Just give up on mobile already, Microsoft

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Credit: Microsoft

With no market share and everyone who was connected with Nokia laid off, it’s hard for anyone to take Windows Phone seriously

How many ways can Microsoft fail with mobile technology? There was Windows CE — a failure. Windows Mobile — a flop. And, more recently, Windows Phone — a fiasco.

Do we begin to see a pattern here? Failure, flop, fiasco — Microsoft has earned a big F.

Let’s take a look at the mobile marketplace, shall we? According to the Digital Analytics Program, a customized version of Google Analytics that collects information from visitors to 3,800 federal websites, Apple iOS is the most popular mobile operating system, with 16.8% of all visitors. It’s followed by Android, with 14.6% and then, lost somewhere down at the bottom at 2.3%, along with desktop Linux, Chromebooks and old OS/2 machines, is Windows Phone.

NetMarketShare also paints a bleak picture. With its smartphone- and tablet-only statistics, it shows Android on top with 51%, followed by iOS at 40.8%, Java ME (“What’s that?” most of you are saying) with 3.2%, and then Windows Phone with a meager 2.3%.

With market performance like that, is “fiasco” really too strong a word? I didn’t think so.

I’m not saying this is a new revelation. In fact, I’ve been pointing out that Microsoft can’t get a foothold in mobile for ages.

I admit that I’m probably biased. (Biased, yes. Blind? No.) But then I read this story by my buddy Matthew Miller. He’s been using Windows on phones since 2003, but he’s finally decided “to leave Windows Phone behind.”

Why? Because he, like me, can read the handwriting on the wall.

Last year, Microsoft started laying off its Nokia smartphone personnel in its first-ever round of major layoffs. And what did Microsoft just do this year? That’s right! It laid off 7,800 employees. Guess where they’ve been working? That’s right! The phone group.

On top of that, Microsoft is writing off $7.6 billion from its foolish Nokia acquisition. The cherry on top of this disaster ice-cream sundae is a restructuring charge of between $750 million and $850 million. The total purchase price for Nokia back in April 2014? $7.9 billion.

I don’t care what accounting rules you use, Microsoft lost every penny it invested in the last few years in its mobile program.

I hope Steve Ballmer’s enjoying his basketball team, the Los Angeles Clippers, because I don’t see Microsoft calling him back anytime soon for consulting work.

Ballmer has called Vista his biggest flop as Microsoft CEO. I have argued that Windows 8 was right down there too. But now I think it may be a three-way tie: Vista, Windows 8 and everything Ballmer ever touched in Windows mobile operating systems. It’s hard to say.

Here’s what I can say.

Between the two layoffs, Microsoft will have gotten rid of almost all staff with any clue about phone hardware. The software side has also been decimated.

Microsoft also finally got around to throwing former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop out the door. About time, since the only thing he did for Nokia was to drive it into the ground. When Elop went to Nokia from Microsoft, Nokia had 34.2% global smartphone market. In a mere three years, when Microsoft bought it, Nokia’s global smartphone market share had declined to a lousy 3%. Now, that’s management at work!

Still, when Elop was shown the door, he was executive vice president of the Microsoft Devices Group, a.k.a. Nokia. In short, he was the guy in charge of Microsoft’s Windows Phone hardware. Devices are now under Terry Myerson at the newly minted Windows and Devices Group. It seems to me that Myerson, busy with the Windows 10 launch, is going to spend a lot of time cheerleading the disheartened remnants of the Phone team.

Last, but hardly least, Microsoft has recently been porting its own applications to Android and iOS. It’s even moving its mobile “killer app” Cortana, its intelligent assistant app, to those rival operating systems.

What does Microsoft offer its third-party Windows Phone developers? Not much! The company is, on the other hand, encouraging Android and iOS developers to port their apps to Windows Phones.

What were those market-share numbers again? Hmmm. I don’t think if I were an ISV I’d be wasting time on porting my apps.

So, you tell me. Is there any reason for Microsoft to even be in the business of creating its own mobile devices, or even operating systems, by this time next year? I can’t think of one.

What I can see is Microsoft encouraging customers to use its apps and cloud services on devices from other vendors. There’s profit for Microsoft in that. But to continue to throw good money after bad the way it has with the Nokia bust? I think Ballmer successor Satya Nadella is too smart for that.

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