New flagship hardware released during Q4 wasn't enough to help overcome Microsoft Windows Phone's long, downward spiral into a zombie platform.
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Windows Phone doesn't have much of a future, based on the numbers highlighted in Microsoft's fourth quarter results. Sales of new handsets crashed precipitously, leaving Microsoft with a sliver of a sliver of the global smartphone market. Has the platform's Day of Reckoning finally arrived? Maybe.
Microsoft says it sold about 4.5 million Lumia smartphones during the fourth quarter of 2015. That's down a whopping 57% in terms of volume from the 10.5 million it sold during the fourth quarter of 2014. Revenue for its handset division crashed almost as hard, down 49% year-over-year.
Want to gaze at an even bleaker picture? Since its 2010 debut, the Windows Phone platform has seen total shipments of 110 million handsets. In that same time, Apple and Google have together shipped a combined 4.5 billion devices running iOS and Android. That has to be a soul-crushing number for Microsoft to digest.
The Windows 10 platform has succeeded in the PC and tablet space (so far), but the promise of universal apps hasn't yet had a chance to impact Windows 10 Mobile. The platform's biggest weakness has always been the lack of apps when compared to Android and iOS. Developers aren't porting their apps to Microsoft's smartphones in great enough numbers.
It's not that there aren't hundreds of thousands of apps available to Windows Phones, because there are. The problem is Windows Phone lags badly in core apps, and when core apps do happen to reach Windows Phone (looking at you, Instagram), the apps lack the quality of their Android/iOS counterparts.
Microsoft released the Lumia 950, 950 XL, and 550 handsets in December, in the hope of reversing its slide into oblivion. So far these phones have gone nowhere. The buggy build of Windows Mobile, the lack of apps, and miniscule support from wireless carriers have more or less doomed them.
The question then becomes: What does Microsoft do with its phone business? The company's Surface tablet team is rumored to be working on a Surface Phone, but it won't arrive until late in 2016 (if at all). By then we'll have the iPhone 7 with iOS 10 and new Nexus phones with Android 7.0. Does Microsoft keep Windows 10 alive as an option for enterprise users, or does it kill off the platform once and for all and focus on other products? (For example, its excellent Android and iOS apps.)
What are your thoughts? Please sound off in the comments below.
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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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