Microsoft have struggled in the mobile device world. They have reinvented and tried new approaches several times – from Windows CE to PocketPC to Windows Mobile to Windows Phone and now to Windows 10 Mobile. Each platform has had its advantages and supporters, but throughout this period Microsoft has often seemingly had the wrong idea about how to treat the mobile device market. However, in the last couple of years we’ve started seeing signs of a new way of working with the mobile market: Microsoft realized that their greatest products are not the operating systems to run the applications, but the applications that run on whatever operating system the customer has. Thus, whilst Windows 10 is important to Microsoft, it has been offered free for customers. We have seen Microsoft develop and launch applications on other platforms – Android and Apple’s iOS – such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype. We’ve also seen the Cortana digital assistant and the Arrow launcher being released for Android too. And Microsoft have now released information about how many Android devices have or will come with Microsoft’s pre-installed applications.
For the spring 2015, Microsoft had thirty one device manufacturers offering Microsoft’s pre-installed applications on an Android device. For 2016, this number has been boosted to seventy four companies across twenty five countries. Microsoft’s blog on the subject explains how a number of high profile devices such as the LG G Pad 2, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Sony Xperia Z4 come with Microsoft’s productivity applications. This is an impressive and encouraging growth in less than a year and reflects on the new vitality and energy Microsoft has about it with its mobile applications, products and services. We’ve seen these productivity applications taking massive strides over the last twelve months. And of course, Microsoft isn’t doing this without a good reason: let’s take Microsoft Office as one example, which is a good productivity package on the Android platform. Using Office means customers are encouraged to use OneDrive, and are also encouraged to use the premium, paid-for features of the applications. Google’s Drive and companion applications offer a lesser set of features for nothing; it’s a competitive market and one that Microsoft is working hard to break into.
However, the signs are encouraging. Recently, Microsoft bought Swiftkey, a very well respected Android (and now iOS smart keyboard, after Apple invented third party keyboard support!). We’ve also seen Microsoft buying other software companies that produce well respected applications for Android, and sometimes iOS, devices. Microsoft’s approach is sounding similar to the old adage: in a gold rush, sell the tools.