Microsoft has made changes to its online store in the US, revising its navigation structure and, in the process, making it much harder to locate its Windows phones and those of its partners.
This isn't the first time that the company has revised its US store to the detriment of its Windows phone line. Last August, it removed 'Microsoft Lumia' from the list of main store categories on its homepage, leaving only a link to 'Windows phone' in a drop-down 'Devices' menu shown at the top of each Store page.
Now, Microsoft has gone further with its latest revisions. The company has changed its top-level navigation menu for the Store, removing the 'Devices' category, and listing each major group of products across the top of each page. You'll now find links to Microsoft Surface, Xbox, Office, PC & Tablets, Software & Apps, Entertainment, and Special Offers, along with a link to help buyers find their nearest Microsoft Store location - but there is no longer an obvious way to browse to Windows phones on the Store, short of doing a search for a specific model.
There are still references to Windows phones in some of the drop-down menus. For example, under the Xbox menu, there's a link to 'Windows Phone Games', and under Software & Apps, you'll find a link to 'Windows phone apps'. Neither of these options connects buyers to the devices themselves.
The full list of Windows phones is still on the Store, and buyers can still purchase one of the thirteen products listed there, but the process of navigating to that page is far from intuitive. One option to discover that page from the homepage is as follows:
- Click on the Special Offers drop-down menu, and then on 'Sale'.
- Select the 'Phone Sale' link in the secondary menu, which will show you a page with a handful of devices and accessories.
- Then click on the 'All phones' link to view the full range of handsets available.
Even the main 'Windows' category link on the Store homepage, which opens a page detailing Windows 10 products, offers no hint of the availability of Windows phones.
Microsoft hasn't completely scrubbed Windows phones from its site though. The universal navigation bar for Microsoft.com - which is also visible on the Store page - does include links to both 'Microsoft Lumia' and 'All Windows phones'.
However, the pages in the Microsoft Lumia section simply offer details about those handsets, with no links to help or encourage visitors to buy them. The 'All Windows phones' page does include 'Buy Now' links, but the list of devices shown there is incomplete, excluding handsets such as the Acer Liquid Jade Primo flagship, and Microsoft's own Lumia 650 and Lumia 950 XL - all of which are still available to buy on the Store, but are now more difficult for potential buyers to find.
On non-Store pages, the universal 'Store' link becomes a drop-down menu, which includes a 'Windows phone' link under the 'Devices' sub-menu - so, bizarrely, it's much easier to find the full list of devices available to buy when navigating from elsewhere on Microsoft.com than on the Store itself.
Microsoft's struggles in the mobile space have been well documented. According to Gartner, Windows' share of the global smartphone market fell to just 0.3% last year, and Microsoft's own financial statements show that its quarterly mobile revenues collapsed from $2.28 billion to just $200 million in the last two years.
Meanwhile, even some of its hardware partners have expressed doubts about the company's mobile strategy. Coship, the largest Windows 10 Mobile ODM, publicly voiced its concerns in October about the future of the OS, and questioned whether it was worth continuing to invest in developing Windows phones. Japanese manufacturer NuAns has now ditched Windows 10 Mobile, after its chief executive told Neowin in January that he was disappointed by how the OS had fared in the market. In a more recent interview with Engadget, he added that Microsoft had 'sold him a vision of victory' and that the company had told him that it was determined 'to beat back its competitors'.
Microsoft is continuing to develop Windows 10 Mobile, and the head of its Windows Insider Program, Dona Sarkar, recently told Neowin that the company is "continuing to invest in mobile". But Microsoft is also rumored to be developing a new class of mobile device - a 'pocket PC' that can run the full version of Windows 10, with support for x86 apps through emulation, when connected to a desktop dock.
That may well be the future of Microsoft's mobile strategy, but given the latest changes to its site, it seems the company is already reducing its efforts to promote its current range of devices, and those of its partners.