Microsoft has been wanting to unify the Windows 10 experience across device platforms for some time now; since before it was released, in fact. But while that pot boils, Microsoft is doing several things. Let’s take a look at how this story is shaping up, and what the ending (new beginning?) might look like.
First of all, let’s tackle the problem of mobile.
This is and has always been Microsoft’s weak spot; Achilles Heel, if you will. The introduction of Windows Phone and then Windows 10 Mobile was a success of sorts, but it did not fully fructify because of one big reason – apps. By the time Microsoft got its act together on mobile and acquired Nokia, the mobile ship had sailed, captained by Android and ably first-officered by iOS.
What Microsoft did have at that point was a loyal user base spanning older Windows Phone devices and relatively new Windows 10 Mobile smartphones. The experiment was not a failure by any means, because there are still about 7 million users actively using these devices. But in the grander scheme of things, Microsoft’s mobile ambitions were swept under the carpet. Or so we thought.
And then came Windows 10, with ever greater ambitions of unifying device disparity. The Great Device Divide that put mobile and desktop into separate categories with their own ecosystems of apps was now Microsoft’s new target. And that brings us to what they’ve been working on under a surprisingly thick shroud of secrecy – Andromeda OS.
Andromeda is allegedly a hybrid operating system that handles the need of both desktop and mobile devices. There are many parts to it, such as CShell, which helps render content on different screen types with ease. There’s also Windows 10 on ARM, which is one of the angles they’ve been working.
All of these different parts come together in Andromeda. We first heard about this several months ago when Microsoft was reportedly testing an early version of this new type of hybrid OS.
Now, it seems like Microsoft is much closer to it. In fact, what we’ve been calling a new version of Windows 10 Mobile could be exactly that – the Andromeda OS. It is likely to have the same elements we’ve come across so far on the rumored Surface Phone – an ARM64 build of Windows 10 with CShell.
Before you jump up and down and wet your pants in excitement, understand that there is no evidence that devices currently running Windows 10 Mobile or Windows Phone will ever receive this as an update. It is meant for a new class of Surface Phone devices, which Brad Sams calls ‘a hallmark of the Surface family of devices.’
The idea is to offer up Andromeda to OEMs so they can go out and inundate the market with Windows 10 mobile phones. These devices – we’re still calling them Surface Phones – will be able to emulate desktop applications as well as run UWP apps from Windows Store. They may or may not be of a foldable type of design, but they will be cellular devices for sure, capable of 4G LTE and, eventually, 5G.
Whatever Microsoft has been working on for the past several years since realizing that Windows 10 Mobile is essentially dead, all of it has been with one purpose in mind – to develop Andromeda as a device-agnostic operating system with massive bank of applications that can be run on it. To the exclusion of all iOS and Android apps, I should add.
Such a device would be super-productive for anyone, but Microsoft has one particular market segment in mind as their first line of attack: the business user. Enterprise companies would kill to have their employees carry around their office in their pockets, but in a very secure manner. And when you look at it from that perspective, every additional security feature that Microsoft has been adding to Windows 10 suddenly has a single big reason – Andromeda.
Moreover, when you factor in Microsoft’s dominance in the cloud computing industry – bar Amazon in the area of public cloud – it makes even more sense.
Imagine this: a desktop-capable mobile device that can run the entire suite of Office 365 apps, has robust security, can run all the traditional desktop apps possible and have a million or so UWP apps to add to the mix.
Put that together in a single package, and you have Surface Phone running the Andromeda OS.
It’s still Windows 10, mind you, and it’s still very much Microsoft. But now, you have something that will potentially create a massive new market parallel to the smartphone industry.
In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that it has the potential to gradually kill off the smartphone industry and force its players to switch to the ‘smarter phone industry.’
That’s going to leave companies like Apple and Google in the dust as far as mobile is concerned. And that’s probably why Microsoft is being so secretive about it. There aren’t any hardware leaks, no code leaks, nothing. There are a couple of rumors and a published patent application. That’s it. Everything else is being held close to the chest so the company can hit the market by surprise.
I’ve been talking about this for a while now. This is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s game-changer. This is his “ultimate mobile device” that he’s been dropping references to every now and then.
When Surface Phone with Andromeda finally comes, it will be the end of Microsoft’s attempts at re-entering the smartphone space. That’s why Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone must die a natural death. The company isn’t talking about it, but they’ve all but signed the death certificate.
Although it means the end of one era of smartphone technology for Microsoft, it is also the beginning of a new industry comprising super-capable devices that have the power to render even the PC market obsolete, along with smartphones. That’s two big birds with one Redstone. Sort of.
But don’t expect it to happen overnight. Such a device could take the world by storm, but it has to first be marketed to the people whose lives will be changed by it – enterprise employees and business users. Considering Microsoft new-found strength in this segment through Office 365 and their acquisition of LinkedIn, the puzzle pieces suddenly fall together in a blinding lightning flash of understanding.
However, monumental as it is, Andromeda is not the end; it is merely the means to a different end. And that end is to establish Microsoft as the leader in mobile computing. Just as Windows helped them dominate the PC market for so many decades, Andromeda will help them dominate the mobility market for as many, if not more.
I know it sounds like Microsoft is paying me to write this, but they’re not. And that’s as much of a disclaimer as you’ll get from me. I stand to gain nothing from Microsoft, other than the fact that what I say could prove prophetic, thereby elevating my credibility as a technology journalist.
If what I’ve said so far in this article is anywhere near the truth, we’re in for a big surprise with Surface Phone and its many avatars. Unfortunately, as a result of this, Windows 10 Mobile will eventually become a footnote in the history of Microsoft Mobility. But I’m pretty sure that Microsoft is more than willing to offer it up as a sacrifice to the Gods of Mobile Computing.
Until next time.