Do Windows 10 Phones Stand a Chance?

Staff Writer
Updated

Microsoft's new Lumia phones do something that no other smartphones do: turn into PCs. Thanks to a new dock, the Lumia 950 and 950 XL can double as desktops when hooked up to a keyboard, monitor and mouse. Microsoft's phones also want to lead the pack in imaging, providing a sharpest-in-class 20-megapixel camera.

But as it continues to struggle with developing a robust app ecosystem, does Microsoft stand a chance against Apple and Samsung?

Windows Phones took just 2.7 percent of global market share in 2014, which is meager compared to Android's 81.5 percent and iPhone's 14.8 percent. But it may find support from the enterprise market, thanks to a new Windows 10 mobile feature: Continuum.

Continuum is the software that lets you use your phone as a desktop. It runs the Windows 10 desktop environment when it detects a screen larger than the phone's is attached, and takes you from the small to large display seamlessly.

"Continuum should draw interest from enterprises looking to provide extremely flexible mobile solutions," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer platforms and devices at Current Analysis.

This enables some powerful capabilities, including the ability to switch apps via keyboard shortcuts (Alt-Tab) and run full Office on a big screen. However, Continuum has some limitations. You can't run apps side-by-side, and only Microsoft's native apps and Office programs are supported at launch. Third-party apps may be coming soon.

Also, performing desktop tasks with mobile processors may not be the fastest or smoothest experience. To make full use of Continuum, you'd have to shell out for the new Microsoft Display Dock, and would need a monitor, keyboard and mouse handy.

But that might not deter enterprise users. "The fact of the matter is that there's a lot of people in the workforce who live and die by their smartphone," said Ramon Llamas, research manager at IDC. And these enterprise users will likely want an easy way to port documents from their smartphones to desktops. It just might take some time for companies to embrace the concept.

"This is going to be a slow burn for Microsoft, it's a whole new paradigm that a lot of enterprises are going to have to look at," said Llamas.

A great camera is no longer as strong a differentiator as it was with the Lumia 1020. Avi Greengart, Current Analysis

Another selling point of the new Lumia phones is removable batteries. The new iPhone 6s, Galaxy flagships and Nexus phones have sealed bodies that don't allow access to the power pack.

"Removable batteries are becoming a scarce commodity in smartphones," said Greengart.

However, while being able to swap out the battery pack may be a big deal to some, it isn't necessarily enough to put Microsoft's phones closer to the top. "Apple has sold hundreds of millions of iPhones without them," said Greengart. "And an entire industry of external batteries has risen to meet the challenge."

The new Lumia phones' 20-MP cameras are sharper than competitors, and potentially better, given Microsoft's strong track record in imaging. "However, the competition has been strongly focusing on this area, and a great camera is no longer as strong a differentiator as it was with the Lumia 1020," said Greengart.

Plus, the new Lumias lack the appealing design of its competitors. "I give it a seven and a half out of ten (for design)," said Llamas. "It doesn't knock my socks off."

Windows Phone continues to lag iOS and Android in app selection, which will be a big problem for Microsoft. "Most consumers will remain drawn to the larger app libraries in iOS and Android," said Greengart. If Microsoft wants to survive, it might have to shift its focus from consumers to enterprise users, which it seems to be doing.

"Microsoft is aggressively courting enterprise users, and I think that's really where it's got to be," said Llamas.

Although it's hard to see Microsoft having a large share of consumer smartphones in the future, said Greengart, "Microsoft is on a more sustainable path in hardware today than they were when they bought Nokia."

We'll have to wait a while longer to see if Microsoft can make it. "It's going to be a long slog," said Llamas. "The game has not changed, it's still Apple and Android."