1. Satya Nadella-led Microsoft Corporation has suddenly gotten serious with mobile

Satya Nadella-led Microsoft Corporation has suddenly gotten serious with mobile

Microsoft has spent almost a half-decade trying to offer a credible alternative to Apple's iPhone and mobile devices running Google's Android.

By: | New York | Updated: February 23, 2015 9:26 PM
Microsoft, Microsoft mobile, Microsoft phone, Microsoft corporation

Microsoft launched two smartphones — Lumia 435 and Lumia 532, priced at Rs 5,999 and Rs 6,499 respectively. (Reuters)

Microsoft is suddenly a powerful presence on my phone. Yes, you read that right. This is the same Microsoft that spent almost a half-decade trying to offer a credible alternative to Apple’s iPhone and mobile devices running Google’s Android. And it’s the same Microsoft that paid more than $7 billion to buy Nokia’s once-mighty handset business, only to see its mobile business sink further. The company now clings precariously to a 3% share of new smartphone sales.

Make no mistake, Microsoft still wants its mobile operating system, Windows, to be the software in our smartphones. But mobile developers continue to focus on making apps for Apple or Android devices instead, making Windows phones an increasingly hard sell.

That reality has finally sunk in at Microsoft, and a new strategy is afoot. When Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, took the top job at the company about a year ago, he signaled that the company’s priorities were shifting. Microsoft, he said, was in a “mobile-first, cloud-first world.” Since then, the company has brought more of its apps and services to the Apple and Android devices people actually use, rather than the ones Microsoft would like them to use—those that run Windows.

What’s even more surprising is that Microsoft’s heart seems to be in the effort. Over the last several months, Microsoft has been taking up more and more space on my own iPhone’s home screen. I’ve installed mobile versions of its Office apps as well as OneDrive, the company’s answer to Dropbox, Google Drive and other cloud storage services.

For the last couple of weeks, I have also relied heavily on Microsoft’s latest mobile creation, Outlook for the iPhone. (It’s available on Android, too; both versions are free for personal use.) Outlook is an email and calendar app that bears a resemblance to the PC version of the software, but mostly just in name. Instead of trying to jam all the features of the PC version into the app, Outlook is thoughtfully tailored for how people use email on smartphones.

The new Outlook is not Microsoft’s work, exactly. The app is mostly a rebranding of Acompli, an existing app made by a start-up that Microsoft acquired in December for $200 million. But there is no shame in using acquisitions to inject new talent and technology into a company. Facebook, Google and Amazon all employ a similar strategy.

The fact that Microsoft released the new Outlook in late January, when the ink was barely dry on its Acompli deal, is a clear sign of how quickly the company feels it needs to move in the mobile business. Last week, the company bought the maker of Sunrise, a popular mobile calendar app, suggesting that Microsoft has no plans to let up on its deal-making.

Until it released its new mail app, Microsoft offered OWA for iPhone and Android. The name stands for Outlook Web Access, and as the name suggests, the app was essentially a shortcut to a web page and lacked the performance and richness of a native mobile app. The new Outlook is everything its predecessor was not—snappy and, for people who are heavy email users on mobile, a genuine improvement on the standard Apple email app that comes on every iPhone. Outlook’s answer is to use software algorithms to automatically divide emails into two queues: Focused and Other. Put simply, Focused is supposed to give me the messages I’ll want to look at in those 24-second glances, while Other is stuff I might want to look at later or not at all.

Microsoft is hardly the first to sort like this. Google’s Gmail app for iPhone, for instance, has an email queue known as priority inbox for messages it determines you’ll want to see. Both Google and Microsoft have similar tricks for ranking important emails. They look at who you’ve emailed in the past, whose messages you open and who you bother replying to. The problem with this kind of intelligent email sorting is that it’s
often hard for users to trust. No one wants to miss a crucial email from a boss. And if the sorting isn’t reliable, many users will simply look at two inboxes instead of one. That said, I like how Outlook sorts emails and prefer its approach over the Gmail app.

There are excellent free productivity apps on mobile and PCs from Google, Apple and others, and the prospect of those apps chipping away at its Office business is terrifying for Microsoft. But Microsoft has sweetened its Office 365 deal by including unlimited online storage through OneDrive, its cloud storage service.

That’s not a misprint. You can create an online copy of all of your pictures, videos, music and other files in the cloud, with no limits.

