Looking back on the first half of 2016, Microsoft deserves decidedly mixed marks. The company has done some good things, like prepping the upcoming Anniversary Update and continuing to improve Windows 10. And, as usual, the company has done some bad things, like implementing an arguably overly-aggressive and confusing Windows 10 upgrade that has angered and alienated a number of users.
Build 2016 wasn't nearly as exciting as Build 2015, and in this year's Developer conference Microsoft firmly established that the cloud, the enterprise, and the bot represent the core of where Microsoft's efforts are focused right now. Windows 10 Mobile remains on the back burner, and it's looking like we won't be seeing new Microsoft hardware until the beginning of 2017.
And so, I thought I'd take a few minutes to create a wish list of what I'd like to see Microsoft working on during the second half of 2016, keeping in mind that the company is unlikely to do anything spectacular. It's my belief that Microsoft is preparing for a stronger 2017, by firming up their solutions and filling in some holes, and so my own wish list is tempered by some low expectations.
I'm decidedly not going to talk about some larger issues that I haven't had the time to properly evaluate, such as Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn and the impact of the Xbox Scorpio announcement on Xbox One S sales in the near future. Those are fascinating and probably important topics, for sure, but I just don't know enough about them to draw any reasonable conclusions.
Instead, here are five areas where I would love to see Microsoft putting forth the most effort, in no particular order. Let me know in the comments what would be on your Microsoft wish list for the second half of 2016.
1. If you make an app for iOS or Android, then make an equivalent app for the Universal Windows Platform.
I can understand the reasoning when a third-party developer argues that there's not enough of a market to justify writing a Windows 10 Mobile version of an app. I find arguments against writing a Windows 10 version less compelling given over 300 million active users on the platform, but I can acknowledge that some apps make sense on smartphones but don't make as much sense on PCs. And so I might not be happy about the third-party app situation, but I can at least understand why it remains a problem.
Microsoft, however, has no such excuses. A major component of the company's strategy revolves around the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Microsoft is constantly asserting that getting a billion Windows 10 users is critical to their future success and that UWP provides a uniquely compelling opportunity for developers. If you listen to Microsoft, it's trivial to write one app and make it available with little muss or fuss on everything from smartphones to PCs to Xbox One to HoloLens.
If UWP is indeed so compelling an opportunity for developers, then why doesn't Microsoft take their own advice? The best way to lead is by example, and so far, Microsoft hasn't proven itself much of a leader. Too many Microsoft apps are released for iOS and Android long before they're ever released for Windows, and too many examples exist of Microsoft apps that run on one version of Windows 10 and not on any others--making a mockery of UWP.
One recent example is the SharePoint app for iOS. The app provides a number of key features for making good use of SharePoint, and there's no equivalent for Windows 10. Sure, you can access SharePoint resources with a modern PC browser, but the same can't be said for Windows 10 Mobile. And so here we have a business-oriented, indeed enterprise-oriented, Microsoft solution that's better supported on an iPhone than it is on a Windows 10 smartphone.
That makes no sense to me.
Numerous other examples exist. Microsoft Flow, the company's IFTTT-like automation tool for the enterprise, recently received an iOS app with an Android version on the way--and not a word about a Windows 10 version. Microsoft Sway runs on Windows 10 PCs, but not on Windows 10 Mobile. And while I understand that the Microsoft Garage is an informal group of Microsoft employees who work outside of the usual corporate structure, how hard would it be for Microsoft to give a little nudge to produce a few more Windows 10 apps to go along with all of the iOS and Android options? From Android launchers to iOS communications and news apps to Chrome extensions for personal shopping, Microsoft Garage seems unaware that the company has its own mobile platform (or Edge browser, for that matter).
And don't get me started on app quality. While some of Microsoft's first-party UWP apps are competitive with their iOS and Android versions, quite a few are significantly behind in both polish and features. Outlook team, I'm looking at you.
