You might not know this, but Bill Gates — the famed cofounder of Microsoft — recently admitted that he uses an Android phone. And a high-ranking official at Microsoft admitted that the Windows Mobile phone is pretty much dead. Nokia, the company Microsoft once owned, is slipping off into the dark night of the soul. What’s happening here? Will an Apple employee switch to Windows? Could IBM start preferring the Mac? Is there any hope for mankind?
The truth is a little less dramatic, actually.
Microsoft likely perceives that the future is all about voice-controlled interactions with the devices around us, not the one in our hand. The company is focused on productivity through operating systems that run on higher-end devices — say, your laptop or a server. And it’s seeing a world that is built on the back of AI, not an iPhone or a Google Pixel 2.
I’d say that’s a pretty smart strategy.
For now, it doesn’t even matter. Gates switched to an Android, sure. But he is using Microsoft apps, Microsoft infrastructure, and a Microsoft back-end. The phones we use are temporary, intermediary devices. They are a Band-Aid for now, because staring at a small screen is not the future. It’s incredibly ironic that this device we thought was so futuristic — the fulfillment of every Star Trek communicator fantasy — isn’t the future at all. The new CBS show Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t really show any handheld devices at all. There’s a reason for that.
Believe me, if Microsoft saw a future with smartphones, it’d be pulling out all of the stops to make the operating system work better and compete with Apple and Google. It certainly has the resources. It sees it as a sinking ship. We will communicate with bots that are all over our houses, at work, and in the car. We’ll dictate memos to Cortana — which did start out on a Windows phone, but is now starting to see life in other places.
In many ways, Cortana is the future for Microsoft, whether we want to believe it or not. It’s the entry point for computing for now, and it will continue to be the entry point. (Microsoft might eventually change the name so it stops reminding us all of Halo.) Eventually, all apps will go away, even the ones that seem valuable. Here’s an example: I use an app called Bandsintown. It’s awesome. It knows which bands I like, and it alerts me about their concerts.
But Cortana is going to take that over at some point. The bot will exist outside of the confines of a phone or a computer. It will know I like Future Islands, and it will tell me when Future Islands is playing in my town. I won’t need a phone for that, or a laptop, or any computer. Cortana will work in my office, maybe through the speakers in the ceiling — who knows? Also, who cares? The important part of this user interface paradigm is that I learn about the concert.
The app model will go away. The productivity model will take over. Microsoft already knows that, and it has already shifted focus to that future scenario. We just don’t realize it yet.