The other day, my daughter put together a birthday tribute to her mother in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. She composed it on a Mac, which automatically backed it up to OneDrive. We went to a restaurant, my daughter opened PowerPoint on my iPhone 6 Plus and did the presentation right there at our table.

My wife was in tears — and it would have not have been possible using Microsoft products a little over a year ago.


  1. M
    Mohamed Rabie
    Feb 23, 2015 at 4:37 am
    It's a shame that most app developers still focus on Apple and Android.
    1. C Betzer
      Feb 24, 2015 at 8:00 am
      I have had and used and still use Apple at this time, because I spent the money and am not going to waste it. But, I am not giving them money anymore due to things that I know to be facts. Apple makes large profits and they have business dealings with companies that make products with work conditions that harm employees and their families. To the point that women have jumped to their deaths and add that these businesses target women to put together their products due to their small hands, which in turn have harmed these women. Repeive work to build our fancy little devices and the killing of one self? At least Microsoft and Samsung can say this is not in their company history. What are your values when you learn about these things? For me Apple should have dropped these manufacturing companies, but then again they knew for a while what was going on and why change what is working? Yep, they still do business with the very same company, still today. Apple has been working to cure this issue, but they knew about these issues for a long time before anyone ever did anything to change what is happening. If it was not for the Media and that they started to report these woman and human issues, would Apple have changed anything at all? I do not think anything would have changed without the Media and is why I am done with Apple, along with the fact they still do business with these companies. Yash Pal, get informed before you point fingers at any company and call them a monopoly. Apple is a monopoly so point that finger out as a fact. When you say 'rent seeking Corporation', you do know that you do not own the OS and or the Apple hardware completely, right? If not, read the terms of use and you will see you own the right to use the hardware and the right to use the OS. So look in the mirror at the person that is a renter. End of day, buy what you like and what you can live with when you learn about the company and how they make world breaking profits.
      1. Bharat K
        Feb 23, 2015 at 2:08 am
        Caution. Adver above.
        1. E
          Feb 23, 2015 at 7:06 pm
          I switched from an iPhone to Windows awhile back not one regret my Lumia 1020 is amazing all around and the pictures this thing takes on a w different level.
          1. J
            Feb 23, 2015 at 3:11 am
            Actually it was entirely possible a year ago. It was possible several years ago. I've had interconnected office across all my devices from the early days of windows phone and OneDrive (or Skydrive as it was). Just because people have sh away from Windows Phone doesn't mean it hasn't enabled brilliance while they were busy staring into their iConsume
            1. N
              Feb 23, 2015 at 11:43 pm
              and Apple is non-profit?
              1. N
                Feb 23, 2015 at 2:48 am
                Anyone not using Windows phone 8.1 is really missing out. (Though iPhans are like the religious it's tough to shake their preconceived notions.) Out of varying systems I've used over the years win phone is my hands down favorite. We shouldn't have another Betamax lose out to VHS situation again.
                1. N
                  Feb 23, 2015 at 2:52 am
                  too bad winphone is only 3% share. 8.1 is better than anything I've used before (android, apple or blackberry). But you can't tell that to the cult-like iPhans who won't even give it a try and dismiss everything windows out of hand.
                  1. S
                    Feb 23, 2015 at 7:21 am
                    You guys are missing the point. This s is abt ms apps in iOS and android. Not abt Windows phone
                    1. T
                      Feb 23, 2015 at 1:37 pm
                      lol isheep speak to your Apple company how they lie to everything consumers the storage space on their bendgate iphone6. lol.
                      1. Y
                        Yash Pal
                        Feb 24, 2015 at 8:42 am
                        Who said that? One company at a time.
                        1. Y
                          Yash Pal
                          Feb 23, 2015 at 10:55 am
                          It is not a shame, it is a very good thing. Microsoft wants to monopolise the field in which it operates. It is only after it failed to make a dent in the mobile space that it stared to out its OS for free to smartphone makers. There are enough nos of open source applications available for MS to transport to its OS but no. It wants to make every thing closed source. Only the EU can put some sense into MS with hefty fines.
                          1. Y
                            Yash Pal
                            Feb 23, 2015 at 11:01 am
                            Microsoft is a monopoly oriented, rent seeking Corporation. I do not Know why people want to encourage such a Corporation.
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