Microsoft’s Windows Phone failure was easily preventable, but the company’s culture made it unavoidable

“How could Microsoft’s Windows Phone licensing business model stand a chance against Google’s Free and Open Android? None of the Redmond giant’s complicated countermeasures worked, its smartphone platform is dead,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note.And yet, inexplicably, Microsoft failed to use a very simple move…”

Microsoft’s fourth quarter fiscal year 2017 results “acknowledge what was already notorious: Windows Phone is dead,” Gassée writes. “‘Phone revenue was immaterial and declined $361M.’ This doesn’t come as a surprise. Let’s recall that, in September 2010, Redmond employees held what CNET called a ‘tacky ‘funeral” for iPhone and Blackberry. One wonders how they’ll memorialize Windows Phone.”

“Microsoft’s smartphone troubles started well before the birth of Android,” Gassée writes. “Windows Mobile became the modern Windows Phone in 2011 or 2012 (depending on whom you ask) but it was too late. Licensees didn’t line up at the Redmond door. The platform was already dying. it’s woefully late in the smartphone war, four years after the birth of the iPhone, three years after the first Android phone.”

“We know who/what killed Windows Phone, and it’s not Android. We could point fingers at one or more Microsoft execs as the culprits, but that misses the point: Microsoft culture did it,” Gassée writes. “Culture is dangerous; under our field of consciousness, it sneakily filters and shapes perceptions, it’s a system of permissions to emote, think, speak, and do.”

Read more in the full article – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: Which is why, when “fanboys” like us blast Apple and company executives for things we consider to be mistakes, we do so for a reason. And, when enough of us do it loudly enough, we get heard.

We’re not stuck in the culture. We’re outside the box – literally – but we care deeply about what’s happening (or not happening) inside and what it produces (or fails to produce). And when you’ve been looking at something obsessively closely for well over three decades, as some of us here have been doing with Apple, you can sometimes see things clearly that others, even those inside, cannot see at all.

As for Microsoft’s Windows Phone, yes, we told ya so:

Microsoft could have unveiled the perfect smartphone OS, that doesn’t omit Cut-Copy-Paste or Multitasking or Tethering and that is wholly original and doesn’t infringe on other companies’ intellectual property, and they would still be nearly 4 years late to the game. It’s superfluous to the marketplace. They can try to force their way in with $500 million in marketing and, if successful, damage the other iPhone wannabes like Android, but, like all of the other also-rans, they have not even come close to equalling iOS much less accomplished the tremendous feat of leapfrogging iOS, which is what Microsoft needed to do in order to make up for being so woefully late to the game. — MacDailyNews, October 11, 2010

Beleaguered Microsoft announces yet another major reorg; axes up to 3,000 employees – July 6, 2017
Beleaguered Microsoft to ax ‘thousands’ more employees – July 5, 2017
Beleaguered Microsoft axes 2,850 more employees – July 29, 2016
Microsoft pulls plug on consumer smartphones, axes another 1,850 jobs – May 25, 2016
Cue the funeral for Microsoft’s Windows Phone – April 22, 2016
A single quarter of iPad Pro sales will exceed the total of all Microsoft Surface tablets ever sold – November 24, 2015

[Attribution: Quartz. Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]


  1. They were under the Steve Ballmer reign. “Just get it out there and we’ll figure it out later!” management style.

    The new CEO is much better. They are going back to being an actual multiplatform software company instead of trying to tie everything to windows.

    Windows phone deserved to die.

  2. Not going to address the main issue of Windows Phone failure here but like to comment on a point Gassee made :

    “Once again, what were execs thinking?”

    I suspect the execs weren’t as stupid as it looks. It’s wrong to assume that MAIN interest of many execs are the ‘best’ for the company, no most execs are interested in their OWN WELFARE. And in many case it’s NOT ROCK THE BOAT but toe the bosses line.

    The MAIN INTEREST of most execs is GET THE MOST for THEMSELVES.

    I bet many Msft. execs realized that LONG TERM the policy would lead to failure but they ALSO realized that toeing the company line would give them a few more years of FAT SALARIES, rocking the boat (like telling Ballmer that his laughing at iPhone was ‘stupid and crazy’ and that the iPhone was a ‘Great Product’ ) might have got them the boot immediately . Play the GAME and you have way better chance of making big bucks for yourself .

    Execs can make millions a year (Ahrendts made 60+ million first year at Apple with sign on bonus for example) , hang on a few years and you might have a beautiful nest egg (look at Marissa Meyer… ) .. even if the company goes to pot.

    Look at Apple: I BET YOU DOZENS of Apple execs realized from YEARS ago that Tim (“Who needs a PC?” ) Cook’s policy on Macs (basically it’s dying so neglect it) was wrong. But it seems nobody said anything. It was only the REPEATED HAMMERING of quarter after quarter of financial reports that T.C finally GOT IT (iPads sales have fallen down a cliff and is now about HALF peak sales and every quarter even with massive neglect — like no advertising and slow updates — Macs BEAT iPads in revenue. Macs make near TWICE Watch, TV, iPod, Beats, AirPods , i.e Apple’s ‘other products’ category COMBINED ! ) — that he needs to pay attention about Macs and finally some execs like Federighi and Ternus are taking action.

