Microsoft's mobile strategy: Where Android, iOS and Windows 8.1 fit in

Microsoft's mobile strategy: Where Android, iOS and Windows 8.1 fit in

Summary: Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 aren't doing well, but Microsoft can still make out with some help from Intel and Windows 8.1 If its great ARM experiment doesn't work out, supporting Microsoft's key applications on Android and iOS won't hurt.


This is not your dad's Microsoft. In the last few months Microsoft has been refocusing on Web services and devices instead of its mobile operating systems, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 (WP8). Neither OS have been cutting the mustard in the market. Moving forward, I see Microsoft addressing its mobile OS issues in two ways.

First, in the long run, 2014 and beyond, I see Microsoft replacing RT and WP8 with Windows 8.1. As Ed Bott said, with Windows 8.1, Microsoft is aiming squarely at mobile devices. How can Microsoft do this with ARM dominating tablets and smartphones? By eventually  replacing its ARM-powered RT devices with Intel Silvermont/Bay Trail tablets running Windows 8.1.

It makes sense. This new Atom-based, long-battery life processor family can give Microsoft a low-end tablet that can run "real" Windows instead of crippleware RT or the unpopular WP8. This would also save developers time. They can just focus on Windows 8.1 without worrying about the underlying chip architecture. They would be working once more with the familiar x86 architecture.

Windows 8.1 on smartphones? Why not? Intel is making the chips.

Indeed, I think Microsoft may go even farther and replace WP8 with Windows 8.1 on smartphones. The Intel Silvermont/Merrifield chip family is designed for smartphones. Just as with Bay Trail, Microsoft could give its developers the familiar environment they already know. The tens of thousands of Microsoft developers who now focus on the desktop could far more easily write or port software to smartphones and tablets.

Can a new WinTel pairing win over ARM fans? Intel thinks so. Intel's Silvermont tablet and smartphone chips are expressively designed to support Android and Windows 8.1.  

Some analysts also believe that Intel has a shot at disrupting ARM's hold on the mobile space.  As Wells Fargo analyst David Wong recently said, "Intel’s strong technology position could give Intel’s tablet and smartphone products a competitive edge over ARM-based chips in 2014 and 2015, and beyond." 

In the short run, it's a different story. The mobile world is an ARM world. Since Microsoft's own ARM-based mobile operating systems aren't doing well, Microsoft has shown that it isn't afraid to support its applications and services on Android and Apple's iOS. 

Although Windows 8 has had its issues, it's a rip-roaring success compared to Microsoft's mobile OS adoption rates.  Microsoft has also made it crystal clear that it's advancing the Windows 8 family with Windows 8.1. It's not giving RT and WP8 the same vote of confidence. There's lots of Windows 8.1 news coming out of Microsoft's Build 2013 developer conference, but little said about RT or WP8.

IDC May Tablet OS
Windows RT has been a flop. (Credit: IDC)

How unpopular is RT? By IDC's numbers in 2013's first quarter, Windows RT tablets stumbled out of the opening gate to 0.2 percent of the market. Windows 8 tablets, at 3.3 percent market share, were nothing to write home about either, but it was far better than RT.

True, WP8 has clawed its way up to the third place spot among smartphone operating systems with 3.2 percent of the market. But third place isn’t much to brag about when Android owns the smartphone market (with 75 percent) and Apple's iOS hangs on to 17.3 percent.

You might think WP8's growth is good news, but its rise seems to have far more to do with Windows and Symbian's fall than with its own organic growth.

Let's also not forget that Windows Phone 8 and RT are both feature incomplete for business use compared to their competition. WP8 still doesn't support virtual private networks (VPN) and RT will only get Microsoft's core e-mail program, Outlook, late this year... if it even gets Outlook then. It may now show up until October 2014. It also doesn't help that RT, which is all about Metro-apps, won't get the full Metro-Style Office until 2014.

What's more telling is that Windows developers seem to be abandoning the WP8 platform.

