Does Microsoft Need its Own Phone to Have a Complete Ecosystem?

Joel Olympio
6 min readAug 8, 2019

On the 7th of August, at Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked 2019 event, Samsung announced an interesting partnership with Microsoft. Samsung and Microsoft have always had some sort of collaboration in the past. Many Samsung devices come pre-loaded with Office apps and Samsung is of course a manufacturer of Windows devices whether they’re making their own branded laptops and tablets, or producing some of the underlying technology for other OEMs such as SSDs and screens. However, at the Galaxy Unpacked event, the mere collaboration became more than what it previously was, it became a strategy, a shared goal, an ambition. But why does this partnership exist? What is the shared goal?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and 10+

The Strive for an Ecosystem

The biggest tech companies in the world all want their customers in a box. They want you to wake up in the morning and check your notifications on THEIR phone, then go to work where you’ll use THEIR computer, then track your fitness workout using THEIR smartwatch and come home to play games on THEIR console or watch a movie on THEIR tablet. They want THEIR logo in your face 24/7. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung are the only companies who have almost built their indestructible box, however, they all suffer with one platform or the other. Apple, who probably have the strongest and most complete ecosystem, haven’t released their gaming service, Apple Arcade, yet and even when they do, I’m not sure how well it will be received, and they also don’t seem to be very serious about Siri. Google are almost there too, with Stadia coming very soon but Chrome OS is a very escapable operating system and Android Wear is wearing out quickly. Now Microsoft almost had it all. Gaming, computing, smartwatch, phone, virtual assistant and cloud. But like a series of dominos, when Windows Phone fell, so did Microsoft Band and Cortana was left wobbling. Windows Phone is unlikely to rise again, at least not in the same way. The smartwatch sector and wearables industry in general, I think, is still up for grabs. Cortana is still wobbling with uncertainty and Microsoft’s strategy for it has changed and still confuses me (Hey Cortana, what is your purpose?).

The Apple Ecosystem

Samsung on the other hand have all the hardware, except gaming, but lack their own software. They rely on Google for mobile devices and Microsoft for laptops. When a company relies on another company their “box” gets holes in it. If a company relies on Android or Windows it means I don’t necessarily have to use their product for the software. I could use a Pixel phone for the purest Android experience or a Surface device for hardware built around Windows rather than other competitors’ devices. The company’s hardware becomes its unique selling point and its reason to stay in its box which isn’t as strong a reason as software. With Apple, if you use iOS or MacOS, it’s very hard to collaborate with another non-Apple operating system, you’re essentially trapped in their aluminum box.

Microsoft and its Open Box

Since Microsoft no longer has its hands in the mobile hardware market and with much of its head in the clouds, the multinational has resorted to open collaboration with other operating systems and companies. Microsoft’s Android apps are some of the highest rated and most downloaded apps on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. The “Microsoft Launcher” is one of the most popular launchers on Android. Microsoft is also in the process of rebuilding its Edge browser on Chromium, the same code library as Google Chrome, and its already available on Android and in Beta on Windows and Mac. And last but not least, as shown at Galaxy Unpacked, the “Your Phone” app now allows you to transition from your Android phone to your Windows computer. Microsoft seems to be taping its box to other companies’ boxes to cover up the holes and so far it seems to be working and having an overall good response (Windows Phone fans will forever be bitter though!). So if you really wanted to, you could wake up in the morning and check notifications on your Microsoft infested Android phone, go to work and use Windows — on a Surface device if you really want the full experience — then not do any fitness workout I guess, then play Halo on your Xbox, Windows PC or mobile device with Xcloud and then watch Netflix on 1 of 3 Surface Tablet options which could also function as your work computer. That’s a solid ecosystem…right? Well, the first thing you wake up to isn’t branded with four squares and Microsoft has no control over it.

Microsoft Apps on Android (Source: Android Central)

Microsoft ❤ Samsung

With no intentions to make a phone with Windows or Android software, what does Microsoft do? Make a foldable device that runs Windows Core OS with the code name “Andromeda” but don’t call it a phone because it isn’t a phone but kind of is a phone but also a tablet. No? Okay, never mind. Instead, they tape themselves onto a company that makes amazing hardware, have a common enemy, Apple, and want to distinguish themselves as much as possible from other Android phones as well as have a presence in the computer market while having great brand recognition. Enter Samsung. No, their phones won’t be branded with the Microsoft logo and I doubt Microsoft have much control, if any, over the hardware but Microsoft now have the hardware with which they can display some of their best software just like the Surface line. However, the partnership isn’t ideal. The best thing about a technology ecosystem is going from one device to another and being familiar not only with the operating system but the hardware too. You know an Apple product when you see one and when you use one. But with Microsoft, yes, the Surface range have a streamlined design and Windows is the same on any computer and recognisable on Xbox but Samsung have their own design language as does Android. Going from the Galaxy Note 10 to a Surface Pro is not as seamless as doing so from an iPhone to a Macbook or even an iPad.

SamSoft? MicroSung? (Samsung CEO, Koh Dong Jin, and Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, shake hands at the Galaxy Unpacked event)

What does Samsung get out of this other than a lot of money? Well, you now have another reason to buy a Samsung device other than its hardware. If you want a more seamless transition from your Android phone to your Windows computer, the Galaxy Note 10 should be your go to phone. The one thing Samsung lacked, unique software, is being fulfilled by Microsoft and the one thing Microsoft lacked, their own phone, is being fulfilled by Samsung.

To answer my question, “Does Microsoft need its own Phone to have a Complete Ecosystem?”, yes, yes they do. Can the ecosystem do without a phone? Currently, yes, but for how long? I’m not sure. Does the Note 10 and the Samsung partnership help fill the hole? Partially, yes, but recent coverage of the Note 10 doesn’t seem to be that interested in the Microsoft stuff and there’s always the problem of two different ecosystems working together, though both companies are confident in their efforts. As well as that, there’s the simple fact that not everyone in the Microsoft ecosystem wants or can afford a Note 10, although many of its Microsoft implemented features are available on any Android phone but don’t work as well. Is there another solution? I’m not sure how successful a Microsoft branded Android phone would be and we’ll have to see what Microsoft’s new and upcoming Windows Core OS offers to the mobile market. However, I’m excited for the #MicroSung / #SamSoft partnership as it means Microsoft does realise the hole in its ecosystem and is ready to start fixing it.