Passing the torch: Nokia's legacy in Microsoft's hands [ITP.net (United Arab Emirates)]
(ITP.net (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) It is hard to remember a time when the Internet had nothing to do with "Things". Smartphones were executive curios with business-focused functions and tablets were something you took when you were sick.
But Apple and Google changed all that. Between them they consumerised devices and ecosystems and drove a dizzying evolution of technology and the way people relate to it. New players entered the game with their own contributions. Social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter fuelled unparalleled content production and arguably encouraged the growth of big data.
Paradoxically, Microsoft Corp, the undisputed king of the previous desktop era, played a relatively modest role in the new age. OEM partners of its mobile platform failed to chew off significant chunks of the emerging smart devices market and Nokia last year finally let the curtain fall on its mobility story, opting to sell its flagging devices unit to Microsoft for $7.4bn.
Jon French, newly appointed vice president, Microsoft Devices Middle East, took time out to share with ITP.net his vision of the hyper competitive sector and Microsoft's place in it, as the company looks at devices with new eyes following the appointment of its new chief executive Satya Nadella in February.
"I'm constantly amazed by how fast this industry [mobile devices] changes," French muses. "You hit your peaks and you come down again, but it's all driven by what the consumer wants: innovation."
When Microsoft bought Nokia's devices division, it merged the property with its own and put ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop in charge. Elop's purview included all previous Nokia devices, including its Lumia and Asha ranges and the anomalous Android-based Nokia X. But it also covered the Microsoft Surface and the Xbox gaming consoles.
The regional devices unit is a separate entity, French explains, focusing entirely on legacy Nokia products.
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The Nokia X stands as a source of puzzlement to many in the industry. Microsoft and Nokia announced the acquisition deal in September, but in February, while due diligence was in full swing, the object of Microsoft's desire announced the Nokia X, a budget smartphone based on the Android platform, which is owned by Microsoft's arch-rival Google. As pundits bit lips and scratched heads, some predicted a quick decommissioning of the X, but Microsoft subsequently pledged a commitment to retain the product. French explains why.
"Clearly there was a process between the acquisition being announced and it being formalised," he says. "As you would expect, both companies act independently during that phase. So if there was a plan, then obviously you carry on [with that plan].
"I can tell you why X exists and I can tell you what the plan is for it. It is there to take advantage and to compete with Android, which is a very successful part of the market as the predominant OS in the world today. [The X] is a feeder system for us. It's that link between Microsoft services and a very big pool of consumers, and we can migrate those people to using Microsoft services. [This also] feeds into Lumia, which is our number-one focus."
Once Redmond told the industry it was not only giving the X a stay of execution but was going to actively push it, some may have speculated on the future of Microsoft's own eco system, but only briefly. While adoption and user loyalty for the App Store and Google Play far outstrip that of Windows Store, Microsoft, and French in particular, is confident it can turn things around. Indeed when asked if Windows Phone had a solid future in the company's ongoing mobile strategy French says, "Absolutely yes."
"Lumia and Windows [Phone] 8 is the priority for us. My top priority is to grow our share of Windows [Phone]. How can I do that? I can use X; I can use people getting familiar with Microsoft services via using Microsoft devices. I can excite them about that experience and then I can migrate them onto Lumia."
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French points to the legacy of Windows on mobile devices, a legacy that predates the iRevolution and social media explosion that led to the current smart devices miasma.
"We sometimes forget that Windows as an operating system on phones is the oldest operating system there is. I have been selling Windows phones for six or seven years now. The first smartphones were running on Windows platforms. It does sit on mobile and it has evolved hugely over the past few years. It is true to say the share we have doesn't compare with some others in the world and are we happy about that? No, clearly. Is there a plan to continue and grow? Absolutely yes, there is.
"And that is exactly why X exists. It exists to collect people who are interested in the Android world, change their mind-set slightly, get them interested in Microsoft devices and then translate those into Lumia sales."
Microsoft's future in the ecosystem space arguably presents more of a sheer face than an uphill struggle. So has Microsoft considered applying BlackBerry's reinstated business model of targeting enterprise mobility?
"There have certainly been conversations around enterprise," he confirms. "There's a massive opportunity to grow [in that space]. There are a lot of good reasons why I think that. Number one is that [BlackBerry] is clearly having some issues and all the feedback we're getting from our B2B customers and operators is that there is a void that needs to be filled and that we are the leading candidate."
If BlackBerry does dwindle, Microsoft's cloud services infrastructure may be just what the doctor ordered for companies trying to come to terms with the third platform and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) conundrum. Microsoft does have a long history of enterprise solutions and its own devices unit is widely expected to strengthen its potential to deliver relevant tools.
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"Certainly our B2B business is picking up and that's all in the Windows space," French says. "We've got some big advantages there. One is the ability to have Office on your mobile. And we have a huge heritage of developers developing for the Windows platform, so we are very well positioned to grow in that space."
Microsoft's future in devices will likely involve keeping up with the pack for the immediate future. While its Lumia range boasts admirable hardware, devices users have shown that they value features and apps above specification and aesthetics. French acknowledges this and intends doing more to emphasise such selling points in the Lumia range, such as Offline Maps, which can represent a significant saving in roaming charges - a consideration that may strike home with the region's large expat populations.
But French also believes that true innovation is not impossible from the Microsoft camp. While he would not comment on the possible addition of a wearable device to his portfolio (Microsoft does not comment on future products as a matter of policy) he remains hopeful that other shifts will hit the industry.
"I genuinely believe that there's an opportunity for the world to change again and I genuinely believe [Microsoft is] in a very good position to lead that change," he says.
(c) 2014 ITP Business Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
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