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Summary:

With a new CEO will Microsoft become a bigger mobile player? Based Satya Nadella’s first memo to employees, it looks like he’ll bring new ideas, saying the company needs to rethink how things are done in the mobile space.

Microsoft has named its third CEO, with Satya Nadella taking the reins from Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates before him. Gates is staying on as technology advisor and Ballmer retains his board seat. So will it be business as usual for Microsoft? I doubt it: Nadella has already made it clear that there’s still plenty of opportunity and change a-coming for Microsoft when it comes to mobile.

HTC Windows Phone 8X

First words: mobile, mobile, mobile

In his first note to Microsoft employees, Nadella specifically calls out the mobile market, makes little mention of the traditional Windows business and just notes cloud in passing; interesting since Nadella was Microsoft’s cloud chief:

“In our early history, our mission was about the PC on every desk and home, a goal we have mostly achieved in the developed world. Today we’re focused on a broader range of devices. While the deal is not yet complete, we will welcome to our family Nokia devices and services and the new mobile capabilities they bring us.

As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.”

To me, this signals more than just the passing of the CEO torch.

Finally, Microsoft has a CEO who truly understands that the company is witnessing a transformative change in the way people compute. And the only way Microsoft can continue to be a “go-to” name in consumer computing is to embrace the change.

The device strategy

Clearly, the purchase of Nokia is a big step toward putting mobile first. Microsoft paid $7.2 billion for Nokia’s handset business (the deal hasn’t closed quite yet) and, as a result, has more control over the destiny of Windows Phone hardware. Working with Nokia, Microsoft can help craft the hardware and keep the software working in harmony.

Nokia-Lumia-1520

Don’t count out that Nokia Normandy, also known as Nokia X, which reportedly runs Android.

Some believe Microsoft would never allow Nokia to create and sell such a device, but I suspect Nadella thinks as I do: By pushing lower-cost devices with Microsoft apps and services into emerging markets, Microsoft has a foot in the door when those customers step up to more capable smartphones. Nadella said Microsoft needs to “do new things,” and I can’t think of a better example of the Normandy replacing Nokia’s Asha line of handsets.

After current plans are executed, we’ll see the change

What else can we expect on the mobile front with a new CEO?

Obviously, Microsoft is a big company and change takes a long time. As a result, I don’t think much will be different in the short term. I still anticipate that Microsoft’s Build event in April will push more merging between Microsoft’s Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 in terms of code and common services; that will help developers create apps across the platforms with less effort.

windows 8.1

After that strategy is communicated publicly and implemented, we should see more of the Nadella effect. For example, Microsoft hasn’t made many comments on wearable devices; perhaps an addition to this year’s Build event includes a base SDK for developers to bring Windows to the wrist, glasses or clothing. Given Nadella’s cloud background, I could also envision more detailed strategies for Microsoft in the Internet of Things and smarthomes.

It’s reasonable to expect that as the company’s cloud commander, Nadella already had insight — and even input — into Microsoft’s longer-term vision for mobile.

But Microsoft isn’t in a position to stop and turn on a dime if Nadella wants to make change right way. I give it a good six months. At that point, we’ll have a much better idea of whether the company under Nadella will be the Microsoft of old — or a freshly reinvigorated company that brings innovation to and better understands the mobile computing world of today and tomorrow.

  1. The Indian press here is treating Satya Nadella like he has become the new king of the universe. To the average tech layperson here, the general impression from media reports will be that Microsoft is the best technology company in the world that makes magical technologies to make everyone’s lives better :) :)
    The Times of India headline screams ‘India Makes a Power Point.’ As if the entire country helped make him the CEO. The entire business page of the Times is devoted to showering praises on him. On the same day, a report about a locally famed scientist CNR Rao receiving the country’s top honor award, the Bharat Ratna is a mere side note in the newspaper.

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