Microsoft Puts Windows Phone 8.1 out to Pasture

Microsoft says it is no longer supporting the smartphone operating system, which was the company used to introduce users to the Cortana virtual assistant.

Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft pulled the plug on the Windows Phone 8.1 mobile operating system this week, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the Redmond, Wash. technology giant's dwindling ecosystem of smartphone offerings.

According a Microsoft online support document, Windows Phone 8.1 is no longer supported as of July 11, 2017, joining other aging products like Virtual PC 2007, Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007 and SoftGrid Application Virtualization 4.1 for Desktops, among several others.

Showcased during the Microsoft Build 2014 developer conference, the mobile operating system introduced users to Cortana, the company's answer to Siri and other virtual assistants. In 2014, the Nokia 630, 635 and the 930 flagship where among the first to run the then-new operating system right out of the box.

Windows Phone 8.1 also represented a radical shift in how Microsoft licensed its mobile software. Breaking from tradition, the company waived its fees for two Indian smartphone makers in a bid to help popularize Windows Phone 8.1 in the region.

Microsoft hasn't completely abandoned the few who still use Windows Phone.

Last year, the company rolled out its Windows 10 Mobile update for Windows 8.1 devices. Not all users were eligible, however. Citing a less than satisfactory experience on some older hardware, Microsoft was forced to trim the list of supported smartphone models.

Even on models that could handle the newer operating system, some features like the "Hey Cortana" command used to summon the virtual assistant may not survive the move, warned the company.

History was repeated this spring, when Microsoft warned that the Windows 10 Creators Update would not be officially supported on some older Windows Phone hardware. Members of the Windows Insider early-access program who installed the newer operating system on unsupported devices are free to continue using it if they accept the risk of running a software-hardware combination that is not backed by the software maker.

Meanwhile, the Windows smartphone users are somewhat of a dying breed.

The vast majority of smartphones sold during the first quarter (Q1) of 2017 ran Android (86.1 percent), according to Gartner's latest analysis of the market. In total, Google's mobile operating system was present on over 327 million smartphones purchased by users in Q1.

Apple's iOS was a distant second with a 13.7-percent share of the market, a figure that represents nearly 52 million iPhones. Presumably lumped into the meager 0.2 percent of the market shared by "other" smartphone operating systems, Windows mobile didn't even rank.

"In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, the battle is now clearly between Android and iOS," observed Gartner. "With other [operating systems] struggling for momentum, Android grew its share by two percent."

And it may be a while before a Windows mobile operating system appears reappears on the list, if ever. Despite persistent rumors of a Surface Phone, it has yet to materialize, and apart from new Windows 10 Mobile preview builds, the company has been tight-lipped about the future of the platform.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's rivals are intensifying their efforts to push the limits of smartphone design.

Samsung's Galaxy S8 has been hailed by tech reviewers as an excellent premium Android smartphone. Apple is reportedly working on a 10th anniversary iPhone model featuring a virtually bezel-less OLED screen.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...