For fans of the platform, the official confirmation that Windows on phones isn't under active development any longer—security bugs will be fixed, but new features and new hardware aren't on the cards—isn't a big surprise. This is merely a sad acknowledgement of what we already knew.
Last week, Microsoft also announced that it was getting out of the music business, signaling another small retreat from the consumer space. It's tempting to shrug and dismiss each of these instances, pointing to Microsoft's continued enterprise strength as evidence that the company's position remains strong.
Windows Phone is now officially dead: A sad tale of what might have been
And certainly, sticking to the enterprise space is a thing that Microsoft could do. Become the next IBM: a stable, dull, multibillion dollar business. But IBM probably doesn't want to be IBM right now—it has had five straight years of falling revenue amid declining relevance of its legacy businesses—and Microsoft probably shouldn't want to be the next IBM, either.
Today, Microsoft is facing similar pressures—Windows, though still critical, isn't as essential to people's lives as it was a decade ago—and risks a similar fate. Dropping consumer ambitions and retreating to the enterprise is a mistake. Microsoft's failure in smartphones is bad for Windows, and it's bad for Microsoft's position in the enterprise as a whole.
Modern Windows in jeopardy
When Microsoft's CEO announced in 2015 that the company was scaling back its smartphone ambitions, we argued that this move drastically undermined the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). That remains just as true today as it did then.
UWP is a common set of APIs that spans Windows on the PC, mobile, tablet, Xbox, and HoloLens, making it easier for developers to build applications that reach all these form factors. UWP is important, because it makes Windows a much more pleasant, modern platform to build on with stronger security, easier application updating, and much better support for things like high-DPI displays. To modernize Windows, UWP is essential. But developing a UWP application means eschewing the Windows 7 installed base, as UWP applications only run on Windows 10.
Make no mistake; if you're writing a Windows desktop application, UWP is a better way of doing so than the traditional Win32 API. It's easier to use, it's more capable, and the Windows Store makes installation, uninstallation, and updating much simpler for end users. And if UWP on Windows Mobile had offered, say, 15 percent of the smartphone market, too, developers might have decided that the loss of Windows 7 users was worthwhile to reach this new audience.
But with zero percent of the smartphone market, using UWP is strictly limiting the target audience. For most developers, the greater reach of Win32 is likely to offset the technical benefits offered by UWP. As such, even Microsoft's efforts to modernize the desktop Windows platform are hurt by the departure from the mobile space.