Honestly, I don’t know how Microsoft execs can stand up at developer events and call for support of UWP when their own company's efforts are so pathetic. At best Microsoft comes across as disorganized and inconsistent. At worst, the company comes across as hypocritical. And meanwhile, the argument that UWP is good for developers comes across as completely shallow when Microsoft itself clearly doesn't buy it.
My first 2016 wish list item for Microsoft, then, is to start taking their own platform seriously. Don't release an iOS or Android first-party app if there isn't an equally good UWP version releasing at the same time.
2. Find a way to convince more major content providers to properly support the Universal Windows Platform.
The lack of proper media content support is another issue. And by that I mean all of the major categories, including ebooks, music, and video. As a writer, avid reader, and sci-fi buff, it's not Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat that I use on my smartphone when I'm away from the home and the office, it's ebooks and movies, and right now a Windows smartphone is a pretty sad device for those things.
So far, here's a few examples of what I'm missing on my Lumia:
- Amazon: I use Amazon media content extensively. Amazon Kindle, Amazon Prime Video, even Amazon Prime Music (it's included in my Prime subscription, and they have some nice '70's rock playlists). Yes, there's a Kindle app for Windows phones, but it's an embarrassment, as I covered months ago. I read ebooks extensively, and annotate my ebooks furiously, and suffice it to say that Windows 10 Mobile is a horrid Kindle platform. And of course, Prime Video and Prime Music aren't available at all.
- Barnes & Noble and Kobo: I'll lump these two together, and I have numerous ebooks on those ecosystems as well. There's a Kobo Windows phone app, but it's no better than the Kindle app, and Barnes & Noble only offers an unsupported Windows 8.1 app for PCs.
- Google: Yes, I know, it's Google, right? But I do use Google Play Movies, Music, and Books, and miss them on Windows 10 Mobile. Ditto on the ebook support, of course.
- DirecTV: There's a Windows phone DirecTV app, but suffice it to say that it's also terrible. You can maybe manage to schedule a recording with it, if you're lucky, but forget about streaming any video.
- HBO Now: If I decide to cancel DirecTV at the end of my current contract, I won't be able to fall back on HBO's untethered service, at least on Windows 10 Mobile.
Now, I don't want to beat the "can't get developers to write apps for Windows 10 Mobile" horse too much more. And on PCs, most of these services can be used on Windows 10 in a browser, but of course that doesn't work for Windows 10 Mobile. And those are just the services that came to me while I was writing my first draft. I'm sure there are others.
The bottom line is that surely Microsoft could improve their relationships with these major media companies and convince them to better support Windows 10 on all devices. Google's a problem specifically, I get that, but every other company on this list--and the ones I haven't mentioned--certainly have their own economic reasons to get on board. And so why aren't they? I'd love to hear Microsoft's response on this one.
3. Stop selling Office Mobile as if it's the same as Office 2016.
This one is a bit more complex, and probably deserves its own treatment. And so I'll cut to the chase: for anyone who needs to get real work done in a productivity suite, Office Mobile is simply not the same animal as Office 2016. No matter if it's Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote, the mobile versions are severely limited. There are far fewer capabilities, no support for macros (security concerns aside, macros are still used in many fields), no object linking and embedding capabilities, and much less robust add-in support.
I spent the majority of my career in technology sales and marketing, and I'm here to tell you: I could never have imagined relying on Office Mobile to get any of those jobs done. I was fairly successful, and part of the reason was that I used Office features extensively to be more efficient and productive. I wager that this applies to a fair number of other business people as well. Sure, Office Mobile is fine for light document creation and editing, but when it comes to doing real work, they just don't cut it.
Perhaps the most egregious example is Excel--if you're a sales manager or marketing professional and you're not using Pivot Tables for analyzing and presenting data, then you're not doing your job as well as you should. There are similarly important functions in Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote that are missing in the Mobile versions of those apps as well. And I don't think that message is being clearly communicated.
