Bogdan Bujdea

Windows Platform Developer

Windows 10 mobile outranked Android and iOS. How did it happened?

This post was originally written on October 6th, 2016, in a parallel Universe

October 6th, 2015…if Microsoft was a country, this day should be their national day because this is where it all changed. A year ago their mobile market share was under 2%, and now they have over 45%, their goal was to put Windows 10 on one billion devices in three years, but they managed to put it on 3 billion devices in one year. How was this possible? Well, like I said before, it all changed on October 6th, so let’s take a look at the last year and at the conference that changed the future of Microsoft.

There were 4 main devices that turned Microsoft into what it is today. Let’s start with the smaller one.

Microsoft Watch (aka Microsoft Band 2)

Everybody was expecting Microsoft to release a new version of the band, but instead they released a smartwatch, and not just any watch,. Apple Watch was nothing compared to it. It’s main advantages were:

  • Long lasting battery(up to 60 days, 1 year when idle)
  • Many designs(round, square, classic, sport, MS Band style, etc)
  • Cheap, from 200$ to 350$
  • Strong integration with all Windows devices
  • Powerful enough to be used without a phone

This device helped Microsoft to become the number one company in the smartwatch market, and judging by how beautiful and powerful they are, I can understand why.

Images by Nadir Aslam

Images by Nadir Aslam

Images by Deani Hansen https://www.behance.net/gallery/20684889/Microsoft-Windows-Watch-concept

Images by Deani Hansen

 

Images by Deani Hansen

Images by Deani Hansen

Hololens

There’s no point in showing a beta(or even alpha) version of a device if you’re going to release it in a few years. We were all disappointed because Hololens would be available only for developers in 2016, but Microsoft managed to release a developer version at the October event, and in 3 months they released it for consumers, with a few hundred apps already available for Hololens in the Store. This was a nice surprise and it contributed to Microsoft’s success, especially because they lowered the price to 1000$.

The Surface Book

Again, we were expecting a new Surface Pro, but we also got the first laptop from Microsoft, the Surface Book. Main advantages:

  • Long lasting battery(up to 15 hours)
  • Very light, 1 kg(2.2 pounds)
  • Cheap, from 900$(integrated graphics) to 1500$(i7 + Nvidia GPU)
  • Detachable screen

It’s the first laptop made by Microsoft and it’s cheap enough to replace a strong PC. They could have asked for a higher price, but it’s better to sell more for a low price because you gain users, and I think this is one of the most important assets. A faithful user will buy more of your devices and will attract other users, so I’m glad Microsoft realized this and gave it a very affordable price.

Finally, we have a flagship, the Lumia 950 Surface Phone

Image by Mr. Mulderfox

Image by Mr. Mulderfox

I saved the best for the finish. Everyone thought that Microsoft would release the Lumia 950, but instead they gave us the first Surface Phone, and its specs are quite impressive:

  • 41mp camera sensor, with a triple-LED RGB natural flash, and 5th-gen OIS
  • 64GB storage and microSD card slot
  • USB Type-C
  • Intel quadcore CPU
  • 5000 mAh primary battery
  • 1000 mAh secondary battery
  • 3D touch(not that iOS “touch and hold ” BS)
  • Continuum
  • Liquid cooling technology

I don’t know if you remember but there were some rumors back in 2014 that Microsoft was trying to extend battery life with two batteries and a software that optimizes power consumption. It may not seem impressive but this system helps the Surface Phone have an autonomy of 7 days on average usage, and 10 days when it’s idle. A recent survey showed that 18% of the new users of Windows 10 switched to this platform because of the extended battery life.

Continuum

For me Continuum didn’t sound very appealing because there were rumors that you could only use it with a display dock, but it turns out Microsoft delivers one for free with every Surface Phone, so I’m okay with this. Another rumor was that you could only run Universal apps and that you won’t be able to use them side by side, but thanks to the Intel CPU you can use x86 apps as well. How awesome is that? I’ll tell you, it’s so awesome that 15% of the Windows 10 mobile users said they switched to this platform because of it.

Windows 10 aka “Developers, Developers, Developers”

Having great devices could be just enough to reach an impressive market share, but why stop there? Windows 10 builds were not very impressive because they were very slow and had many issues, so everybody was thinking that Microsoft won’t have the OS ready by October 6th. However, they really impressed us when they released the final build in that same day, and one week later they were shipping the Surface Phone with it.

I really liked the fact that they released the mobile version of Windows 10 so fast, but what impressed me the most was the fact that they gave developers access to the full operating system. I was so happy I almost cried. No more “I’m sorry, Windows Phone apps can’t do everything Android apps do”. It was finally over, Microsoft realized that having a strong certification process was enough to have an app Store clean of malware and duplicated apps. Sure, it takes a little bit longer to get your app in the Store, but when you can do everything you want, it doesn’t matter. The possibilities were endless, in just a few months TeamViewer released a full featured client for Windows 10 mobile, there was also a RescueTime which tracked what apps you use the most, and later there was even a Chromium browser.

In the last year the Windows Store was flooded with so many apps that in 6 months it had more apps than Apple, and one month later it surpassed Google. It’s unbelievable, but when you allow developers to port iOS, Android and Web apps to your platform, you can’t fail, especially if you don’t have all sorts of restrictions. Most of the developers(including myself) were not ok with this at first, but so far we only got to gain from it because more users meant more income. Porting Java, Javascript and Swift apps works pretty well, but once they got here everyone was looking to improve them, make them faster and better integrated with the OS, so the demand for Windows developers spiked in the last year.

Finally, there were two more things that helped them increase their number of users, Windows 10 was free for an unlimited time(there are rumors that they will open source it in the next few months), and the Surface Phone was just 400$ in the first 6 months(800$ after). Don’t get me wrong, I would pay double that amount for its specs and OS, but when you’re set to gain users, this is how you do it. The immediate availability for these devices was not limited to the US like they have done in the past, so I think this was another reason for success(I have to thank Ben Chartrand for reminding me of this). Overpricing devices worked well for Apple, but Microsoft was more interested in gaining users first, not money. And speaking of money, this last year was incredible for their profit because they just surpassed Apple a month ago, making them the most valuable tech company in the world.

I’ll say it again, Windows 10 mobile outranked Android and iOS in less than a year. It still seems impossible, but this is what you get when you decide to let go of the past and listen to user feedback. I was on the point of switching to another platform after being a faithful user/developer for 4 years, but I’m glad Microsoft managed to turn the situation like this. As Satya Nadella told it, now “we have a platform that we want to use, not that we have to use”.

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  • Ben C

    One thing you forgot to report about, from the parallel universe, was how MS was releasing their products to more than just the US.

    I had a survey with a Visual Studio product manager. He asked me: what is the #1 thing I could wish for? I told him it would be to get rid of at least half the apps in the store and explained why.

    So no Lumia 950 for you? My director seriously considered it. He was the last, holdout WP user at work but he decided against. Went with Android and experienced that euphoria that comes with realizing you can get so many apps – most of them for work.

    • You’re right, availability in other countries is really important so I made an edit :), thank you for pointing this out. There are a lot of things Microsoft could do in order to shift the balance, but I think that doing only a few of the stuff I mentioned could help them gain a significant market share.

    • You’re right, availability in other countries is really important so I made an edit :), thank you for pointing this out. There are a lot of things Microsoft could do in order to shift the balance, but I think that doing only a few of the stuff I mentioned could help them gain a significant market share.