Things are changing at Microsoft. The company is embarking on a strategy that has cloud and mobile computing at its core. Software previously monopolised on Windows is being made available to customers of rivalling platforms. Investments are being made in innovative technologies, the likes of holographic headsets and interactive screens spanning 84-inches. And tying all of it together is one unified and seamless operating system.
Stephen Elop took the stage at Microsoft’s Mobile World Congress presentation in Barcelona. The executive vice president of Microsoft’s devices and services recognised the company will need to fight on rival platforms if it is to win customers back.
“We are extending our signature experiences to other platforms,” begun Elop. “Ultimately what we want to do is serve our customers where they work while bringing them back to Windows.”
It is for this reason Microsoft has extended its Office and Outlook software to devices from Google and Apple. Microsoft’s breadth of products and services is wide, and the company is bundling some of its services together in a bid to make the prospect of joining its ecosystem desirable.
Take the services complementing the announced Lumia 640, a 5-inch smartphone that succeeds the inexpensive Lumia 635, for example. Buyers of the smartphone receive a one year subscription to Office 365 (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), an additional Office licence for a PC or tablet, 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage and 60 minutes of free phone calls per month over Skype. The €139 ($AU200.20) price of the Lumia 640 then buys not only a smartphone; rather, it grants admission into Microsoft’s productive ecosystem.
Executives interested in buying hardware and services for staff at a discount will find the offer difficult to turn down, even among the competition from rival Google.
Mobile World Congress provided a platform for Microsoft to showcase — for the first time — the preview version of Windows 10 on smartphones. Universal applications form the ethos of Microsoft’s upcoming operating system. People will be able to shift from one device to the next with the cloud keeping them synchronised. The ability to scale applications across screens sized 4- to 84-inches proves conducive to Microsoft as its lagging smartphone ecosystem will gain a boost in application support.
Microsoft executives showcased the much hyped Spartan browser, which is a bare-boned alternative to the company’s Internet explorer. The browser’s ‘reading list’ view will strip webpages of advertisements and complex formatting in an effort to make the information easier to digest. Microsoft executives described it as “an eReader for your browser”.
Another app of note was the company’s Maps offering, which will be scaled to work on Lumia smartphones, along with the Cortana personal assistant. Cortana has matured into an interface capable of rivalling Google’s Now, as the personal assistant can glean up-to-date information on topics such as favourite sporting events.
Both of these applications synchronise via the cloud across all of a customer’s Windows devices.
Showcased on the Lumia 640 were upcoming changes to the style of Windows 10 on mobile. The ‘action centre’ will present 12 settings – as opposed to four – when tapped. In the menu, most recent applications will jump the alphabetical directory to rest up top. Then there’s the messaging application, which seamlessly incorporates Skype messages into existing threads.
Crucial to the user experience is the hardware. Microsoft revealed two smartphones at the Mobile World Congress; the 5-inch Lumia 640 and a 5.7-inch phablet version called the Lumia 640XL.
The two smartphones share colourful casing and the same processing hardware. Powering them is a 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. Up to 128GB of extra storage can be added with a microSD memory card.
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Screen resolution for both smartphones is also shared at 1280x720.
Big improvements have been made to the smartphones’ cameras. The 640 has an 8 megapixel camera that gains an LED flash, and it also comes with a front facing camera. The Lumia 640XL has a higher resolution camera at 13 megapixels.
Further differentiating the two smartphones are the batteries. The 640 XL has a 3000 milliamp-hour battery compared to the 2500 milliamp-hour battery of the standard Lumia 640.
Dual-SIM options of the smartphones will be put into production. Microsoft representatives could not confirm exactly which variants will be coming to Australia.
Pricing for the 640 XL is €189 ($AU272) and it will begin a global rollout in March, while the Lumia 640 is priced at €139 ($AU200.20) and will roll out in April.
Customers could end up buying these Lumia smartphones because the hardware rivals the best from Motorola’s stable, and if Windows 10 delivers on Microsoft’s promises, they could consider a Surface tablet next.
Stay tuned: Good Gear Guide will publish a hands on impression of both smartphones shortly.
Tony Ibrahim travelled to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as a guest of Microsoft