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Windows Home, UWP at risk as Microsoft steps out of consumer phone market.

Does the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and, ultimately, Windows Home have a future now that Microsoft are stopping development work on consumer phones? I think there’s a domino effect about to happen over the next 24 months that will see the consumer laptop market turn away from Windows Home and I don’t see a way that anyone can stop it. UWP is then left spreading awkwardly across gaming (Xbox) and business (PCs.)  UWP is at risk. Continuum too. Standing on the sideline is Chrome OS and the Google Play Store. I think it really is time-up for Windows in the consumer space.

Lumia phone and Surface tablet

Opinion by Chippy.

The announcement by Microsoft can be interpreted in multiple ways but one thing is certain, Microsoft won’t continue developing Lumia products in the consumer and developing market sectors. That’s where the Universal Windows Platform had its best chance to develop as consumers picked up phones and Windows tablets. Now it looks like UWP will just be something for the gaming and business market. Without consumer, creative and social apps in the Windows Store I don’t see many reasons why a consumer should buy a Windows laptop.

Few people are developing Windows Desktop applications for consumers (Google Picasa is no longer being developed for Windows and I wonder how long Spotify will continue support) and even web-based HTML5 application development could decay. There are a growing number of new and popular apps that just use their web homepage for SEO and to drive people to their app installs. Google wants Android apps on their ‘desktop’ OS too so there’s another signal. What if Google Instant Apps come to the Chrome Browser on Windows? That would be the end of the website as we know it.

The end of the road for Windows Home

This looks to me like the end of consumer Windows in the sub 13 inch space leaving business, content creators, vertical markets, professionals and gamers as the only remaining markets for Windows. OK, there’s IoT, data-center and embedded but we’ll have to see how that plays out. Samsung have already re-focused on their Tizen OS for IoT devices and Linux has a great chance too.

“We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation — with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same”

What would you do with Windows Mobile now in the 4 to 9 inch space?

IF UWP fails, which would mean a complete failure of the strategy to bring a compelling application store to all casual Windows consumers, what fills the gap? Android works for consumers up to about 10 inches. Apple’s IOS too. ChromeOS with Android apps fills the ‘keyboard’ space up to, well, 17 inches if you’re just looking for a basic laptop with apps.

Chrome OS and Google Play – Issues to watch out for.

It puts into question the next step for Surface 4 (I don’t think there will be another non-Pro version) and means that even the 2 in 1 category, which has been growing, may not see any significant application development for the Windows Store. Intel’s Core M is targeted directly at that market. Where does Intel go next with consumer laptop processors? Low cost Core M for Chrome OS?

Rescue strategy for Windows Home?

None of this doomsday scenario is going to play-out overnight so there’s one last chance for Microsoft. Possibly.

One scenario could be that Microsoft tries to make it even easier for third parties to develop Windows Mobile devices and continues to improve UWP to make it easier to develop for and easier to port apps to. If Android Play and Instant Apps come to the Chrome browser itself (and not just ChromeOS) then that effort will be shorted out.

Consumer Windows was already at risk. It’s too complicated for modern consumers, it’s inefficient and it’s very expensive. There aren’t many high quality apps. Continuum doesn’t really work well.

Windows Continuum – What can you do on the Lumia 950 XL ?

What could save Windows Home? The only thing that can save it is compelling apps on the Universal Windows Platform. But developers don’t appear to want to develop for it. [I don’t have any statistics for how many developers might be considering cross-platform dev tools like Xamarin but I’m taking my pointers from the Windows Store and the feedback from the ISV community.] The porting bridge for Android apps has been pulled. The bridging tools for native IOS applications are the only way one could make a business case for developing a Microsoft UWP application now. That process might need more investment by Microsoft before it becomes a ‘must-do’ for development teams. And all this in a falling consumer laptop market and a problematic global economy. Europe’s businesses have the ‘Brexit’ question and the USA is entering its final election process. If laptop sales drop even more, critical mass may never be reached for the consumer application developer. 300 million active Windows 10 users does not translate to 300 million Windows Store users.

Gaming could migrate slowly to UWP (let’s watch the progress of Forza Motorsport 6: Apex) but I see hardcore gamers jumping to another platform before they engage with games from the Windows Store. Xbox could help bring more recognition and respect for Store games though so there’s a glimmer of hope there.