Incidentally, I'd like to mention that most people who write about the topic are just that--they're writers. And not only are they writers, but they're most often web writers. In their daily workflow, they use something to simply type up text--which is one of the least computer-intensive productivity tasks imaginable--and then copy and paste it into a web-based solution like WordPress. Writers think Office Mobile (and Google Docs, for that matter) are just fine for getting "real work" done because their real work is so simple. And so when they write about the iPad Pro, for example, they only consider their own uses cases when they say it's a legitimate "productivity device" because it has a click-on keyboard.
The reason this bothers me so much is because it gives the iPad Pro an illegitimate crutch to lean on. In truth, the iPad Pro is severely limited as a "real" PC for doing real work for a host of reasons. iOS has no real file system, severely limited accessory support, rudimentary network support, etc., and those limitations alone should all be enough to make real professionals laugh at the thought of an iPad Pro replacing their real PC.
Microsoft, however, helps prop up the iPad Pro as a competitor to the Surface line and OEM hybrids by touting the availability of Office Mobile for iOS. Now, I get Microsoft's cross-platform strategy. I get it, and I support it. Microsoft needs to remain relevant to iOS and Android users, for a number of important reasons, and so making Office Mobile for both platforms makes sense. In fact, Office is a multibillion-dollar business in its own right, and is a major part of Microsoft's "cloud-first, mobile-first" productivity strategy, and so it makes sense that Office runs on iOS and Android.
However, there's no reason to make it easier for Apple to push the iPad Pro against the Surface line and OEM machines. Don't market Office Mobile as if it's the same as Office 2016. Make sure that people understand that what they're getting on an iPad Pro is something less than they would get if they were running Windows 10 or even macOS. It's a tricky marketing challenge, no doubt about it, but Microsoft has a few marketing folks on staff, I believe.
Put them to work.
4. Provide up-to-date changelogs for your apps.
Okay, this one might seem a little silly, and it's definitely a bit self-serving. As a technology writer focusing on Microsoft products, reporting on what's actually changed with Microsoft's apps is an exercise in frustration. But I imagine I'm not alone--I'm sure general users would also like to have an idea of what's new and fixed when a Microsoft app is updated in the Windows Store.
Microsoft obviously doesn't agree, however, because their track record of listing up-to-date and accurate changelogs is pathetic. It's worst on Windows 10--the Windows Store will often list the same changes for apps across weeks and numerous versions. It's marginally better on iOS and Android, but nowhere near perfect. Even the splash screens that Microsoft has added to their first-party apps are often copied over from previous versions.
This one seems like it would be relatively easy to fix. Just put out a memo to whoever is responsible for updating the changelogs in the Windows Store, the App Store, and Google Play. In that memo, tell them to do their jobs. Have Satya Nadella sign the memo.
5. Extend the free Windows 10 upgrade.
I've gone back and forth on this one. As a marketing professional for many years, I understand that promotional deals have to end at some point or they just become standard operating procedure. And a full year to upgrade to Windows 10 is plenty of time--it's not like Microsoft has failed to mention it. But I also think that the upcoming Anniversary Update fixes a huge number of problems with Windows 10 and dramatically improves its value. Letting people know what's new in that version of Windows 10 would likely help tip a few of them over the edge.
Unfortunately, the free deal runs out right around the time that the Anniversary Update will be rolling out, and Microsoft has been pretty clear that it's really ending. That means that Microsoft is losing out on upgrading people who would rather see a major update to Windows 10 before taking the plunge. Extending the offer for another 90 days, let's say, would still retain the promotional aspects of the deal while giving Microsoft the perfect excuse for the extension.
It's not going to happen, but if something was certain then it wouldn't belong on a wish list.
To be honest, I don't think any of the items of this wish list are actually going to happen. In fact, I doubt they're on Microsoft's to-do list. And maybe this list demonstrates relatively low expectations for the second half of 2016. As I said at the beginning of this piece, I think Microsoft's best stuff is coming in 2017, and that the rest of this year will be spent in putting some polish on things and getting ready for a huge push next year.
This is just one person's opinion, however. What's on your Microsoft wish list for the rest of 2016? Let us know in the comments.