Oh, good — now Microsoft is going to further muddy the waters of their mobile computing efforts:
Microsoft tablets, both its own Surfaces and those from third parties and both those running Windows 8 and Windows RT, have been hobbled by software that just doesn’t fit touch devices very well. The upcoming Windows 8.1 improves matters by reducing the frequency with which users have to resort to the traditional Windows Desktop UI, but it can’t change the fact that this is an operating system with mice and keyboards and a traditional desktop file system at its heart, with a lot of touch features bolted on. This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that the features Microsoft counts on to distinguish its tablets, such as keyboard in the ability to run Desktop Office, define them as ultralight PCs, not true tablets.
The enhancements to Windows Phone only confuse things further. It is entirely possible that coming months will see Windows Phones with 6″ displays next to Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets with 7″ screens. For devices this close in size to be running different and incompatible operating systems is a recipe to deepen the bafflement of customers, OEMs, and software developers.
The stupid, it hurts.
Windows Phone 8 is a perfectly good platform. It’s doing so-so in Europe, and has a few diehard users in the US. Not enough, but Nokia is making solid devices running a fine mobile OS. They beat the hell out of most of the crapulent el cheapo phones running Android. I believe there’s room in the market for a third mobile OS to be at least moderately successful. And if anybody has the deep pockets and stubborn sticktoitiveness to make that happen, it’s Microsoft.
(Room for four mobile operating systems, if you include Amazon’s long-rumored cellphone using its custom Kindle fork of Android.)
But I swear Redmond’s unwanted, unloved, ill-conceived Surface tablets are squashing half the life out of Windows Phone.
You have an iPhone, you step up to an iPad when you buy a tablet — same ecosystem. You have an Android phone, you step up to an Android tablet for the same reason. Eventually, if you’re a Kindle tablet owner, you might step down in size to that rumored “Kindle Phone.”
But Microsoft decided, wrongly, that what people really want is a tablet that’s a laptop instead of a true mobile device — that what people want to do is step down from their desktop or their laptop to a full-Windows tablet.
They’ve been at this for almost a dozen years, to total market rejection, and they’re still trying. This year’s nifty new Surface feature is a kickstand with two positions instead of just when, when what they really need is for it to run an honest-to-goodness mobile OS. You know, like the perfectly good one they have with Windows Phone.
Until Microsoft realizes that the ecosystem unity customers want is between their mobile devices, and not between their laptop and one of their mobile devices, there’s a ceiling on how high Windows Phone sales will ever go.
And it’s not a very high ceiling.