It wasn’t that long ago when Windows Phone was an important topic at Microsoft’s Build developer conference.
But you’d be hard-pressed to tell from watching this year’s keynotes. Like last year’s event, no one in the parade of Microsoft executives who took the stage made any mention of Windows Phone.
Except for that one moment.
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president in Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group, was demoing a new OneDrive feature from the upcoming Fall Creators Update on a Windows Phone. As soon as he said the words “Windows Phone,” someone in the audience let out an inexplicably enthusiastic “Woot!”
“Thank you,” he said, before continuing the demo. He didn’t mention Windows Phone again. Later, a slide appeared. “Windows PCs ❤️ All Your Devices,” it proclaimed. The first smartphone on the slide? An iPhone.
That almost perfectly encapsulates Microsoft’s mobile strategy right now. And, yes, despite the irrelevance of Windows Phone, Microsoft does have a new mobile strategy — it’s just not what you’d expect.
Consider the Fall Creators Update: while a fairly underwhelming update overall, three of the features Belfiore highlighted were squarely aimed at helping Windows users get more from Microsoft apps on their iOS and Android devices.
More than simply working cross-platform, Timeline, Clipboard, and Pick Up Where you Left Off were all created with the assumption that the people using them are not using Windows on mobile.
“Getting things done across all the devices you use should be easy. That’s the principle behind several of the new features that will begin to roll out with the Fall Creators Update,” Terry Myerson, Microsoft executive VP for Windows and devices, wrote in a blog post detailing the update.
That all may sound obvious but it’s a significant shift for the company, which hasn’t had a clear path forward when it comes to mobile.
Now, with the Fall Creators Update, it’s clear that’s changed. While the company can’t give up on Windows Phone entirely just yet (though it’s probably inevitable that it will), it now has a clear goal: figure out how to tie its core services into iOS and Android in ways that will make users want to use apps like Cortana.
And, with 500 million Windows 10 devices, if it can succeed, then Microsoft might have another shot at being relevant on mobile — even if it doesn’t have a phone.