App Growth by Platform
Developer interest in WP8 is declining.

Sameer Singh, the head analyst of BitChemy Ventures, a technology incubator group, recently observed, "Since mid-2012, app addition on the Windows Phone platform seems to have flat-lined. This is in stark contrast with app addition on Android & iOS over the same timeframe, even though the developer population at the time was smaller." Singh continued, "The unmistakable conclusion … is that developers are losing interest in the Windows Phone platform."

See Debate: Is Microsoft winning or losing the war for developers?

But, you know what really told me that WP8 is in trouble? Microsoft's own developers aren't backing WP8. Microsoft just updated its Skype Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) program to support video mail with Skype video messaging. This feature is fully supported on Windows desktop, Windows 8, MacOS, iPhone, iPad, Android, and BlackBerry... but not on WP8.

Yes, you read that right. Even BlackBerry gets the full Skype video messaging, but Microsoft's own WP8 doesn't. Skype's “how to use video messaging” FAQ doesn't even mention WP8 or RT.

That’s just one example of Microsoft’s willingness to support other mobile platforms at the expense of its own. Microsoft is also finally offering the crown jewel of its applications, Microsoft Office, to iPhone users. The mobile version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are now available for iPhone users via its Office 365 Web services. It's only a matter of time before a full tablet-sized version is available for iPads.

A hands-on look at Microsoft Office for the iPhone

Where would they draw the line? A paying market is a paying market, and if they don’t get customers from their own mobile customers, they’ll take the money from mobile platforms that do have a significant market share. I'm sure Microsoft will port its mobile Office apps to Android smartphones and tablets as well.

After all, Microsoft probably profits more from Android than it does from RT and WP8. Why not add on to their profits, and attempt to wean users away from the Google application ecosystem? It should prove a win-win for Microsoft.

Maybe WP8 will survive. At least it's getting some traction. But, frankly I doubt Windows RT will even be around in late 2014. Microsoft started dumping Surface RT tablets in early June and in mid-June they started an educational market fire-sale for the unpopular tablet.

Add up the numbers. The biggest mobile operating system markets are Android and iOS. Windows 8/8.1 at least has a presence on tablets, but RT? Why keep it on life-support if Microsoft can replace it with Windows 8.1 on Intel chips? 

Mobile users are interested in Android and iOS. Microsoft's most loyal users and programmers are interested in Windows. Why not make them all happy by giving the first group the Microsoft applications they want and the second group not just one interface, Metro, across all platforms, but one operating system?

When I put it all together, I think Microsoft will return to its old ally, Intel, for its next generation of mobile devices while continuing to support its Web-based applications and services on any platform—not just its own.

In time, Microsoft's mobile operating systems, WP8 and RT, will be left to wither and die. They'll be replaced by Windows 8.1/Windows 9 as the next-generation x86 chip family becomes more tablet- and smartphone-friendly. Then, no matter who "wins" the mobile platform wars--Android, iOS or Windows; ARM or Intel--Microsoft will still find profits.

Related Stories:

Topics: Windows 8, Android, Tablets, Smartphones, Mobility, Mobile OS, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Apple, Windows Phone

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  • Windows 8.1 and WP8 already shares the OS core

    There's no need to make it 100% identical. People who code both phone apps and table apps do not find it a whole lot difficult to move back and forth b/t the two. Plus the screen size difference b/t a phone and a tablet alone dictates the two need to be treated differently.
    • Re: do not find it a whole lot difficult to move back and forth

      Is that why all the Windows apps are immediately available for both?

