Last week Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, announced the reorganization of the Microsoft phone business, a process that will also cause the layoff of around 7.800 employees. A big part of the tech press started to make more or less accurate suppositions about what this means. So I read that phones are not important for Microsoft anymore or that the Nokia deal was a total failure. Strangely enough, most of this suppositions start from correct premises but in my opinion arrive to the wrong conclusions, simply because some analysts fail to see the wider picture and to fully understand the Microsoft strategy.
The first thing to understand is that the whole concept of “mobile” has changed. Nowadays, “mobile” is not about the device anymore, but about the mobility of the experience. And this is precisely the strategy Microsoft is going for: enable a truly great mobile experience across devices. This is why Microsoft invests a lot of effort in apps for Android and Google, apps that are meant to enable users to have a great Microsoft cloud experience even on non Windows devices. Back in the days of the Nokia deal, “mobile” was everything about the device itself. In this perspective, acquiring Nokia was the best thing Microsoft could have done at that time. Sure, expectancies were very high and I personally also thought that this would increase the Windows Phone market share in a consistent way.
And when we speak about mobility across devices we cannot forget about Windows 10! Windows 10 is not just another version of Windows, but a total different way to think, deliver, update and use Windows. Windows 10 is the first operating system designed to run the exact same code on all devices, including, of course phones. In Windows 10 there will be universal apps, so the same apps that you use on your desktop, you will be able to use also on your phone and tablet. And, maybe most important, Windows 10 is offered as a free upgrade to users that already run a licensed version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.
Now the decision to offer Windows 10 “for free” was made especially for the Windows phone. Having a large Windows 10 customer base will tempt developers to create universal apps for Windows, apps that will basically turn immediately into mobile apps since they will essentially run on the same platform. So at a certain point the statement “I don’t want to buy a Windows Phone because it lacks the apps I use” won’t be accurate anymore. Essentially Windows Phones will start to have apps that won’t be present on iOs and Android. And this is a huge change.
But having the mobility of the experience in mind, it is also reasonable to say that Microsoft should not at all sell devices that are not truly capable to offer this mobility. This means that the phone portfolio would need to be reduced and include only devices that are able to offer this type of experience. I would imagine, for example, that all the future Microsoft devices would support the Continuum feature of Windows 10.
So this are a few reasons why I think that Windows Phones are more important than ever for Microsoft, but not in a way that most would expect. Windows Phone won’t be important at all in the context of the phone market itself, but it will be very important in the perspective of the mobility of the user experience, not the device. Of course, this will most probably cause also some few more percent market share, but this is not really important for the future anymore. Devices are nowadays a means and not an end.