Have We Just Seen Microsoft’s Mobile Strategy?

The news today that Microsoft will be selling the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ in their stores caught more than a few people by surprise.  The company, through multiple reboots, has tried for years to get their Windows Phone platform off the ground with limited success.  At the same time, they have been continually developing their suite of apps for both Android and iOS, appealing to both consumers and enterprises as being available on whatever device the end user wants to use.  It has worked.  Microsoft continues to be the dominant player in the enterprise with Office 365 and are taking their fair share in the consumer space at the same time.

But the addition of the new Galaxy S8 lineup to their store inventory is another step all together.  It is, more-or-less, an admission of defeat.  They know that the market is set between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android and that it simply cannot bear another mobile platform.  Consumers, and for that matter enterprises, have said as much with their wallets.  As this tale of woe has unfolded, much digital ink has been spilled on the lack of a Microsoft mobile strategy.  I, for one, think that is wrong.  I think Microsoft has had a mobile strategy all along.  It’s not about devices or even the platform.  It’s about the apps.

Make no mistake:  Microsoft is a software developer.  Yes they have hardware and even though they have a lot of influence on that hardware’s production (ala Google with the Google Pixel phones) at the end of the day, they are a software company.  Despite their best (and continuing) efforts, they simply could not get mind share around Windows Phone.  Mind you, they didn’t help themselves with the continue re-visioning of the platform and the lack of solid hardware options until the last hours, but even if they had made a super platform, getting past Google and Apple would have been a monumental ask of them.

I started my mobile writing career focused on Microsoft mobile technologies.  It was first H/PCs, then PPCs then Windows Mobile then Windows Phone.  I really wanted, if purely from a fanboy perspective, for them to do well.  But it didn’t happen.  I’m still kind of bummed about it.  I really do like Windows 10 on a phone.  It’s pretty slick and a beautiful interface.

But alas, it isn’t going to happen.  Microsoft, instead of throwing their toys, have turned back to their apps.  They have made them strong on both Android and iOS.  They have made them, in some ways, better than their own web-based version of these apps.  And that development and closing of the gap between mobile and desktop continues.

A few years ago, Microsoft signed a deal with Samsung (and Asus) to have the Office 365 apps included in future phones.  That is what is happening on the S8 and S8+ already.  But Microsoft is going a step further. They are adding the phones to their store inventories and, when you connect them up to Wi-Fi for the first time, Outlook and Cortana are downloaded to your phone.  It is likely as close as you can get to a pure Microsoft experience on an Android phone today.

I also think that this is, ultimately, the long play for the company when it comes to mobile.  Sure they will continue to develop some type of Windows Phone offering for those who want it but it will never be mainstream.  They realize this and having phones with a Microsoft experience in their stores makes sense.  So is it admitting defeat or is it a stroke of genius?

Time will most certainly tell.