems (notifications, app stores, voice helpers… etc).

Another noteworthy trend is that smartphone hardware is approaching the culmination of its growth. Manufacturers are also having difficulty adding more value to their flagship products. Since the fourth quarter of 2018, smartphone sales growth has been declining. A new era of smartphones will come, when a company will dare to stand up and redefine the use of smartphones.

From a hardware perspective, to a large extent, we have maximized the potential of these devices. However, there are still huge opportunities in the software, which may bring a new experience to the use of smartphones.

samsung dexDo you know this device? It is Samsung DeX: a docking station that can be connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. You just need to put the phone on it and it will become a usable computer. It doesn’t seem to really catch the public’s attention. The main reason is that it is limited to providing the features that Android devices can provide, but it may also be an exploration of future computer forms.

The idea is clear: using only one device or platform can satisfy all of the user’s computing needs. This may be ideal on many levels:

  • Users enjoy the convenience of a device, or at least, the perfect compatibility between each device.
  • Application developers no longer need to worry about cross-platform development. An application only needs to be developed once (following the correct guidelines), and best of all, all types of devices can access it normally.
  • Operating system developers can focus on one platform, greatly improving their security and stability.

Samsung is not the only company that sees the potential of this idea. In fact, we don’t need to look farther than Apple or Google: both companies are constantly expanding the boundaries of mobile devices in an attempt to implement desktop PC functionality. Google has been trying to get computers and mobile devices to join their Chrome OS platform for a while (more recently, the Android Q beta even showed the implementation of desktop mode). On the other hand, Apple has long been promoting the iPad as a replacement for computers. The new advertising theme for the iPad is “What is a computer?”

The main problem with the current strategy of these companies is that it requires reinvention of computers. Google and Apple are building bridges from the mobile to the desktop, but it is much more difficult to adapt the mobile system to the desktop experience than to adapt the desktop experience to the mobile system. At this time, processing power is no longer an obstacle. Although mobile software is great, they are usually a “thin” version of the desktop software.

But one company doesn’t need to follow the same path as its competitors: Microsoft. Due to the recent fiasco in the mobile market, Microsoft has everything it needs to enter the new era of computers.

Microsoft update

In 2014, former CEO Steve Ballmer left the Microsoft executive board and handed over the position to the ambitious Satya Nadella. From that moment on, the company’s strategy became more open to other participants in the market. It first released a popular office suite on the Android and iOS app stores, then worked with Red Hat and Amazon.

In terms of smartphones, Nadella officially abandoned the Windows Phone platform and focused on improving the Windows 10 experience. On the hardware side, Microsoft has been pursuing the success of the Surface line, a hybrid of tablets and laptops that demonstrates the efficiency of multi-function devices.

In addition to improving stability, functionality, and security, the Windows operating system has made some changes, making it a better solution for more mobile devices. Windows has a tablet mode, voice assistant, and a dedicated app store. At a deeper level in the system, Microsoft has been developing an ARM version of Windows, which means it can run x86 (32-bit) software on small mobile (smartphone) processors.

This is where everything is connected.

When you say that we will make more phones, then we will, but they look a little different from today’s phones.

– Satya Nadella

The main reason for the failure of Windows Phone is that it has witnessed the arrival of the Android-iOS duopoly era, and application developers have no incentive to develop applications for Windows Phone. The story follows the pattern of chicken or egg. With fewer developers and fewer users, the developers become even less…

The Windows desktop operating system accounts for 88.22% of the entire desktop operating system market. The latest version of Windows 10 market share is steadily growing (to date, 44.1%) and has continued to dominate the market trend. Recent news shows that Microsoft will integrate the Linux kernel in Windows. This would makes programmers and scientists even happier. You would only need to use Microsoft’s operating system. The reasons for using Linux distributions become even less.

Windows is one of the most widely used systems in the world, supporting multiple devices and architectures. Doesn’t that motivate you to develop applications for Windows 10?

The battle for smartphones, Microsoft can win

Imagine: Microsoft may launch a smartphone called “Surface Phone” to complement the Surface line. They can install the Windows 10 operating system on ARM (the system can also run 32-bit software on the desktop version, and may support more software in the future). It works like Windows running on a laptop, PC or tablet. A unified platform everywhere.

Developing applications for Windows doesn’t just mean it’s open to the vast majority of laptops, tablets and desktops. it also means it’s entering a very promising and potentially growing smartphone market.

The icing on the cake is: We have every reason to imagine that this “Surface Phone” has a similar function to the docking station. You only need to put the device on a small platform (connected to the monitor, keyboard and mouse) to have a fully usable Windows computer.

Microsoft does not need to reinvent the computer. While Apple and Google are building bridges between mobile and desktop to attack desktop bastions, Microsoft simply adjusts its already complete and popular desktop system to accommodate smaller, more mobile devices.

Challenge

Although I am confident in Microsoft’s strategy, it is not easy to win in today’s highly competitive smartphone battlefield. The main challenges Microsoft faces are as follows:

  1. Stay away from the “traditional” smartphone image. These new devices offer users a whole new experience, and the market needs to show it effectively during marketing.
  2. Take Google’s recent Jetpack program as an example. Microsoft wants to boost the work of developers by providing SDKs, tutorials, and other tools. Where the developers go, the user follows.
  3. Have enough good hardware to provide at least as many premium features as the current leading smartphone companies.
  4. Maintain an open mind at every stage of the product. You can’t force a person out of an already comfortable service ecosystem. The system should be familiar and safe.

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