      Oh, wait...
  • At least... admit Microsoft isn't going out of business! As for WP8, while the number of apps had leveled off for a time, the available apps have gone up from 145k to 160k since early May. That is over a 10% increase in the last two months. I don't think your graph accurately reflects that. I like the idea of full Windows on my phone. I think eventually that will be the reality and it will be a great day when that happens. Plug my phone into a large screen monitor and use it as a desktop! With the enhancements in Windows 8.1, it is definitely moving in that direction. There is a company (i-Mate) already working a “Windows 8 Phone”.
  • Lot of bogus stuff in this post. First RT and WP are part of their devices

    push, not being refocused away from. Second W8.1 will be part of both, just like W8 is today. Third they have already moved to intel with the Surface PRO. Moving to intel is not a MS or windows thing. All serious device makers will be moving to intel for both phones and tablets. Android devs are going to intel too. Some android phones already have. Expect ios to if apple wants to regain share. Forth this has nothing to do with W8 or W8.1 or WP8 developers. They long ago stopped targeting cpu architectures back in the NT3.51 days. Using silvermont or airmont doesn't mean anything to them, that's the VS/.NET teams job. Fifth WP growth is organic, it is not tracking the fall of any other platform or combination of platforms. Sixth ios and android are also still incomplete for business use. Seventh WP is not losing devs, at all. Eighth Skype is not an example of supporting others at the expense of their own. The best Skype experience will be on Windows and WP. The others had a head start and were ready first. No need to hold them until the WP version is ready. Ninth Office isn't either. It too will be best on Windows and WP. It already is on WP, and not the "via Office 365", the real thing. Same will be true for tablet. Tenth Office for android wouldn't wean android users from the google ecosystem, it'd make it easier for them to stick with it. I'm sure MS will give them the same "via Office 365" they gave ios, but not at the expense of windows office users. Eleventh android tablet makers started "dumping" android tablets long before June. Expect to see more "dumping" of ARM based systems and pre haswell/silermont intel ones. No news here. Also RT and ARM are not the same thing. MS could continue with intel based RT systems and for 7" tablets that probably makes sense for a chunk of the market. Twelveth of course WP8 will be left to whither when WP9 comes out, this has nothing to do with intel/arm, Windows 8.1 or anything else. It's just like windows 95 and android 2.x have been left to die. In summary yeah MS will be going to intel, just like the android device makers. And of course Windows and WP and WinRT will move to the 8.1 just they all moved to 8 and will all move to 9 after that. And ios and android will move forward to. Nothing insightful, strange, earth shattering, or unexpected to any of this.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Stop being reasonable

      Your insightful comment simply doesn't fit in with the rest. SJVN draws his conclusions from the well of wishful thinking , mixes in a bit of Kool-aid and serves the resultant misinformation to the frothing fanboy masses as fact.
      • LOL!

  • i will switch to windows phone only after wp8 support which ends july 2014

    all three companies dont care about theirs too many apps out there or not as they see it as apps=revenue and plus its a way to show off to the media or journalists saying they have more than the other. app store sizes is all but to show off and get people to buy their device over another. but i do use some apps but cant switch phones as this platform i use now has great support and have no reason to switch. but i wont use bb ever as its not centered for the consumer at all which is the majority of the market anyways. So i think wp9 will be better as i will wait until wp8 ends support next year july 2014 on whether to switch to wp9 if they consider on maikng it or not or its back to the iphone for me regardless. i will only switch if they get better app selection as there is some apps i use but cant switch as i stated above so add more of the ones i use and ill consider switching. i have android now but considering going back to iphone next year for siri and it convinced me enough to go back. i have own them all bb's iphones windows phone and currently own 2 androids plus ipad mac and windows 8. so ive seen it all in mobile except linux phones like tizen mozilla ubuntu and sailfish. the one thing i like on windows phone is the live tiles and changing of the colors and sizes, and ie10 was way faster than the desktop version and thats about it.
    • WP8.1 is next, not WP9.

      MS isn't going to mismatch version numbers like that. WP8.1 will update every WP8 and should extend another 18 months of support.
  • Windows RT

    IMHO Windows RT was a strategic move by MS to force intel to take low power computers seriously. With new high-efficiency CPUs intel has a chance to capture market back. There is no reason to keep Windows RT around if intel can produce CPUs that are as efficient as ARM ones.
    • True

      True enough. I adore my Windows RT tablet (writing this on it now) but if a Haswell powered Surface comes along that's as thin and light as my current RT tablet and offers comparable battery life, I'm getting it.

