SatNad's purple haze could see Lumia 'killed'. Way to go, chief!

Microsoft's self-inflicted PR crisis. Note to self: Speak clearly


Microsoft's CEO has attempted to explain the future of its mobile platform in a latest public statement addressed to staff. But, this being Satya Nadella, such is the verbal haze that it's hard to make out what on Earth's going on.

Nadella's language is becoming a real problem for Microsoft, creating uncertainty where clarity is needed. His insistence on using the word "experience" has stoked a mini-PR crisis.

Reporters have already inferred from the purple haze that Windows Phone has received a death sentence, and that Lumia will be snuffed out, probably some time next year. Such reports may not be true, as we'll see, but it's very hard to tell.

What is certain is that reading them won't please enterprises who've bet on Microsoft's end-to-end vision, nor will they motivate Microsoft staff who have been working hard to restore Microsoft's fortunes as mobile devices proliferate in enterprises.

In addition, having recently shown off how, using Continuum, Windows phones are PCs and can replace actual desktop PCs – a real example of positive Nadella-era thinking – the feature doesn't get a mention. An entire passage could have been devoted to explaining "where phones and Windows mobile belongs at Microsoft", but it isn't there. And in its absence, it's easy to infer that phones don't belong at Microsoft at all.

Are you Experienced?

At the Financial Times this week Lucy Kellaway showed how Nadella's prose is as opaque and empty as any corporate CEO-speak. Normally it doesn't matter. Employees are intelligent and can skim-read thousands of words of the meaningless tech strategy cliche that Kellaway highlighted, to get to the punchline – which, in the case of the June memo, was a two word warning: "tough choices".

Normally it doesn't matter. But it matters a lot if they are unsure that either they or their work will be needed in a year's time. They might choose to work somewhere where their work is valued and where the salaries on offer can pay the bills.

First, let's see what SatNad explained in his email to staff yesterday. And then attempt to extract some meaning from it, which is always a challenge.

I am committed to our first-party devices including phones. However...

You knew there was a "but", coming, didn't you? Out of around 32,000 employees transferred to Microsoft from Nokia, 12,000 have gone and 7,800 ex-Nokians will soon join them. More redundancies have been rolled out quietly, largely unreported, we hear. So it's obvious that phones are not the priority they once were. And the ambition to become the world's No.1 manufacturer is long gone. Still, BlackBerry continues to design and sell eye-catching devices and write tons of software, with around 7,000 staff.

Here's the next SatNad instalment:

...we need to focus our phone efforts in the near term while driving reinvention. We are moving from a strategy to grow a standalone phone business to a strategy to grow and create a vibrant Windows ecosystem that includes our first-party device family.

The introduction of a "vibrant Windows ecosystem" doesn't really help clarify. Microsoft has been saying this since it introduced Pocket PCs. It then acquired a phone manufacturer. So yes, it does both. How?

In the near term, we will run a more effective phone portfolio, with better products and speed to market given the recently formed Windows and Devices Group.

You rarely hear a CEO promise that next year's products will be worse.

We plan to narrow our focus to three customer segments where we can make unique contributions and where we can differentiate through the combination of our hardware and software. We’ll bring business customers the best management, security and productivity experiences they need; value phone buyers the communications services they want; and Windows fans the flagship devices they’ll love.

Ah, some clarity. The renewed commitment to flagship devices is obvious, and welcome. Microsoft hasn't launched a high-end model for over a year, and the unit hasn't introduced a splashy, attention-grabbing model since the Nokia Lumia 1020 two years ago.


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