Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) won't be the only company making Windows 10 phones.
At CES, PC maker Acer and mobile giant Alcatel reiterated their support for the platform, confirming plans to launch two new Windows 10-powered smartphones in the coming weeks. Microsoft's mobile platform remains in a precarious position, but these additional devices suggest that handset vendors at least have some interest in Windows 10.
Acer goes after the high end
Acer's Liquid Jade Primo is a flagship Windows 10 phone. Compared to Microsoft's own flagship Lumia 950, it's equipped with similar internals, but it's a bit larger (5.5 inches compared to 5.2 inches). Acer plans to sell the phone in a bundle that includes the dock needed to take advantage of Continuum, the Windows 10 feature that allows smartphones to (when paired with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard) function like a traditional PC. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that the Liquid Jade Primo will make it to the U.S., but Acer plans to start selling it in several overseas markets later this winter.
Alcatel's low-cost option for T-Mobile customers
Microsoft has pledged to eventually upgrade many of its existing Windows 8-powered Lumias to Windows 10, but the two new handsets it launched last year to coincide with Windows 10's debut -- the Lumia 950 and 950 XL -- are decisively high-end, retailing for upward of $549. With the addition of the Liquid Jade Primo, that's three new flagship devices, but not many budget options for would-be Windows phone buyers.
Enter Alcatel's new OneTouch Fierce XL. It's a Windows 10-powered phablet based on its 2015 Android handset of the same name. Compared to most flagship smartphones, its display is large, but low-resolution, and it packs only a modestly powerful processor, a lackluster camera, and a meager amount of internal storage. Moreover, at least in the U.S., it will be exclusive to T-Mobile. Still, at $139, it's a budget device, and it's among the most affordable ways to access Microsoft's Windows 10 smartphone platform.
Unfortunately, the OneTouch Fierce XL lacks the horsepower required to take advantage of Continuum, arguably one of the most appealing aspects of Windows 10 phones. For now, the feature will be restricted to more expensive handsets.
Microsoft's dwindling share
For most of the last five years, handset makers have generally regarded Microsoft's smartphone platforms with indifference. At times, Samsung, HTC, and other firms (including Acer and Alcatel) have supported Windows phone operating systems with a handful of models, but have focused far more of their attention on the Android platform. Only Nokia took Windows Phone seriously: Before Microsoft acquired Nokia's handset business, it manufactured more than 75% of the Windows Phones sold worldwide.
Android benefited from the enormous marketing budgets of its various hardware partners, and a wide variety of different models offered at every carrier, in every market, at every conceivable price point. Windows Phones saw more variation than the iPhone, but without as many partners, could never match Android.
With the popularity of Windows-powered smartphones continuing to fall (Windows Phone's share of the smartphone market fell under 2% last year, according to research firm Gartner), it wasn't clear if other vendors would continue to support the platform, or if Microsoft would be forced to go it alone. With Alcatel and Acer's backing, it seems that won't be the case.
Admittedly, neither Alcatel nor Acer is a major smartphone vendor (neither is among the top firms according to IDC), and two devices are not enough to establish a trend. Still, their arrival is a positive development for a platform whose future is looking increasingly grim.