Microsoft on Tuesday jammed a range of new Windows 10 devices into a two-hour announcement -- everything from three new Lumia smartphones, a Microsoft Band 2 smart wrist wearable, a new Surface Pro 4 and its first-ever laptop, the Surface Book.
The 13.5-in. Surface Book, starting at $1,499 and available Oct. 26, might be the most compelling to the Microsoft faithful. Yet, there was a clear message from CEO Satya Nadella and others that Windows 10 Lumia phones, which only control 3% of the smartphone market, have an important place in Microsoft's Continuum world. With Continuum, apps and other software in Windows 10 are intended to run on all the new machines, opening up opportunities for IT, app developers and users.
"We're making progress toward moving people from needing, to choosing, to loving Windows," Nadella said. With the fastest ramp-up to Windows 10 of any prior Windows version (110 million devices running Windows 10 in just eight weeks), he said, "more and more people are coming home to Windows … We now begin a new chapter of Windows 10 with new devices built for Windows 10. We built Windows 10 for a new era of mobile computing. No single device will be the hub of activity. The hub is you."
The Lumia smartphone's prominence in that Windows 10 product line had been called into question by analysts, mainly because it has taken Microsoft several years only to earn a 3% global market share for its smartphones. But Microsoft attempted to show how a Lumia smartphone can become like a desktop PC when connected to a desktop display and keyboard through a new Microsoft Display Dock.
In an onstage demonstration, the dock was used to edit a PowerPoint presentation on a large display with a keyboard and mouse connected to a new Lumia device. Pricing and availability of the dock weren't immediately available.
The new Lumia 950 and Lumia 950XL start at $549 and $649, respectively, but Microsoft also announced the Lumia 550, a a more-affordable LTE smartphone priced at $139. The 950 and 950XL will ship sometime in November and the 550 in December.
New features of Microsoft Band 2 include a curved display and a barometric sensor to measure altitude changes for extreme athletes. The Band 2 will cost $249 and will be available Oct. 30.
The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are "the most productive phones on the planet," Nadella said. "You can run your entire business on them. In developing markets, they can be your first or only computing devices."
Some analysts have questioned whether new Lumia devices can do well in developing markets, where Android devices have a stronghold, followed by Apple's iPhone.
"I think the new Lumia phones are good devices for enterprise users and consumers who want a full Windows experience, but these phones are not about conquering the world in the way the phones were with Nokia," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel. "The phones are now a piece of the ecosystem that needs to be there to give Windows 10 users a full experience."
She added that it's not a question of whether the new Lumia devices can sell well during the coming holiday season, but "how many enterprises will think they finally have an enterprise-class phone that can appeal to consumers when universal Windows 10 apps are embraced by developers."
Milanesi and other analysts also hit on the central issue of whether the universal apps will be available in sufficient numbers. "The app problem has not gone away," she said.
"The new Lumias with the Display Dock using Continuum could be very enticing for the business user," added Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "I believe these will help Microsoft increase share in the enterprise, but only if they can round out their Windows Store [with enough apps] so that the phones can be used well by business users at home."
In other words, the Lumias have to have value for business users for personal apps and services, especially since Android devices and iPhones have found their way into businesses through a bring-your-own-device approach.
Tuong Nguyen, a Gartner analyst, said he found the demonstration of the Display Dock with a Lumia phone "cool," in the sense that it showed a Lumia could be controlled with PC keyboard commands to provide "a consistent, familiar experience across platforms."
Providing a PC experience through a phone is a stepping stone to what Microsoft eventually intends, he said. "The Windows 10 experience and interface are certainly not the Windows of the past. The PC paradigm lets you work in a familiar way. If you're mobile-first, you have the option of doing things in a different way."
For example, during the demo of the Display Dock connected to the Lumia phone, Microsoft Lumia manager Brian Roper showed it was possible to interact with the phone's interface through a keyboard and mouse. "The important thing there is that Microsoft doesn't prevent you from doing things mobile-first," Nguyen said.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that's real value, but certainly more value," he added. "On its own, a phone or a wearable is pretty good, but with a base/dock it can be even more powerful. But it's not about a single device or feature. As Nadella said, 'the hub is you,' and that's exactly it. It's the spectrum of devices with you as the hub."
Roper's demo of the Display Dock with Lumia was the longest demonstration during the event. "I can use my phone like a PC," he said, as he held up the dock, a box about the size of a cigarette carton with three USB ports, an HDMI port and a display port on one side.
He showed how he could quickly pull up the phone's start screen to the larger display, then used keyboard shortcuts to switch between Office apps. "Is that insane? The phone is actually doing this," he said.
While the phone can be used to grab stored files from the cloud, it can also grab images and PowerPoint presentations from a thumb drive, through the dock. In one PowerPoint image, Roper changed the highlight color from purple to black by using the processing power of the Lumia device. "I can be productive like a boss, wherever I am now," he said.
He also showed how the Lumia phone could play full HDMI 1080p video on a desktop display with "robust audio."
"If I want to be productive at the top level, these devices are built to do it," he added.
In a fact sheet, Microsoft said Lumia apps will scale on the bigger screen when connected, and users can browse the Internet and stream movies. Also, users will be able to use the phone independently when connected to the dock to take a call or send a text message, while the apps continue to play on the bigger screen.
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the Display Dock, coupled with Lumia phones with "groundbreaking features and performance, … will appeal to business users."
When grouped with the new Surface Book and other new devices, Gold said that Microsoft "will shake up the market … Microsoft is taking the battle directly to Apple's doorstep and has thrown down the gauntlet to say, 'you're not the only innovator out there.' And frankly, Microsoft has left Google in the dust, although no doubt Google has the means and the will to catch up."
The Lumia 950 features a 5.2-in. quad HD display with 2560 x 1440 resolution, or 564 pixels per inch. It runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor with Hexacore CPUs and support for 64-bit applications. It also has a removable 3,000 mAh battery, a rear-facing 20-megapixel camera and 32GB of internal storage. A microSD slot provides up to 200GB of expandable storage.
The Lumia 950 XL comes with a 5.7-in. quad HD display with 2560 x 1440 resolution, equivalent to 518 pixels per inch. It has a larger Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with Octa-core CPUs and 64-bit capabilities. It has a larger removable battery at 3,340 mAh. Storage is the same as the 950, with 32GB internally and 200GB of expandable storage. It also has a rear-facing 20-megapixel camera.
Hololens Project X-ray
One of the futuristic technologies that Microsoft unveiled was an advance in the use of holograms for gaming. Specifically, Microsoft's Hololens Project X-ray allows a user to use holograms on a head-mounted display untethered to wires or even wireless.
In a demo, Microsoft showed a user in a room in a house with high definition sci-fi monsters breaking through walls to attack the users. Sensors map a person's environment and take advantage of a unique holographic processor unit.
While the demo showed off gaming, Microsoft has previously described Hololens as a tool for industrial designers and other workplaces. Microsoft said it is taking developer applications to receive a Hololens developer kit that will be available in the first quarter of 2016 for $3,000.