When the news broke yesterday that Microsoft was officially writing off the Nokia purchase of 2013, many tears were shed and certain writers broke out their keyboards to gleefully pronounce Windows Phone dead in a ditch. Before I give my opinion on the news, I’d like to offer much needed context to the story.
- This write-off isn’t new; it was expected since April 2015.
- In May 2015 Microsoft announced further updates to Windows 10 Mobile, including the bridges and continuum
- In June, Microsoft merged the Windows division with the devices division, all led by the former head of Windows Phone Terry Myerson.
- Since purchasing Nokia’s phone division, Microsoft hasn’t really done anything with it. 2014 could be said to be a gap year for Windows Phone and Lumia in general.
- Microsoft had already said: “The success of the Windows Phone platform is an important element of our goal to enhance personal productivity in a mobile-first and cloud-first world. The marketplace among mobile phone platforms is highly competitive. We may face issues in selecting, engaging, or securing support from operators and retailers for Windows phones due to, for instance, inadequate sales training or incentives, or insufficient marketing support for the Windows Phone platform.”
- From yesterday’s memo we have “Going forward, we will focus on building the very best Windows phones on a quicker timeline. We will also focus on the channels and markets that offer the best returns. This is a similar approach to the one we have taken with Surface, which has been very successful. Phones remain a critical component of the Microsoft device portfolio and an important piece of our mobility strategy, but a restructuring is in order.”
Why is context important? Because it gives far more useful information than endless speculation.
Here’s the takeaway, Microsoft is still not abandoning Windows Phone. Yes the Nokia acquisition was an eventual failure, but honestly, can anyone say they actually tried much with it. It would be one thing if Microsoft bought Nokia’s D & S, created spectacular devices and failed. They created the Lumia x3x series right off the bat, all of which had compromises in one way or another. The app situation didn’t change much, rather it went into a regression. As they had shoved all their software aspirations into Windows 10 mobile by late August and shelved their flagships, that Windows Phone and the Lumia line didn’t do much great is a surprise to no one.
In the meantime, we have seen a number of low-end models come into the market. Did we really need the 530, 532, 430 and 435? The 535 and 540? The 830, 730 and 640? Bear in mind that I’m not saying that these devices are bad, I’m saying, along with many others, that they offer little differentiation from each other to justify a separate model. It seems that Microsoft views their devices the same way as well. Over the next few quarters there will be a streamlining of the Lumia line to 3 lines. The high end, mid-range(business end) and low end, with 1-2 devices in each line-up. Microsoft will then release these devices with Windows 10 mobile in areas where they are strong and pull out of markets where they are weak. Everything here is actually quite sensible.
Not just sensible, but were the common suggestions given by the very same pundits who now take this path as proof of surrender. However, it would be blind to claim that Windows Phone has done anything other than fail for the past few years. In terms of software, Windows Phone 7 was on par with iOS and Android when it first launched. In terms of apps, Windows Phone was not only on par with Android, but provided many more beautiful apps as well. Where Windows Phone went wrong was in failing to transform potential into actual results. They quickly fell behind in software, only managing to catch up to the competitors in basic features just as iOS, Android and even BlackBerry raced ahead in terms of features. This also extended to the hardware.
Right now Microsoft’s flagship phones run the Snapdragon 400 and 800, 2 year old tech. They may have great cameras, but they have tech that when looked at on paper, provides unsatisfying value for money. Way back in 2012 and 2013, HTC and Samsung launched the HTC One M7 and Galaxy S4 just a few months after the Ativ S and 8X, the latter featuring inferior specs all round. Microsoft finally caught up in hardware with the release of the Lumia 1520 and appeared to catch up in software with the release of Instagram, but then they just sort of fizzled with the Windows Phone 8.1 update. What I’m saying here is, Windows Phone not doing well till now is predictable and obvious . Microsoft cannot continue to move the same way they did in the past and so changes had to be made.
In the near term, we will run a more effective phone portfolio, with better products and speed to market given the recently formed Windows and Devices Group. We plan to narrow our focus to three customer segments where we can make unique contributions and where we can differentiate through the combination of our hardware and software.”
Windows Phone isn’t going anywhere yet, Microsoft isn’t giving up on anything, they’re just going about it a different way from now on. A more focused way aimed at exploiting their strengths. Before writing them off, I’d say that attempting to predict the future of tech two years on is an exercise in futility, its best to wait and see before declaring victory or accepting defeat.
To end this, I think the words of Microsoft’s lead communications manager sum up my feelings about most of the non-controversy in two words.
— Frank X. Shaw (@fxshaw) July 8, 2015