Creators have Apple. What’s left?

Windows for professionals. Security, complex applications and remote management. Windows Server and Windows Pro are the last remaining pillars for Microsoft Windows and PC chip manufacturers. ‘As a service’ models remain an important market too but there’s a lot of open source competition there.

Write more apps, Microsoft.

Microsoft has applications and services and they’ve done the right thing by bringing them to Android and IOS. They need to continue that process and make sure that the UWP version is created with the same features. Microsoft can’t, however,  write the missing Periscope app or the Google Maps or YouTube app. They can’t get near IoT with Windows Store and as for local transport applications (car sharing, taxis, city mobility) there’s even more of a problem. Here’s an example – I use my town’s public transport application to pay for my transport now and I’m locked into Android or IOS if I want to continue to use the developing multi-modal transport system in my town. The watch I wear [on loan from Vodafone] also requires Android or IOS.

This has been a doom-and-gloom opinion article and you may have another opinion. If so, let me know below but I’ve already moved my business away from focusing on mobile Windows (this website is not a part of my 5 year income plan) and I am telling experts around me to be careful about investing in large web-based applications. It’s going to take a lot to convince me that iPads, Android tablets and Chromebooks are not the future of low-cost consumer PCs.

What can you do with Continuum on the Lumix 950 XL? (Detailed test.)

Continuum on the Lumia 950 LX is a bit awkward. You think you’re actually using Windows 10 desktop and then the bits of the UI you were expecting aren’t there. Neither are floating apps, Gigabit Ethernet USB dongle support and, the one that keeps catching me out, my taskbar with the Google Chrome icon. It’s not that fast either but here I am. on a Lumia 950 XL connected to my full HD screen, keyboard and mouse via the  docking station writing this article. I’m using the Edge browser access my WordPress back-end and it’s not bad. I’m writing without any sort of latency between key-press and characters appearing on the screen and I feel like I’m using a desktop quality browser. Here, let me grab a screenshot using the Windows key and the Print Screen button on my USB-connected keyboard.

wp_ss_20160524_0002

That screenshot was as easy as it is on a Windows PC. As I move to try to right-click on the suggested word corrections I’m met with a block. I can’t find any way to auto-correct the underlined words and now I’m annoyed. Oh wait, there they are, showing up on the bottom of the phone screen, way out of my view and absolutely useless as I have to take a hand off the keyboard to use them.

It’s things like this that will really annoy the average Windows 10 user trying to get to grips with Continuum and that’s not all. Consider the 950 XL, one of the most powerful smartphones on the market, as a poor performer when it comes to desktop operations. Expectations are high as you communicate through what you think is Windows 10 desktop but when things slow down, you feel like you’re on a 2010 netbook. As I start-up Groove Music and Twitter the experience degrades to frustrating. The scroll button on the mouse has stopped working, my background music has stopped too. Groove Music crashed.

I’m using Windows 10 version 10.0.10586 here and I don’t really know if its Windows 10 that’s the problem or the Lumia 950 XL which was heavily criticized for instability when it launched. I’ll carry on. I’ll continue to work through a number of ‘situations’ and report as I go along.

YouTube (Via Edge browser.)

Before I start I save my draft here and check my Internet speed via Speedtest which downloads easily through the Store. It doesn’t open on my desktop screen as it doesn’t support Continuum but having the phone as a second screen allows me to continue writing here as it performs the test. 15 Mbps down, 5 Mbps up. No issues there. Big Buck Bunny at 1080p is quick to load and quick to reach a full buffer and 1080 playback resolution. Perfect. Searching on the YouTube website is quick. The 1080p 60 fps version works smoothly too. At the end of the test I feel like I’m on a slow laptop with a good video decoder, a bit like the experience you get on the cheap Windows 10 tablets, which, it has to be mentioned, are cheaper than this Lumia 950 XL

Google Docs (Via Edge Browser)

As I access Google Docs everything looks OK. I switch quickly between two docs and the web app stops responding. It’s crashed the tab. I try again and discover that the trick is to wait until the document is completely loaded before trying to edit. That can take 10-20 seconds which isn’t good if you’ve got something you want to edit.

