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How to make Microsoft great again, one Nokia phone at a time

Mark Hachman | Jan. 24, 2014
Five lessons Microsoft could digest from the business it's about to swallow.

4. The more software engineers, the better
Of the 32,000 employees that will transfer to Microsoft by way of Nokia, an undisclosed number of those will be software engineers. Microsoft needs as many as it can get, for three reasons:

Internal app development: Microsoft's Windows Phone developer ecosystem is a fragile thing, lacking the breadth and depth of the Android or iOS developer communities. In many cases, Microsoft has had to bite the bullet and write its own apps. This strategy has proven to be alternately successful (see: Facebook) and catastrophic (see: YouTube). Still, "sisters doin' it for themselves" has kept companies like Nintendo (barely) afloat through multiple generations of game consoles. It could work for Microsoft, too.

Support: As the latest botched Surface update demonstrates, Microsoft still struggles to provide a seamless upgrade experience. (Microsoft's servers also strained under the load of the Windows 8.1 upgrade, but that's slightly different.) Consumers tolerate Google's perpetual betas and shrug off Apple's iOS 7 "quirks." But if Microsoft screws up—just once—geeks eagerly dogpile on its lack of technical competence. Microsoft has little margin for error these days.

Ecosystem services: The i-mate Intelegent  isn't the future of Windows Phone-Windows 8 integration. Neither is the reported Android-Windows Phone "Normandy" device. (Ugh.) But until Windows 8 and Windows Phone come closer together, Microsoft is going to have to do as much as possible to share data between platforms. Some of that is as simple as communicating common Bing searches between platforms, sharing location, remote PC access, and second-screen apps. Tie a customer's data to the Windows ecosystem, and you tie Windows to the customer, too.

5. A solution to Microsoft's "fun problem"
Nokia? Fun?! Yes, fun. Finns know fun, too, right?

Look, Microsoft has a fun problem. Both Windows 8 and Windows Phone are designed around matrixes of dynamic, brightly colored Live Tiles that scream "consumer"—but consumers haven't exactly flocked to either platform. That has forced Microsoft to pretend that the OS's are tools for business, instead. While that strategy has proven somewhat successful, Microsoft still needs to lure back the consumer who jumped ship for Android or iOS.

How? Nokia's brightly colored Lumia hardware already complements the Windows Phone and Windows 8 user interfaces. This should continue, so that the Lumia (not Nokia) brand becomes synonymous with Microsoft's efforts in the consumer space. 

That, in turn, will free up Surface to become Microsoft's business brand. And this is already happening, as our review of Nokia's Lumia 2520 tablet demonstrates: "Sitting next to the Surface 2, the Lumia tablet looks like Andy Warhol sitting next to Darth Vader," Jon Phillips wrote. Exactly.

In a conversation at International CES in Las Vegas, Surface executives showed me poker faces when I asked about a possible Surface two-in-one and a smaller, entertainment-focused tablet. But in reality, the Lumia 2520 should spearhead a line of consumer tablet products, leaving Surface to serve the business market.

 

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