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Looking back: In 2016, Microsoft became one of the most exciting companies in the tech world

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NewsHubFor fans of technology, 2016 has been another extraordinary year, filled with all sorts of exciting and delighting developments. But it seems fair to say that few companies have come close to matching Microsoft in the sheer breadth and scale of its accomplishments over the last twelve months.
Microsoft’s closest rivals, by comparison, had somewhat more mixed results. Google ditched its much-loved Nexus brand and introduced its new Pixel flagship phones – but while they’re certainly very capable devices, they haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel when it comes to Android handsets. Another new version of Android, 7.0 Nougat , arrived as well (and now version 7.1.1 too ) – but while there are some nice additions and improvements, few people have got to enjoy them so far, with only 0.4% of devices running Nougat over three months after its release .
With much fanfare, Google introduced two new messaging apps in May, called Allo and Duo – but they haven’t been the runaway success the company would have liked. And Google also massively scaled back its ambitions in one truly exciting area, ditching the development of its own purpose-built self-driving car , and instead realigning its efforts around creating and selling that technology to other manufacturers.
Apple’s year was marred by a series of disappointments. With typical bluster, it hyped up its new MacBook Pro notebooks beyond all belief – particularly the keyboard-bound Touch Bar that the company touted as some innovative, brand new idea that only Apple could think of, despite it being a refinement of old ideas tried by other companies. Aside from the underwhelming battery life (a problem that Apple solved by removing the estimated battery time indicator from its OS), the high cost of the new laptops was particularly unwelcome, given the usability nightmare that Apple created in forcing owners towards ‘dongle hell’ , thanks to its total disregard for compatibility with other devices, including its own iPhones.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Microsoft was thought of as a dull, bland corporation – and to some extent, it’s struggled to shake off that image, despite its considerable efforts to do so. But in 2016, Microsoft seemed to break through those antiquated perceptions like never before. In October, Mashable wrote ” Admit it: Microsoft is now a braver, more innovative company than Apple “, and The Verge published a similar article praising Microsoft for its more bold outlook for desktop computing.
In September, it announced that Windows 10 was installed on over 400 million devices – an incredible milestone, just fourteen months after its release. But that achievement came as a result of Microsoft’s clumsy, heavy-handed approach to ‘encouraging’ Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade to the new OS, using methods that won the company few friends , resulting in scathing criticism from both its customers and the media. Last week, Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, admitted to Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott on the Windows Weekly podcast that approach had been “too aggressive”.
Microsoft also admitted in July that it would fail to meet its target of a billion Windows 10 devices by 2018. Bizarrely, the company blamed that on its phone business, despite Windows phones never having contributed any significant volumes to its device sales. Indeed, just a few months after Windows chief Terry Myerson announced that target in 2015 , Microsoft wrote down $7.6 billion on its phone business, along with the loss of 7,800 jobs, in the first round of a major restructuring – and downsizing – plan.
The effects of that restructuring had a devastating impact on the Windows phone platform in 2016. Microsoft launched the last of its four Windows 10 Mobile devices in February, the Lumia 650 , and all four handsets are now at the end of their retail lives, having sold out in several markets, with no direct replacements on the way.
Only a handful of manufacturers have so far signed up to launch Windows 10 Mobile devices, and those that did sold their handsets in meager numbers. IDC estimates that Windows’ share of the global smartphone market will be just 0.4% by the end of 2016. Given that 97% of Windows 10 Mobile devices in use are Microsoft Lumias , the company’s retreat from the phone hardware market doesn’t bode well for its mobile ecosystem.
But while things may now appear bleak for Windows handsets, the future may well be a bit brighter.

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