Tech Talk: HP Gives Up On Windows Phone, So Does Microsoft

October 10, 2017 - Written By Daniel Fuller

A couple of days ago, HP announced that the HP Elite X3 is being phased out, along with any would-be future members of its lineage, and in doing so, seemingly put the final nail in Windows Phone’s coffin. Following which, Microsoft staffer Joe Belfiore took to Twitter and confirmed as much not even 48 hours after the news broke, saying that the company will no longer focus on offering new software features or making new hardware for the platform. Belfiore did say that those who have a Windows Phone device can now still expect security updates and bug fixes going forward, but he did not give an exact cutoff date. HP’s Nick Lazaridis, the head of operations for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, spoke to UK news outlet The Register, and confirmed that the HP Elite X3 will no longer be produced, and sales and support will be ending in 2019. According to Lazaridis, the company’s reason for jumping ship at the time boiled down to the fact that Microsoft was seemingly abandoning Windows Phone, and HP would not maintain or further develop a device or family of devices on a dead ecosystem. Lazaridis’ assertion ended up proving quite correct, despite Microsoft’s nigh-immediate rebuttal.

Microsoft initially reached out to some news outlets that reported on the demise of HP’s flagship to clarify that it does not plan to abandon Windows phone and will be supporting its Lumia flagships and devices from OEMs who decide to use Windows Phone, but it’s arguable that the company’s actions at the time didn’t reflect those words. The report that Microsoft was officially halting further development of Windows Phone and hardware for it came just a couple of days after the company specifically told news outlets that it planned to continue those activities. The sudden shift in priorities may seem jarring, but it’s no big surprise to anybody who has actually been watching the platform. Third party development, or lack thereof in this case, was a big enough issue, but Microsoft actually made things a bit worse itself. The company has been putting more and more of its products and services out on other platforms, with Microsoft Office being the standout example. Even so, competing with Android and iOS in third-party development could help keep the platform afloat, but developer advocacy efforts for Windows Phone have never been all that great, and the last major effort, the Developer Ambassador Program, was done away with all the way back in 2014. With user count at a fraction of other platforms and incentives limited to small, case-by-case handouts and help with development work, third party developers had no real reason to create software for Windows Phone anymore.

Microsoft’s own lack of support for the platform may not have been of much consequence if big names would have gotten behind the platform in a big way, but many major Android OEMs have stayed away since the early days of Windows Phone, or even bowed out back in the Windows Mobile days. Huawei is an OEM to look to in this respect. The company’s last Windows device, the Huawei Ascend W1, came out back in 2013, and the manufacturer has been almost solely devoted to Android ever since. Some other companies ran with the trend for a short while, but did not put anywhere near the level of enthusiasm, and of course marketing, into those efforts as they did with their Android lineups. Samsung is a prime example of this trend; the company produced many Windows phones in its ATIV lineup, and even had one of the best Windows phones you could get back in the Windows Mobile days, in the form of the Omnia lineup, but those efforts fell by the wayside as the Galaxy S lineup was pushed hard in marketing and wound up a runaway success. Samsung didn’t need Windows Phone anymore, so it left the platform with little fanfare. In short, these companies and others may have pushed a bit harder for Windows Phone if Android hadn’t been around, and this may well have saved the platform from its current fate. Still, could have been is never an absolute statement; Windows Phone may just as well have died if Huawei had never found success in Android and risen to stardom, or Samsung had stuck to Tizen, for just a couple of examples. Arguments that Microsoft’s handling of the mobile ecosystem went downhill in the era of the common smartphone are many. While Windows Mobile proved a powerful business tool in its heyday, its follow-ups simply did not live up to its legacy. Arguably, this could be chalked up to a lack of ubiquity; back in the prime days of Windows Mobile, it was the only proper, PC-compatible smartphone around.

HP’s Elite X3 was supposed to be the renaissance of Windows Phone. Taking full advantage of Microsoft’s Continuum ecosystem, it was meant to be a multi-modal workhorse that could be carried around as a phone to access files and apps any time, put into a laptop dock for working on the go, and slotted into a desktop dock to be used as a full-on workstation. Though it was supposed to emulate x86 code to some extent and allow for the use of legacy Win32 apps, this capability was found lacking by many reviewers, and the phone essentially became a novelty. Consumers didn’t want to give up their ecosystem of choice for the ability to swap screens, and the enterprise world largely ignored Continuum because of the lack of Win32 app compatibility, choosing instead to continue using Android and iOS for mobile work, and normal desktop systems like Mac, Linux, and Windows for workstations. With the high-spec flagship meant to make the case for Windows Phone and Continuum dead on arrival, the platform’s momentum never picked back up. HP was one of the last major partners and its decision to back out of Windows Phone left no real options except Microsoft’s Lumia devices. Between the lack of third party development and lack of OEM support, Microsoft has seemingly finally given up on Windows Phone in an official capacity, a move that many may argue was years in the making.