BGR: “when it comes to smartphones, Microsoft sadly seems as clueless as ever” (and why a dockable phone is a step backwards)

Microsoft is still not getting much love for its new Windows Mobile Lumia phones, recently dubbed by TechCrunch as “the best phones no one buys“. When Microsoft announced the new flagship Lumia 950 would only be available via a single carrier in the US (AT&T), I wondered if this was because the other major carriers in the US were not interested in carrying the phone. As it turns out though, the decision to only sell through AT&T was Microsoft’s decision. In a response to why those chose to limit to a single carrier, the response from Microsoft was:

“…We’re refocusing our channel strategy, narrowing it in the short-term and planning for broader operator availability long-term”

The Microsoft quote above is from BGR’s article “Does Microsoft even want people to buy Windows Phones anymore?” – the title which really says it all, but also adds “… when it comes to smartphones, Microsoft sadly seems as clueless as ever”.

Microsoft’s FY16 Q1 Financial Results announced that their Phone sales for Q1 were down 56%. Ouch.  The Lumia 950 release was after Q1 though, so maybe they’re seeing some increase now the new phones are out, but probably not that much. Missed sales targets in 2015 were also mentioned in the company’s SEC 10K filing, and given as the reason for the $7.6bn write off for it’s recent purchase of Nokia.

Of all the features of the 950 phones, the Continuum feature is probably the most interesting, being able to take the phone mobile and then plugin a desktop monitor and keyboard when you get to the office or get back home, but honestly, who would actually do this? The phone itself doesn’t have direct connectivity to a monitor or keyboard either, you have to buy the additional $99 dock. Sales people who spend a lot of time traveling on the road perhaps might be interested in this, but it doesn’t seem to fit into any current usage pattern for how a ‘typical consumer’ would use their mobile device. And this is not a new feature either. Remember when the Motorola Atrix launched in 2011? One of it’s promoted features at the time was it’s ability to dock and use a desktop monitor and keyboard (running a slimmed down Linux version). Don’t remember this? No probably not. Neither does anyone else.

Access to my apps and data through a single device is not a step forward

If phone docking was such a great idea then all smartphones would be dockable by now. My aging Galaxy S3 supports an HDMI connection to a monitor via a USB adapter (and USB keyboards for that matter too), but I think I’ve used that feature maybe twice in the past 2 years, and only out of curiosity, not for any real practical purpose . Focusing on the physical device itself as the gateway to apps, data or services that I need to use seems like the wrong approach. If my apps and data are online in the cloud then why would I limit myself to accessing them through a single physical device that I need to plug in to other physical devices in order to get access? I’d rather access my apps and data through a browser which I already have on my existing (not even current gen) Android phone, on my personal laptop (running OS X), on my work laptop in the office (running Windows 7), on my desktop in the office at home (running Linux Mint), or for that matter on any device anywhere. Web-based access to practically anything, anywhere, from any device is here today and the typical usage pattern for most users.

… access through a single dockable device seems like a step backwards, not a step forwards; it’s a usage pattern that is not relevant today.