We’ve been talking for some time about how there won’t ever be a device called Surface Phone coming out of Microsoft’s stables, but that the Cellular PC concept was essentially aimed at delivering the same experience that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has had in mind all along for an “ultimate mobile device.” We’ve also discussed how Windows 10 Mobile has been getting the short end of the stick, how Windows Phone is being choked off and how the Surface Phone aka Cellular PC could eventually kill off the entire Windows 10 Mobile ecosystem over a period of time.

But when you look at it from purely an apps perspective, a new angle emerges. Essentially, the whole Windows 10 Mobile ecosystem subsists on two things: devices and apps. of course, it also depends on update support for the OS itself, but devices and apps are at the core of any kind of consumer growth for Windows 10 Mobile, and even Windows Phone, for that matter.

On the devices side, we know that there aren’t any new models of smartphones running Windows 10 Mobile. But there are more Windows 10 Mobile devices today than there were a little more than a year ago. That’s because in early 2016, Microsoft offered users of Windows Phone 8.1 Denim on certain Lumia devices the chance to upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile, and these were the devices eligible for the move:

Lumia 1520, Lumia 930, Lumia 830, Lumia 735, Lumia 730, Lumia 640 XL, Lumia 640, Lumia 638 (1 GB RAM), Lumia 636 (1 GB RAM), Lumia 635 (1 GB RAM), Lumia 540, Lumia 535, Lumia 532, Lumia 435, and Lumia 430.

However, Microsoft later confirmed that these users could also downgrade back to Windows Phone 8.1 if they weren’t happy with their Windows 10 Mobile Upgrade, since the Windows Phone Recovery tool would retain the original WP 8.1 images.

But even today, a lot of people today still don’t know that such an option exists, and all that’s required is for them to download the free Windows 10 Upgrade Advisor app from Windows Store.

Using very conservative estimates, as outlined by Steve Litchfield on AllAboutWindowsPhone (AAWP) earlier this year, there are roughly 7 million Windows 10 Mobile devices in active use around the world today.

We don’t have any sales figures for 2017, but since you can still buy a Windows smartphone right now, including premium ones like the HP Elite X3 and mid-range devices like the Alcatel IDOL 4S, whatever user base exists is still increasing rather than decreasing.

The point is, although the devices side is still ticking on, it is undeniably weak. It’s not like there are smartphone OEMs clawing at Microsoft’s door to let them have Windows 10 Mobile for their new devices. Most are still big on Android, naturally, while some have a foot in the door with Microsoft without being fully committed.

But the apps ecosystem is a different matter. That’s something that can actually help Windows 10 Mobile rise again, albeit in a measured way.

That brings us back to the Surface Phone aka Cellular PC. The Cellular PC is due out sometime in the third or fourth quarter of this year, and there are a couple of things Microsoft can and possibly might do to ensure its success in the market.

First of all, they need to push the Cellular PC primarily as a business device, not a consumer one. Consumers will naturally follow, but the fact that Microsoft intends to bring the full Windows 10 experience along with the old Win32 desktop apps to the device makes it the perfect device for enterprise and business users.

Second – and this is something they’ve been trying to do but unable to – they need to increase the rate at which UWP apps are deployed to Windows Store, especially those apps that are the top-performing ones on App Store and Play Store. That could soon change, now that Windows 10 has hit the 500 million user mark, as announced by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the Build 2017 conference earlier this month.

With 500 million users to reach, developers will hopefully be more open to developing UWP apps that can run across multiple platforms. And with that comes hope, once again, for Windows 10 Mobile device owners.

The other big driver for UWP will be the Surface Phone aka Cellular PC running Windows 10. The more devices there are, the more developers will be encouraged to build apps for them.

Moreover, since the Cellular PC will (or should, ideally) be promoted heavily within the enterprise segment, those users are more likely to generate revenues for developers via app purchases and in-app revenues. That’s an enticing proposition for most app developers.

So, even though Microsoft is pushing out Windows 10 Mobile preview builds at a much slower rate than for the PC version, clearly showing their lack of focus on the mobile version of Windows 10, things are afoot that could revive interest the Windows 10 Mobile community. 7 million users is no laughing matter, even though that’s dwarfed by the Windows 10 user base of 500 million and the even more massive Android install base of 2 billion devices, as recently announced by Google CEO Sundar Pichai at their I/O 2017 conference that’s on its final day today.

In the end, Windows 10 Mobile may have to die in order for Microsoft’s mobile ambitions to fructify, but not necessarily. If the apps come, some OEMs may be convinced to continue making Windows 10 Mobile devices and releasing new products every year.

That’s probably the only way for Windows 10 Mobile to survive beyond a few years. Microsoft hardly wants it for itself, but it may be willing to keep it alive if there’s enough interest for Windows 10 Mobile from users and well as smartphone makers.

All of this hinges on UWP apps picking up the pace which, in turn, depends on how effectively Microsoft can woo developers to its fold.

It is, no doubt, a complex web of interdependencies, but at least Windows 10 Mobile has a fighting chance of making it well into the next decade and beyond, if things go the way we’ve described.

Much of this scenario has yet to be played out, but greater Windows 10 adoption, a series of Surface Phone aka Cellular PC releases over the next few years and app developers jumping on the UWP bandwagon appear to be the key elements in this story.

As things stand, Windows 10 Mobile device users will just need to be patient, and wait to see when or if things start falling into place once the Surface Phone aka Cellular PC is released later this year.

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