OPINION: Microsoft was right to exit the mobile hardware and OS market rather than toil away, despite CEO’s regret. The results since prove it.
In a way, Satya Nadella is right. Microsoft’s decision to ditch Windows Phone and sell off Nokia for pittance was a mistake… only that it didn’t come sooner.
In an interview with Business Insider published this week, Nadella suggested the eventual 2017 decision to pull the plug on the platform and the Nokia hardware (Microsoft spent $7.6 billion to acquire under Steve Balmer’s leadership) may have been too hasty. Instead, Nadella wishes Microsoft had persevered.
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As someone who reviewed plenty of those Nokia Windows Phones down the years, I certainly wasn’t sad to see the back of the operating system or the largely bulky and ugly handsets it inhabited.
“The decision I think a lot of people talk about – and one of the most difficult decisions I made when I became CEO — was our exit of what I’ll call the mobile phone as defined then,” Nadella said.
“In retrospect, I think there could have been ways we could have made it work by perhaps reinventing the category of computing between PCs, tablets, and phones.”
In fairness to Nadella, under his leadership, Microsoft has done the latter part brilliantly, only from the sidelines.
The Phone Link app has enabled more seamless connectivity between Android and iOS phones and Windows PCs. Users on both platforms can effectively handle smartphone calls, messages, and notifications without picking up their handset.
Android users have primarily been the beneficiaries of this – especially given some Android apps can be downloaded and installed on Windows devices via the Amazon App Store.
Phone Link for Android also enables users to access and share their photo libraries directly from their PC. While it’s not quite as seamless, iPhone users can now sync their iCloud Photos directly to the stock Windows Photos app. Microsoft even found a way to bring users iMessage messages to Windows.
Microsoft has also done an excellent job of ensuring the major mobile platforms have full-featured, well performing versions of the Microsoft apps users know and love. Those productivity essentials like Word, PowerPoint and Excel are great on both iOS and Android.
Xbox gamers can now play their favourite titles over the cloud. Again, Android users have a slightly better experience through a native app, but the web app for iPhone users is fine. And it’s not Microsoft’s fault Apple restrictions put the mockers on a proper Game Pass app.
In the main, this is all people ever wanted. The best of Microsoft, available on their iPhone or Android device they know and love – enabling easy connectivity between the mobile and desktop realm. Not as part of a Windows Phone operating system that was spectacularly inferior to Android and iPhone.
Not to say it wouldn’t have eventually got better, but Windows Phone was horrendous to use. I still have nightmares about interacting with these Windows 8-like “Tiles”.
Microsoft can be really content with its contributions to the modern mobile ecosystem. Their apps are essential for hundreds of millions of people and there’s not really a drop off in the experience compared to desktop.
I’m all for more competition in the mobile market, but I’m a much bigger fan of the role Microsoft has assumed since dropping out of the operating system and hardware race.