Is Windows Phone one of Satya Nadella’s “tough choices”?

Is Windows Phone one of Satya Nadella's "tough choices"?

Today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella emailed the troops as the company comes to the end of the fiscal year, revealing that “our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” is the new official mission statement, and going on to lay out a worldview, strategies and ambitions, and culture for the company moving forward. 

In the email, Nadella reiterates much of what he’s been saying the past year, that we live in a “mobile first, cloud first world”, that the strategy is to “build best-in-class platforms and productivity services” for that world, and that Microsoft needs to foster a “growth mindset”, learning about customers with a “beginner’s mind” and then bringing solutions that meet their needs.

But if there’s one underlying current that permeates this document, it’s the lack of commitment to, or even mention of, Windows Phone.  In fact, when talking about “our Windows device platform and our devices”, Nadella is quick to point out the work they’re doing on Xbox, but pointedly does not mention Windows Phone. He then goes on to summarize:

“We will need to innovate in new areas, execute against our plans, make some tough choices in areas where things are not working and solve hard problems in ways that drive customer value.”

Of course for those of us who’ve been following Microsoft closely, the first area “where things are not working” that pops to mind is Windows Phone.  Last week Nadella let go both Stephen Elop and Joan Harlow, two of the ex-Nokia executives leading the Windows Phone push both at Nokia and then later at Microsoft. Microsoft has been pointedly silent on new Windows Phone flagships, at a time when new phones are being readied for back to school sales, as Microsoft falls further and further behind.

We’re not suggesting that Windows Phone is “dead”

Now we’re not suggesting that Windows Phone is “dead”, or that Microsoft won’t keep pursuing it.  We fully expect new flagship phones to launch this fall with Windows 10 Mobile, and Microsoft will continue to push its mobile operating system for phones, and for tablets, something we’re yet to hear much about.

But Nadella isn’t blindly leading Microsoft over the cliff in order to catch up with Android and iOS, like Steve Ballmer seemed driven to do.  He’s going to make hard choices in areas where things are not working, and Microsoft’s efforts to catch up to its competitors in phones, to pursue them at all costs, sounds more and more like a tough choice he’s already made.

Can Microsoft back off from Windows Phone while pushing its platforms and services to the mobile first world?  That it’s already doing, and doing well. Does Microsoft need Windows Phone to push its “Universal Apps” approach?  That’s a harder question, but even without Windows Phone, Universal Apps make sense. Could the idea of Windows 10 Mobile running on Android devices broaden the Windows Phone landscape?  That’s an interesting thought, although Android users would be losing lots of apps while not gaining much by such a move, at least not now.

We seriously doubt that Windows Phone is going anywhere anytime soon.  But Satya Nadella is moving forward, not looking back, and could be ready to shed the mistakes of the past as he eyes the future.  It will be very interesting to see what that future looks like.

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