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Microsoft begins retreat from Windows Phone with platform-agnostic Microsoft Health

Band on the run

Software giant Microsoft has formally entered the wearables game with the launch of its Microsoft Health platform and accompanying Microsoft Band fitness band. But the real significance behind this move is Microsoft’s decision to make both products platform-agnostic, implying Microsoft has decided to no longer pin its mobile hopes on Windows Phone.

Microsoft Health is a cloud fitness platform that allows users to store all their health data, and presumably advertise their fitness achievements incessantly on social media. The Microsoft Band has all kinds of sensors, including some tech borrowed from the Kinect motion sensor, to keep an eye on your well-being and record it. Combining the two with clever algorithms allows the user to be constantly nagged towards improving their lifestyle and thus, theoretically, their quality of life.

While there is a rudimentary display on the Band, fitness bands ideally need to sync with smartphones and other devices so users can crunch the data and optimise their fitness regimes. The old Microsoft would have made this a proprietary platform, compatible only with Windows Phone or Windows devices. But right now that would exclude over 95% of the market, so Microsoft appears to have abandoned the wishful thinking that has accompanied its mobile efforts since the launch of iOS and Android, and got real.

“Available on Windows Phone, iOS and Android, Microsoft Health’s open cloud platform stores, organizes and learns from your fitness information in order to give specific prompts to improve your fitness,” announced Microsoft’s lengthy press release/blog on the matter.

It has been clear for some time that the mobile OS market is a two-horse race, with iOS at the premium end and Android accounting for the rest. To be a viable third player in this market you need to convince vendors and consumers to choose your platform over Android. Since Google doesn’t charge for Android, Microsoft’s software licensing model is at a major disadvantage, and consumers don’t seem to have warmed to Windows Phone.

When Microsoft acquired Windows Phone’s largest licensee in the form of Nokia devices, it was effectively giving up on deriving significant licensing revenue from Windows Phone. The assumption was that Nokia would become Microsoft’s hero products for the platform, much as it has tried to do for tablets with Surface.

But if Microsoft isn’t going to make any money directly from Windows Phone, what’s the point in promoting it at all? It has long been clear to this writer that Microsoft needs to find a new business model for mobile, with hardware margin dominated by Apple and ad revenue by Google. With licensing apparently not an option, Microsoft’s best chance would appear to be selling software (such as Office) and services (such as Skype or cloud storage) to the entire mobile market. This, of course, requires the products to be platform-agnostic.

So the launch of Microsoft Health likely marks the formal commencement for a slow retreat from putting Windows Phone at the front of Microsoft’s mobile strategy. There has been little sign the software giant plans to significantly follow through on its Nokia investment and its crude attempts to impose the Metro interface on PC users indicates its desperation to create a unified OS for all devices.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Windows Phone disappear as a brand when Windows 10 is formally launched, and for Microsoft to use those Windows-based mobile devices it continues to manufacture primarily as showcases for its mobile products. At least that would be the sensible thing to do.


7 comments

  1. Charles 30/10/2014 @ 8:24 pm

    Windows Phone is at 10 million sold per quarter… Thats better than XBox… Why on gods green earth would anyone give up that business?

  2. Jeremy 30/10/2014 @ 9:43 pm

    Obviously, you have not been following Windows Phone this year at all.

    – Windows Phone OS, and Windows in general, is now free to OEMs for devices 9″ and smaller.
    – It is costlier to license the patents to cover Android (from Microsoft, which holds the patents), even though, technically, Google doesn’t charge for their OS
    – Windows Phone’s direction is simply Windows on a Phone, which it essentially is now in 8.1 (with universal apps, anyway). Windows 10 will see the merger here so apps published to the Windows Store run on your PC, Tablet, and Phone, for example
    – Microsoft has already essentially announced it would not be called Windows Phone and would be Windows phone (small p). Their 8.1 update already got rid of saying Windows Phone on boot and just displays the windows logo instead.
    – Microsoft has been releasing a lot cross-platform these days, including Office.

    All of this is nothing new, and they way you word your article makes it seem like you are less up-to-date on the technology you write.

  3. steve 31/10/2014 @ 6:59 am

    Retreat? So it all started with office then, or their hardware division, mice, keyboards, docks. You know nothing.

  4. ian stewart 31/10/2014 @ 10:11 am

    did you write this headline and article as click-bait? then you win, I bite. Really? isn’t a move to launch a HW product which is platform agnostic just a good strategic move to allow more customers to buy. Did you write the same ‘goodbye to OSX’ when Apple launched the Windows version of the iPod?
    p.s. there is a typo in your last paragraph which makes it grammatically incorrect.

  5. Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 31/10/2014 @ 10:36 am

    Thanks for all your excellent comments – delighted to have inspired such passionate debate. In turn:
    Charles – Losing money in order to shift 10 million a quarter is not so great. Windows Phone revenue halved in the last quarter.
    Jeremy – I agree with all your points. Indeed I made many of them in the article. So it seems I’ve been following Windows Phone at least as much as you have.
    Steve – You seem to think you do know something, why not share your insight with us?
    Ian – Aren’t all headlines designed to make you click? Yes, it is a good strategic move, as I said in the piece. No I didn’t write that about OSX, partly because I have no recollection of Apple launching a Windows version of the iPod. Thanks for flagging up the typo. Corrected.

  6. Vincent 03/11/2014 @ 5:58 am

    Wow. Your desire to see Microsoft fail is coming through loud and clear. Obviously you have no clue why Microsoft does what it does. They’ve always catered to all platforms. That’s how they get their products to the masses.

    Making the band platform agnostic will make yet another Microsoft product popular with the greatest possible amount of people. Those without windows phones will once again see that Microsoft produces excellent products and when they realize that the band will be even better with a windows phone since only then will Cortana be activated they may even be tempted to try windows phone.

    Read my lips. Is not giving up on windows phone no matter how much you would like them to. Yes they are dropping the word “phone” from the operating system name because it will be the same operating system used on tablets but that is only going to increase sales of Microsoft phones.

    If you could see the windows ten preview and compare it to a windows phone you would see that the two operating systems are becoming more and more similar as features from the phone OS are starting to show up in the desktop OS. Yes. It still is a windows world.

  7. Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 03/11/2014 @ 10:36 am

    Thanks Vincent.
    I have no strong feelings towards Microsoft one way or the other, but I appear to be in a minority in that respect. I am a commentator, I comment on things as I see them, and sometimes that upsets people with a less objective view of the subject matter. Nokia phones don’t cater to all platforms, nor do Surface PCs. Agreed on the wisdom of making it platform-agnostic, as I said in the piece. Not sure how I’m supposed to read your lips, but you might want to try reading my article (again?). The point I made was about Windows Phone as a brand being axed, one you concurred with in your comment. I also made the point about desktop and mobile converging in my piece. It may still be a Windows world in desktop, but not in mobile. This is why Microsoft seems to be merging its mobile platform with its desktop one and why I recommend it gives up on promoting Windows Phone.

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