5th March 2024

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Microsoft CEO regrets culling Windows Phone • The Register

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella regrets the abrupt termination of the Windows Phone project.

In an interview with Business Insider, Nadella stopped short of directly calling the move a mistake, despite prompting from the interviewer, but admitted things could have gone differently.

He said: “The decision I think a lot of people talk about – and one of the most difficult decisions I made when I became CEO – was our exit of what I’ll call the mobile phone as defined then.

“In retrospect, I think there could have been ways we could have made it work by perhaps reinventing the category of computing between PCs, tablets, and phones.”

It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when Windows Phone died. The platform was launched in 2010 and, despite Microsoft spending billions on acquiring Nokia, was killed off by axe-wielding Microsoft engineers in 2014. The corpse continued twitching into the Windows 10 era before the plug was pulled once and for all in 2019, and security updates for the last devices were halted.

Nadella is not alone in regretting Microsoft’s catastrophic foray into the Windows Phone. In 2019, Bill Gates expressed regret for the errors that left Android as the primary non-Apple mobile operating system. Former CEO Steve Ballmer similarly admitted to dropping the ball where phones were concerned.

That said, Microsoft recently re-entered the mobile device market with the Surface Duo, aligning with Nadella’s desire for category reinvention. The foldable does not, however, appear to be setting the market ablaze. Perhaps things might have been different had it launched as a Windows Phone years earlier.

Considering Microsoft’s current financial success, it is difficult to regard Windows Phone as a misstep, certainly with respect to the state of the operating system and ecosystem. Yes, it could have been made to work, but hindsight is tricky.

As for Nadella, he said his biggest mistake was actually to do with people.

He said: “The curation of culture, and the holding of standards as a leader, becomes the most important thing. Because everybody can sense the difference between what you say and what you do.

“Over the years, I would sometimes say some stuff, but not really mean it. And then, well, that doesn’t work. That’s why getting what you think, what you say, and what you do aligned is a struggle.”

Those lessons have been learned as the company seems laser-focused on shoehorning AI technology into every one of its products. Whether its customers like it or not. ®