No Time Out for Windows Phone Despite Ballmer’s Departure

Carl Weinschenk

In a way, huge corporate news is boring. It’s not that the news that one big company has agreed to acquire another or that the top executive of a firm is leaving isn’t interesting. It’s that once the announcement is made, nothing much happens for a while as various details are sorted out.

In the case of a merger or acquisition, the terms and conditions of the deal must be finalized. The deal often must be voted on by shareholders and okayed by government entities, perhaps in more than one nation. Enabling deals, such as divesting of small bits of one or both companies to ease regulatory concern, must be worked through.

Top executive changes suffer the same hurry up (with the news) and wait (for the impact) effect. Folks at this level don’t give two weeks’ notice before they skedaddle. They announce an intention to leave pretty far in the future.

In the case of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the timeframe is a year. During that time, nothing much will happen, especially at the level where most employees exist.


But that doesn’t mean that this won’t be a sensitive time and folks in the mid-tier shouldn’t be concerned and aware. After all, Microsoft, for all its missteps and humble pie eating of the past few years, remains influential and huge. The mobile sector moves more quickly than any other, and a year is a long, long time.

InformationWeek’s Eric Zeman makes the astute point that the Windows Phone, which recently has shown signs of growth, must remain aggressive. The temptation to sit back and wait for the new CEO to be named must be resisted. The mobile game is so competitive and fast moving that any hope Microsoft has of keeping pace with Apple and Google is dependent upon continuing to move quickly. New versions of iOS and Android are coming, and if Microsoft sits on its heels, the small but significant momentum it has gained could reverse.

To date, as Phil Goldstein at FierceWireless points out, Windows Phone has not been a huge hit:

The first Windows Phone devices were introduced in the fall of 2010, and the company has made successive software updates, but thus far the platform has struggled to gain market share. And, though its application catalogue has grown to 170,000, it remains far behind Android and iOS in terms of apps, and still lacks some top apps, such as Instagram.

Though Zeman doesn’t say it, Microsoft’s interest in keeping the Windows Phone movement going should be aimed as much at keeping ahead of the other entries in the third mobile OS sweepstakes as keeping pace with Android and iOS. That third spot is golden, and four other mobile OSes, each formidable in its own way, are vying for it: Canonical’s Ubuntu, The Linux Foundation’s Tizen, Mozilla’s Firefox OS and Jolla’s Sailfish.

Lost in coverage of Ballmer’s announcement was a nice little win for Windows Phone. A number of sites, including ZDNet, report that Delta has bought more than 19,000 Nokia Lumia 820s, which run Windows Phone, for use by flight attendants. The piece says that the devices will connect via Wi-Fi to Microsoft Dynamics for Retail for point-of-sale activities. The 820s also will provide frequent flyer information and passenger manifests.

Zeman’s point is very well taken. Nowhere is Microsoft’s fate as sensitive, in both the possibility of gaining or falling back, than in mobile. Going into an ultra-conservative period of inertia while Ballmer’s successor is found would be a grave misstep for the company.



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