Microsoft dropping ARM branding, hand over fist

Microsoft is dropping its 'Windows on ARM' and general 'ARM' branding on its future products. ARM refers to a processor architecture, used by Apple, Qualcomm, and others. Microsoft has been working with Qualcomm to build products based on ARM, and developing versions of Windows that run on ARM processors. After am arm-wrestle, Microsoft is dropping ARM branding, hand over fist.

Windows on ARM

Windows on ARM began life deep inside a Microsoft lab many years ago. The team dedicated to the project was bunkered down, working hard on a pipeline of product definitions, dream-scaping their way toward a utopian future, where Microsoft would bust through and beat the iPhone, while giving Android a black eye.

Some of this relied on Apple having a few stale years of innovation, and Android maintaining its ranking below Apple in the overall ranking of phone operating systems. Apple has largely been considered the innovator and the market leader, with Android second, others coming in third and fourth, and Microsoft coming in last place.

Windows Phone as an operating system failed. Windows RT as a tablet operating system failed. Microsoft's other efforts in the phone space also failed, based on sales, user experience, lack of apps, and lack of traction.

Recent Strategy

Microsoft's recent strategy has been to skip phones, and focus on tablets. This approach has succeeded with the Surface family.

Back in March 2018, Microsoft lit up its Andromeda project, widely believed to be a phone-tablet hybrid, that unfolds from a phone size device into a tablet sized device.

Then, Microsoft was happy to let the rumour mill run amok, developing its own hype for a Surface Phone, and as that rumour heated up and boiled over, Microsoft announced... the Surface Go. Was it a phone? No. Was it a tablet? Kinda. Was it a PC? Kinda. Was it using ARM? No. Was it using Intel? Yes. Was it any good? The jury is still out. Most tech journalists have likened it more to an iPad (media consumption and social media tool) than a professional workhorse like the Surface Pro.

In fact, the whole Surface line is in dire need a big reboot.

Qualcomm and ARM

Microsoft working with Qualcomm was a secret for a year or more, before becoming public in a somewhat underwhelming on-stage presentation of a prototype device. That device, which may be an unpackaged tablet or an unpackaged laptop, made its debut, then disappeared under a cloud of marketing hyperbole.

Qualcomm Snapdragon powers the world's best Android phones, from Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and many more. So is Microsoft hinting at a future Microsoft-branded phone or tablet with a Qualcomm heart and Windows on ARM software brain?

ARM Devices

Apple's iPads run customised ARM chips. Qualcomm Snapdragon is an ARM family chip.

Other chips found in phones and tablets around the world have ARM inside, produced by firms like MediaTek and Rockchip.

It's no surprise that Apple's software is what makes Apple devices special. Whether its an iPod, iPhone, iPad, iMac, Mac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Watch, or TV, the software is the special sauce.

Apple also has tight control over the hardware, which gives Apple an advantage over a competitor like Google, who has less control over its partners hardware.

Microsoft makes great software (with the arguable exception of Windows Me, Windows Vista, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows RT, and early versions of Microsoft Works for Windows).

If we ignore Microsoft's dodgy software, Microsoft has in fact spun wonders with Windows 10 and Windows 10 Pro, making huge steps forward in a myriad of areas and keeping home and business users satisfied, while Enterprise users finally made the switch from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

Microsoft needs to mirror Apple-level control over hardware and software to make it work - so creating their own hardware becomes a necessity. Surface Pro has been a success. Surface Go can go away (in my view), and Surface X can hog the smartphone limelight. Surface X of course is pronounced as 'Surface Cross'.

Dropping the ARM branding

Dropping the ARM branding has been an exercise in politeness for Microsoft. They need to honour the hard work done by teams at Microsoft and Qualcomm, they need to announce and formalise the product category, but then they needed it to quietly disappear.

Just like Sheldon Cooper, who foreshadowed the iPod becoming obsolete as soon as Microsoft brought out its competitor (the Zune music player), 'ARM" was never going to please anyone in a marketing and advertising role as a product name or product feature.

There are currently no Microsoft products for sale that use ARM processors. This will soon change, with a range of tablets coming soon, and then the Surface X phone/tablet/cross-category device.

Of course, Surface X is yet to come.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas


XYZ Media Group

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