Powerpoint with Groove Music

I’m using the Powerpoint Mobile and Groove Music apps and editing a recent Powerpoint. Editing works smoothly (smoother than I expected) as does sideshow playback. Success, at least in this short test. I assume Excel and Word Mobile will work without performance issues on smaller files.

Lumia 950 XL heat.

A quick heat check at this stage reveals something more than skin temperature. It’s getting warm under the 950 XL. I wish I had access to task manager to check CPU usage but that’s not possible. Groove and Tweetium are still running in the background.

Google Analytics.

This very heavy web-based application works well. It’s slower than on my Ultrabook but still usable; possibly faster than a Windows 10 tablet. Impressive. Groove Music still running in the background.

Photo Editing.

I have some problems here. The built-in editing apps don’t support Continuum so my only choice is to pick up the phone and edit using apps there. I try OneDrive in the browser but it’s slow. I give up with the ‘not responding’ tab. This is a big disappointment that I’ll have to track, unless you have tips.

Radio Streaming.

I’m so pleased that TuneIn have finally updated their Windows Store radio streaming app. The old one was broken in a big way but the new one works well. 100% success as I access my favorite streams. 7 streams from my playlist worked quickly and fuss-free.

News reading.

I’ve had some issues with the Bing News app in the past but the curation in my region (English, UK) has improved recently. Nextgen, my choice for RSS feeds, doesn’t work on Continuum. I switch to my Google News account and it’s smoother than I expect.

My apps that don’t work.

I have 71 apps on my Lumia 950 XL. 30 of those don’t support Continuum but of the 41 apps that support continuum only 7 are third-party apps and only 3 of those (TuneIn, Xing and Tweetium) are apps that I believe are truly independant of Microsoft’s partnerships and subsidies. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for example, are apps that are likely to have been supported by Microsoft. Note that Netflix does not work in Continuum mode. Even Microsoft’s Skype doesn’t work in Continuum although I admit there’s an issue of camera positioning there.

Gaming in Continuum

The only game I’ve downloaded so far is Asphalt 8 Airborne and that doesn’t work on the big screen. As I write this I’m downloading games…

Only three of the top ten games in the Store are PC capable. Candy Crush Soda Saga, one of the ‘PC games’ works on the big screen, the others don’t. There’s no ‘Continuum Enabled’ section of the Store and if you search for “continuum” you’ll find one company, Academ Media, dominating the search results due to titles that include the word ‘continuum’. The games I tried worked but were very basic. Some were fun and at least it’s an indication that someone is working on Continuum-enabled games.

I conclude here with one major recommendation to Microsoft – You need to include a Continuum-enabled filter in the Store.

wp_ss_20160525_0001

 

I’m now 2 hours into this article and the Microsoft 950 XL isn’t any warmer than it was an hour ago. It’s being charged as it provides data through the USB-C port and this WordPress browser tab on Edge is stable and working well. No problems with Edge. I noticed some latency as I downloaded a series of 20+ apps but that’s to be expected on this low-end PC.

As I finalise this article everything appears to have locked up. Wait…it’s back. Mouse scrolling wasn’t working and that’s something that has happened again and again through this test across the browser and across Windows Store apps but…

Summary of Continuum.

In my 3 hour test Windows Continuum and Continuum enabled apps worked well. I was really, really annoyed at the lack of photo-editing ability and surprised that Microsoft hasn’t enabled a ‘Continuum enabled’ section in the Windows Store. I was annoyed at the lack of split-screen Continuum apps and, Microsoft, I don’t want to be looking at my phone as part of my desktop UI.

Windows 10 has, in general, a big problem with app quantity and quality and it’s very obvious in Continuum mode where popular apps don’t work.

Final note: I could not find a way to upload camera images via SD card to the 950 XL. These images were uploaded via the WordPress website and it took way too long. Everything you see, however, was created using the Lumia 950 XL in Continuum mode on a Full HD screen with USB keyboard and mouse. It wasn’t a barrier-free experience but faster and smoother than I had expected.

There’s SO MUCH POTENTIAL here but, alas, SO FEW APPS. Performance is easy to solve, The app problem is a bigger one.

 

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