      Oh yeah, just one more thing: it has to look just like my current Win RT tablet so that my wife doesn't realize I've bought ANOTHER COMPUTER!!!! (Don't want to break up my marriage over this, LOL).
      • Re: Don't want to break up my marriage over this

        I believe, being honest with your wife would be smarter investment.
  • Left to wither

    "In time, Microsoft's mobile operating systems, WP8 and RT, will be left to wither and die."

    It's almost time. Intel's chips look like they're closing in on an acceptable power/performance envelope. It would sting on the developer side to rev again so soon and say, "No ARM - one Windows for all" but it seems they have no choice.

    With Nokia folding their tent and all the other WP OEMs estranged because of Nokia's MVP status WP is pretty doomed. Likewise RT never went anywhere and all the partners are estranged over the own-brand tablet so that's over too. Seems there might be a lesson here about loyalty to your partners and keeping the faith.

    They have to at least restore confidence to deliver a workable product pretty much right now, and developing for ARM also adds so much complexity and product diversity that they just can't get their releases in sync. By converging them all on one processor architecture they can get all their weight behind one stroke again and talk about a spectrum of integration that flows naturally from your pocket to TV to your desk to your datacenter to the cloud with no gaps in between.

    Of course because that's the smart thing to do - they won't.
  • One thing I've learned about Steven -

    Is that his MS articles are usually designed as click bait, and the facts are few, with wild speculation. His business acumen is rarely displayed, if he has any.

    As one other said above, at Least Steven seems to be admitting that Linux and Open Source won't kill MS.

    Maybe after over 20 years of predicting that Open Source would kill MS, he finally has to admit that MS isn't as stupid as he thinks.
    • I'm being reading his articles for short

      But if you exclude some "blind MS hate" the reality is that he was right many times.... maybe his luck will change, but so far so good.
      Let's check:
      Windows 8 doing badly? true
      Windows 8.1 fixing many things he pointed? true
      Windows RT a totally failure? true
      Windows phone relying on Nokia and symbian fall? well that's my opinion let's see results for q2. One thing is for sure - it's not going great.
      • How is Windows8 a failure?

        It is selling as well as Windows7 and ball all accounts that is considered a success, so how it W8 a failure?
        • You can believe in some of what MS is saying

          ... as I can believe in SJVN words.
          I can also point to at least 20 articles (non from SJVN) saying that windows 8 is failing. I can also remind you that windows 8.1 is a considerable change to the original 8 coming shortly after - why change a very successful product?!
          I can also tell you that the main reason for windows 8 are tablets, and if you want I can show you the numbers of RT and other windows 8 tablets sales.
          If in the end you want to believe that windows 8 is still a major hit - well you have your opinion I have mine.

          A few links:

          I'm sure you can find many positive articles about windows 8, but don't forget to read the bad ones too.
          • Funny, they said the same about Windows 7, and vista

            and so did Steven. DOA, won't sell, complete failure, etc.

            Funny though, even Vista came through in the end. Sold more copies than all other operating systems to date. Windows 7 largely came in as a complete success.

            Steven said both were complete failures at about this time in their maturity, so one must take steven with a 10 pound bag of salt.

            If you believe the media when it comes to MS, good luck. Seems they like to support losers and criticize the behemoth on top.
        • Re: Emacho

          He didn't say Win 8 was a failure, only that it was doing badly. There's a big difference.
    • Also open source is not going to kill MS

      But what do you call going from owning 80% of the world computer devices, down to 15%? (rough numbers)
      • Define worlds computing devices?

        If you are talking new sales, tablets, you might be right. Total new sales, including all computing devices, I think MS has a touch more than 15% of the market. If you are talking all existing systems currently in use, MS has considerably more.

        Also, remember that on average MS receives $8 per copy of Linux sold. So, even Linux helps MS's bottom line. At that point one must ask if Android should be considered an MS OS?