Does Microsoft's brass still believe it has a chance in the phone market?

With one of Microsoft's most celebrated Windows Phone customers, the NYPD, expected to dump their devices for iPhones, is there really even a toehold for Microsoft in the business-phone space?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

A New York Post report that one of Microsoft's more celebrated U.S. business customers for Windows Phones is dumping the platform raises some interesting questions about Redmond's future mobility plans.

Credit: CNET

The Post reported on August 28 that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is going to scrap the 36,000 Nokia phones running the Windows Phone OS that it has been rolling out for the past two years.

Microsoft dropped support for Windows Mobile 8.1 in July 2017. But the two handset models the NYPD purchased, the Lumia 640XL and Lumia 830, both were among the Windows Phones that were upgradable to Windows 10 Mobile. (Of these two, only the newer 640XL will also be eligible for the coming Fall Windows 10 Mobile update, however.)

As of October 2016, the NYPD was planning ot migrate to Windows Phones running Windows 10 Mobile. But the New York Post is reporting that the NYPD, instead, is likely to move to iPhones by the end of this calendar year.

Microsoft has been working to get out of the phone business for the past couple of years. The company is not currently manufacturing any new Windows Phones. And Windows Phones that are still being used won't get the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update coming out later this year. Instead, some subset of existing models will only get something internally known as "Feature 2," which is believed to be a dead-end branch of Windows 10 Mobile.

I asked Microsoft officials for comment on the NYPD's plans. No word back so far.

Update (August 29): Microsoft isn't saying much. The only statement, courtesy of a Microsoft spokesperson, is "Microsoft is proud of our partnership with the NYPD. We will continue to support the NYPD's Windows Phones."

Update No. 2 (August 29): The NYPD responded to The Post's story, acknowledging that the agency will be moving to iPhones from Windows Phone. A couple of tidbits from the official response that are interesting: The NYPD got the Windows Phones for "no cost" as part of the original deal, with the option of moving off the devices to something else -- again for "no cost" -- after two years. The free-phone-hardware part of the contract seems to be what swayed the NYPD away from Android or i-devices in the first place. (Thanks to Neowin for the pointer to the NYPD response.)

NYPD's seeming defection from Windows Phone is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, Microsoft officials have held up NYPD as an example of the kind of customer that Microsoft's top brass seem to believe they could win over with some type of new business-focused Windows 10 handset at some point in the future.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and others at the company have said publicly that certain business verticals could be a good target for Windows-based mobile phones tailored to run a set of customized applications. The NYPD -- the largest police force in the U.S. -- is an example of this type of customer, with a number of the apps running on Windows Phones, like specific forms, case management and the like, being specific to the agency and its work.

In 2015, Nadella said Microsoft was not going to try to make another me-too consumer phone or phone OS. Instead, "for business customers, it's about custom apps they want to deploy onto those endpoints with management and security," he said.

Microsoft is believed to be working on some kind of new mobile device, codenamed "Andromeda." We've heard it will likely offer telephony capabilities. We've expected Microsoft to target the device specifically at the business audience -- users like the NYPD.

But if businesses don't find Microsoft's mobile productivity, security and management capabilities interesting enough, is there any point in the company trying yet again to infiltrate the mobile-phone market? It was already increasingly hard to make a case that Microsoft would be able to find the exact moment to try to make a comeback in mobile, beyond trying to strengthen its slowly dwindling PC/tablet stronghold. It's growing increasingly tougher to see what Microsoft could bring to the party to entice businesses to give up their iPhones and Android phones....

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