5 Ways Microsoft Messed Up Mobile - InformationWeek

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7/8/2015
07:06 PM
Kelly Sheridan
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5 Ways Microsoft Messed Up Mobile

Plenty of mobile mishaps led to Microsoft's decision to cut thousands of jobs in its phone division.
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(Image: Microsoft)

(Image: Microsoft)

Fresh evidence of Microsoft's crumbling mobile business hit the tech community July 8.

Microsoft has announced yet another reorganization intended "to better focus and align resources," the company reported. A new round of layoffs will eliminate 7,800 jobs, specifically in its struggling phone business.

As a result of the restructure, Microsoft will also record an impairment charge of about $7.6 billion related to assets associated with its purchase of Nokia last July. It will also take on a restructuring charge totaling between $750 million and $850 million.

The layoffs and financial charges will take place over the next few months and finish by the end of this fiscal year, Microsoft noted.

[ There's always Virtual Reality. Read: HoloLens Startup Cofounded By Former Microsoft Engineer.]

This news marks one of many restructures to occur under CEO Satya Nadella. Late last month, Microsoft sold Bing Maps imagery technology to Uber and transferred its display advertising business to AOL. Each announcement involved the transfer or layoff of Microsoft employees.

In mid-June, organizational changes within the engineering team resulted in the departure of former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and executives Kirill Tatarinov and Eric Rudder. Last July, the Nokia acquisition led to 18,000 job cuts.

This reorganization, like many Microsoft shakeups we've seen over the past year, is intended to better align corporate strategy with the new priorities Nadella has implemented since stepping into the top position over a year ago.

Nadella wrote in an email to employees that he is committed to Microsoft's first-party devices, including phones. His focus, however, is on driving mobile efforts in the near term while prioritizing reinvention.

"We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family," Nadella wrote.

Microsoft's leader is taking big steps to reinvent its mobile strategy. It could be said Nadella is trying to make the best of a bad situation; after all, the struggling Windows Phone division fell into his lap when he took over for former CEO Steve Ballmer.

Competitors Apple and Google have long outpaced Microsoft in mobile market share. Where did Redmond go wrong in its mobile evolution? Let's take a look at a few key mistakes that put Microsoft's mobile division in its currently fragile state.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/27/2015 | 7:52:43 AM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
That's a pretty common feeling based on what I'm hearing lately, a lot of people who loved Nokia phones are really let down that the brand is seemingly being left to die.  I remember when Nokia and Motorola were the top of the heap, but that's been quite some time ago.  Could Nokia stand on its own right now if it was spun off?  I'm not so sure, there's a reason they worked out a deal with Microsoft.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2015 | 12:05:15 PM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
I've had top end windows phones and the recent one I had was the 930 which was the best smartphone I ever handled, even better than the nexus and the iPhone I currently have. What I have realised is that Microsoft's low end phones are just too terrible and their marketing for their high end phones again, is terrible.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2015 | 12:01:31 PM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
I still cannot forgive Microsoft for buying Nokia and then letting off 20,000 employees and even after that incurring losses. Whatever importance and prestige Nokia had in the mobile world, Microsoft destroyed that too. Think for yourself. If Nokia comes to the android side, do you think there would be competition? Yes there would be, but people would still buy Nokia because of their brand value and trust.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/16/2015 | 8:29:17 AM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
I wish I could say that I knew they were planning a killer product but with the announcement that they are cutting in their mobile division I just can't see that being where their next big product comes from.  While I think Hololens and similar augmented reality products will be big in years to come it's not a right now technology so I guess we'll have to wait and see if Microsoft follows or leads in that market. 
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
7/15/2015 | 4:47:39 PM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
Microsoft has the Band, so it at least has a presence in the fitness tracker space. Will it build more advanced smartwatches and other wearables? I'd be surprised if it didn't try. I'm reminded of a 'productivity future vision' video Microsoft produced a few months back that included what appeared to be a 'smart bracelet'. You can watch the video here, I wrote a short piece on it: http://www.informationweek.com/software/enterprise-applications/microsoft-shares-productivity-future-vision-video/d/d-id/1319268 

Sure, we might never see something like that, but based on this it looks like wearables are in Microsoft's long-term plan. 
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
7/15/2015 | 4:35:30 PM
Re: Market presence and releveance
@impactnow "the process to buy a phone requires a PhD"- too true! You need to read over everything with a magnifying glass before committing. 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
7/15/2015 | 9:51:42 AM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
So far MS did not perform very well in mobile segment. Is it preparing for some killer product? I am looking forward to some edge-cutting innovation - to be honest I am tired of seeing mobile beasts with just more powerful CPU, RAM and storage.:-)
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/14/2015 | 8:14:50 AM
Re: Microsoft, No Mobile
Is it currently on the market, no but it is very close.  There have been adjustments to their marketing to show a more real world product with a narrower field of vision for the augmented reality part.  This tells me that they have something and are starting to shape expectations for the launch. 

 

On the Apple watch sales drop, I think this is indicative of the higher end watch form factor, I'm seeing more lower and middle level devices on wrists.  There is just a point that people reach when they realize that the screen is just too small to try to work with and that is somewhere just past reading a short text message for most people. 

