(Microsoft) Culture killed Windows Phone?

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There's an insightful article by industry veteran Jean Louis Gassée over at his MondayNote blog, talking about the rise and fall of Microsoft's ambitions in mobile and how it was the company culture rather than external factors that ultimately failed to see Windows Phone take over the world.

From the blog post:

But before we look at facts, let’s engage in a bit of fiction, let’s imagine Microsoft decides to fight Android on Google’s turf. In this alternate reality, Microsoft easily kills Android with one simple headline:

Windows Phone Now Free

The rest of the pitch writes itself. Compared to Google, Microsoft has much stronger connections to hardware OEMs on the one hand and software developers on the other. Its products are widely used and respected by business and consumer customers alike. By offering the Windows Phone platform for free, the company sacrifices licensing revenue, but this unnatural act is more than compensated for by the expansion of the Windows ecosystem. Windows PCs become more attractive, more compatible with the outpouring of mobile devices and applications created by enthusiastic hardware makers and eager app developers.

A bit breathless, I’ll concede, but you get the picture. We can visualize Steve Ballmer pacing the stage in an updated rendition of his sweaty Developers, Developers, Developers oration:


Microsoft’s might and tentacular reach make the Free Windows Phone an unbeatable proposition. When Android is revealed in 2007 and the first HTC-made G1 phone is announced in September 2008, Google can’t match Microsoft’s ecosystem. As a result, Android never achieves critical mass. Just as it dominates the personal computer industry, Microsoft climbs to the top of a the smartphone world. This is an updated application of the company’s Embrace and Extend™ strategy, this time turning Google’s idea of a free OS against it.

Interesting fiction! Back in the real world, Microsoft operated Windows Mobile and Windows Phone as a licensable platform and the critical mass went to Android. Jean Louis then goes on to summarise Microsoft's next few 'desperate moves'

We need licensees? Let’s impress the world with a big win.

Nokia, once the king of phones (they shipped as many as 100M devices per quarter by the end of 2010), had recently removed its CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo a.k.a OPK. As luck would have it, OPK was succeeded by a former Microsoft executive, Stephen Elop. This made communication between the two companies much easier and quickly led to a Windows Phone licensing “win”…but the pretense was transparent: While Nokia paid a Windows Phone license fee, Microsoft balanced the transaction with “platform support” payments.

This may sound like “Windows Phone Now Free”, but it’s much worse in three ways.
First, it admits defeat, Microsoft had to “buy” the Nokia licensing deal. Second, it’s woefully late in the smartphone war, four years after the birth of the iPhone, three years after the first Android phone.
And, third, instead of enticing handset makers to sign a license because mighty Nokia proves the platform’s strength, would-be partners feel they can’t compete while paying for a Windows Phone license that is effectively free to a big competitor.

How could Microsoft execs have imagined that the barefaced Nokia “licensing agreement” would attract new takers? But, wait, there’s more.

Shortly after the Nokia agreement is announced and smartly defended by Elop as a victorious battle in the war of platforms, disaster strikes. Nokia’s CEO in effect kills his existing product line by announcing a new line of Windows Phone devices… that will ship the following year. Customers get the message. Nokia’s current business of Symbian-based handsets immediately collapses and never recovers. In industry parlance, this is known as the Osborne effect.

The Nokia situation becomes so bad that, in 2013, Microsoft is forced to buy the company rather than letting its one and only Windows Phone vector die. Stripping away the verbiage, Microsoft now has an Apple-like vertically integrated smartphone business. The company’s Lumia brand of smartphones offers respectable devices — I bought one — but they come too late in a world dominated by Android and iOS products...

...We know who/what killed Windows Phone, and it’s not Android. We could point fingers at one or more Microsoft execs as the culprits, but that misses the point: Microsoft culture did it. Culture is dangerous; under our field of consciousness, it sneakily filters and shapes perceptions, it’s a system of permissions to emote, think, speak, and do.

It's a pretty decent summary/overview, and the premature 'Osborning' of Symbian got a mention, something else that I'm still a bit bitter about. 

In truth, the Windows Mobile, then Windows Phone and finally Windows 10 Mobile world has never felt in 'balance'. It's true that the Android world is also dominated by just a few players, but it's always been a heck of a lot more varied than, for example, a Nokia-dominated Windows Phone ecosystem.

Comments? Could a license-free Windows Phone really have turned the world upside down?

PS. It's interesting that the article doesn't comment on today's 'Windows 10 everywhere' vision and Windows 10 Mobile specifically - maybe the sales marketshare is now beneath most analyst's eyeline?

Source / Credit: MondayNote