Here's where Microsoft is going with mobile

Getting its apps onto rival platforms was just the start; now that companies have to manage them, Microsoft hopes to help

At first glance, Microsoft's mobile strategy seems disjointed.

Windows 10 has evolved to support PCs, tablets, and hybrid devices -- including those by third-party OEMs as well as Microsoft's own Surface Pro and Surface Book. And despite a miniscule overall market share, the company continues to invest in both the OS and hardware development of Windows Phone, with some models now able to function as ultra-portable PCs.

At the same time, after years of shunning rival platforms, Microsoft has aggressively moved to get its software onto iOS and Android devices. The move started in earnest a little under two years ago with the release of core Office apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) for the iPad and has expanded to include a range of apps like Outlook, One Note and Office Lens. The most recent addition, a Microsoft "app store" app for Android that is essentially a catalog of its Android apps, may be the most puzzling move. But it make also be the most significant.

Microsoft's move toward competing mobile platforms represents a serious shift from just a few years ago. When Windows Phone launched, it offered the only version of Office for smartphones. Then the company dragged its heels, waiting so long to make Office available for other platforms that it allowed a range of alternatives to show up. Even its initial foray into Office on iOS -- a very anemic iPhone app -- seemed to telegraph a message: If you wanted a truly functional mobile verison of Office, you'd have to buy into Windows Phone (and later Windows 8).

Then, CEO Steve Ballmer stepped down, making way for successor Satya Nadella and "mobile first, cloud first" vision. That was the turning point in Microsoft's approach to mobile. Nadella's aim of getting Office onto every device possible made sense for one very good reason - it was becoming clear that if Microsoft didn't do so, Office was in real danger of being replaced in most businesses.

A strategy bigger than Office

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