 
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
7/13/2015 | 3:49:24 PM
Market presence and releveance

While I agree that Microsoft was late to market it's also true that the entire cell phone market is in dire straits. Pricing is soupy the process to buy a phone requires a PhD and the plans are egregiously expensive. The entire marketplace is like landline phones in the 70s. There needs to be some leveling in the marketplace but it's not happening because the players are merging are creating only a few key players that are no playing copycat and leaving the consumer out in the cold. The pricing premium on both phones and services can't continue long term, maybe Microsoft will be the ones to overhauls that structure and it will make them relevant again.

liverdonor
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liverdonor,
User Rank: Strategist
7/10/2015 | 4:00:58 PM
Re: Windows CE != Windows Mobile
Sorry, as a former insider, I must (as Bernie Sanders is fond of saying), respectfully disagree.

Point 1: Saying that WinMo is the same as WinCE is like saying Windows Server Edition is the same as XBox (or, more appropriately, that RedHat is the same as Debian). Yes, at some point, the kernels go back to a common branch. Yes, many of the system services share common versions. But the API sets were different (for example, from CE4 on, you could use .NET Compact on both, but until Embedded Compact 7 and Windows Phone 8, you could not use full-on .NET on any of the compact Windows variants). Talk to someone who spent years building code for these platforms. They'll tell you, for example, that in general .NET Compact was cr*p and bore only passing resemblance to full-on .NET. Don't let the monikers fool you - they were NOT the same code. Compact was mostly written in India, in an attempt to make something that looked like full .NET but would run in smaller environments. It did not succeed well, and that's one of the reasons why most old-school CE builders tended to stick to native code for a lot of their work (Win32 remained about 85% the same on all the platforms where it existed).

I used to work with the WinMo team on and off for about 3 years, as a contractor SDE. Part of that time, I worked with the build and config management teams. I took branches that were dropped from CE (and originally, from Windows NT Kernel group) and prepared them for use by both the WinMo and Automotive teams and drop them for the build team. The branches diverged considerably from their progenitors.

Point 2: Your version number sequence is off. There were MANY versions of what, for lack of a better bucket, I call the "Compact Versions" (and the children - Auto, Mobile and Handheld). Every time there was a new CE kernel or mainline build, we would snap the tree for modification and dissemination to the SDEs in Embedded, WinMo and Auto -- until WinMo 6. A nice view of the first 10+ years of the Compact Editions timeline is on Wikipedia - it's pretty much correct. Sorry, but you all must look it up yourselves - InfoWeek won't let me put the URL in my post anymore [thanks for nothing, spammers!]. Just search for Windows CE.

And no, I'm not talking about Pink. Pink was an orphan child from the beginning (beKinning?). It first ran Java and then a forked branch of CE 4. Cloud-based system, way ahead of it's time. Very cool idea, ugly implementation (destroyed by inter-group politics, mostly).

With WinMo 6, MSFT management realized that the cellular market was on the ascendant. It was decided that a new release needed to be done; but CE wasn't ready to release yet, so the branch was forked and WinMo 6 was developed on its own special fork (including some kernel changes, with the reluctant blessing of the Kernel Team). This proved to be a problem later, when CE 6 was merged back into the main WinMo line, just prior to WinMo 6.5 (also known as the last WinMo release). Quite a bit of time was wasted while the two lines were merged. I consider it the biggest headache I have ever had to face, in a config mgmt. role.

WP7 was again based on the CE 7 kernel, with, as you say, a borrowed UE (from a hybrid of Xbox and Zune). You had to build apps in Silverlight paradigm; it was not popular because all the former WinMo ISVs were being asked to re-write their apps from ground-zero.

Windows Phone 8+ was a big deal, because they decided to go back to the root Kernel line that was the progenitor of all of these (Windows, XBox and Compact). It was also a big deal, because it allowed the return of native-mode code. That was important because a lot of ISVs had bailed on Windows Phone, due to the fact that one was forced to use Silverlight as the UE. Yuck.

But Win10 is an even bigger deal. Finally, for once and all, Microsoft has figured out how to consolidate all the Windows lineages under one roof. Part of this is because, at last, the Windows team is in charge of ALL Windows releases on any platform - it's amazing what you can accomplish if you're all actually on the same team. Especially at MSFT, where inter-team rivalry is legendary.

And, before anyone starts, NO, I'm NOT talking about ABIs. I just assumed that everyone knew that ARM, x86, Itanium, MIPS etc. do not use the same binaries. When I say "codebase", I'm not talking about the binary, I'm talking about COMMON SOURCE TREES, compiled with the same VERSION of the same COMPILER. I'm also talking COMMON APIs (again, at the same REV LEVEL). If all of Windows-land can use 95%+ the same version of the same APIs (and, by extension, UEs) and just recompile for different targets, and if the release cadences are synchronized in similar fashion, that is a huge accomplishment and deserves recognition. Of course, history will tell if they can continue to pull it off - but for now, it should be noted.

As of this writing, Apple can't do it - OSX and iOS are very different animals. Google can't do it - Android != Chrome != Glass (etc.). Even Linux-land can't do it. Take a look at the "make piles" for any commonly-used Linux software - there's a make variant for each platform you build on, and you have to decide if you're going to use GNU compilers or someone else's compiler, and which UE you're targeting, etc. etc. etc. Open source is cool, but it's a lot of work.

Now, that's not to say "they" (the ever-popular "them") :-) won't be able to do this someday. Given that common-platform-portability is the holy grail of config management, I suspect every popular OS and SV will try for this eventually. It's just not possible now.
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