Microsoft’s Smartphone Dream Is Still Alive With New Windows 10 Hardware

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Although much of Microsoft’s mobile strategy is about getting users signed up to its cloud services no matter the mobile platform they are on, there are some signs of life on the Windows 10 smartphone front this week. T-Mobile is offering US customers the Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10.

The handset sports a SnapDragon 820 CPU, 4GB Ram, and a 1080p screen. If those feel like solid specs for an Android phone, that’s part of Windows 10 new attraction for mobile developers – it supports the same off-the-shelf hardware as its Android brethren.

In fact, it supports off-the-shelf so much that Android fans could recognise the Idol 4S as an Android-powered handsets, or as the reference design for BlackBerry’s recent DTEK60 smartphone.

You can flavour this to the the BlackBerry DTEK60 or the Idol 4S with Windows 10 (photo: Ewan Spence)

The Idol 4S’s party trick is one that is going to become more prevalent over the next twelve months is that it is a VR-ready. T-Mobile is shipping the handset with a headset that allows the smartphone to be used the screen and circuitry of a virtual reality system. Given the low resolution of 1080p (at least for VR) this is a nice addition, but I wouldn’t be considering this a primary reason to purchase the handset.

No, the important point for me in the Idol 4S with Windows 10 is the base hardware. The fact that Windows 10 can run on Android hardware (or at least lightly modified hardware) is a strength. No longer does a manufacturer to commit to a bespoke design or expensive tooling for a Microsoft-powered smartphone, they can use what they already have. Windows 10 might not be the first name that springs to mind with consumers, but the Idol 4S keeps Microsoft at the smartphone table – and if an enterprise partner wants or needs Windows 10 on a smartphone for its team Microsoft and its partners can deliver.

Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella talks at a Microsoft news conference October 26, 2016 (Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

It won’t make an impact on the market share dominance of Android, nor will it move the needle on Apple’s control of the profits in the smartphone market, but it will be a part of Microsoft’s cloud-first strategy. The driving force in software is not the operating system and Office, with other elements supporting them, the driving force for CEO Satya Nadella and his team is in cloud-based Microsoft accounts, with support from services such as Office 365.

In that sense Windows 10 is a service that hooks into Microsoft’s cloud just as Office 365 does, as Groove Music does, and as Xbox does. Just like those services, Windows 10 will run on as may platforms as possible, be it a ridiculously over-engineered Studio Surface, one of countless ultrabooks and high specced laptops, or an off-the-shelf smartphone reference design.

The dream is still alive, except it’s now a supporting feature and not the main picture.

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