    (if people don’t get it, in short : neglecting Apple’s SECOND LARGEST hardware money maker was stupid).

    For years no Apple exec dared to contradict Tim Cook’s dislike for Macs (in photos you see T.C determinedly pounding away at an iPad keyboard with a Mac behind him !)

    (for flamers: there is no doubt there is Mac neglect and wrong thinking in Apple’s mac line . Some machines not updated for five years, Apple had to sell developers EXTERNAL GPU boxes because NO MAC has a powerful enough GPU for new software development … !! The GPU problem was something I’ve complained about for YEARS and collected a whole bunch of one stars.. lol. )

    I am certain like if Apple took Macs seriously ( there was no push or advertising even through Msft’s Windows 8 fiasco years ) Apple Mac revenues would be way higher (billions) today.

    From the above and history I believe that that Apple fans who have reasonable fact based issues should keep complaining (where is the Apple TV box going for example?) to make Apple Better.

    1. Very true and this is always the biggest problem when companies go from early start up through big grower when making a success of the company makes an unrivaled success opportunity for you to large conglomerate that has to look more towards holding on to what its got or trying to define safe growth prospects for fear of risk damage which indeed creates that don’t rock the boat attitude individually. Indeed whole economies can suffer from this factor which is why older economies tend to stagnate as new ones catch up and move ahead having come out of no where.

    2. “I am certain like if Apple took Macs seriously ( there was no push or advertising even through Msft’s Windows 8 fiasco years ) Apple Mac revenues would be way higher (billions) today. ”

      Wrong. Apple has promoted Macs. Heavily. Not only that but the tech media and even Hollywood promotes Mac and Apple heavily. There was even a movie entirely around a couple’s misadventures with Macs and iClouds … Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz I think.

      The problem with Macs is and always has been the same: Macs cost twice as much in return for less flexibility and less third party software while doing essentially the same. Windows is able to get away with it because people don’t love their PCs the way that they do their smartphones. Smartphones are personal devices that people love and feel attached to. PCs are the things that you have to put up with while you do work. Even when you use PCs for entertainment, it is often a chore (unless it is for high-end gaming, which again Macs are mostly incapable of). But even when you use your iPhone or iPad for work, it is kinda neat. And back when PCs still had the fun gee-whiz factor because they replaced the drudgery of pen-and-pencil stuff, they were too expensive and too big/bulky to be widely adopted. Now, even with PCs being practically as mobile as phones and tablets and just as thin, it is too late. People pull out their MacBook Airs to work and their iPhones to play. Except why work with a MacBook Air when you can do the same work with a Windows 10 or Windows 7 device for half the price.

      1. ?????

        “promoted Macs heavily’
        are you serious?

        go show me a serous Mac ad campaign vs the dozens for Watch, Beats, iPad etc. in recent years. Note like I said these make LESS than Mac revenues.

        A SERIOUS Mac campaign is like Jobs Mac/PC guy (“Get a Mac”) campaign where he had one NEW ad a month (66 different ads in 4 years!) and this was at a time when iPod was a big seller and idiots were saying Apple should get out of the PC business and focus on music. The Mac ads only petered out when TCbecame interim CEO, and in spite of massive neglect Mac up to today is STILL Apple’s second largest hardware money maker.

        And what the heck does a hollywood movie about MIS-adventures of Mac users got to with TIM COOK’S promotonal efforts? people screwing up using Macs was a script written by Apple? (well maybe thinking about Cooks attitude about Macs…. )

        try to even show me even CHEAP web or print Mac ad campaigns?

        AND what the heck happened to Apple’s strong position in Education sinking to 10+ % or so?

        as for excuses for ‘work’ go try working on a big Excel spreadsheet on your phone or iPad (and I’m a owner of a 12.9 iPad Pro) much less a 3D movie or one such…. And what the heck are Apple trying to push Macs with eGPUs to it’s OWN DEVELOPERS if people can do most work on iOs…? why don’t developers write new VR software and do CAD designs on their iPhones?

        the asking developers to use eGPUs because no Macs have powerful enough GPUs is a total sad indication of how far Macs have sunk compared to the days when Job’s had SHOOTOUTS of macs vs PCs where macs routinely trashed PCs in Photoshop etc.

        Today Apple escaped the PROFOUND ABSURDITY by the skin of their teeth with that eGPU work around from having WINDOWS or LINUX machines in their brand new billions costing Campus to do AR/VR and 3D design work. Imagine inviting press to their showcase Campus where Ive had his designers work a year and a half on the door handles and SEE WINDOWS PCs on top of the “specally milled European wood tables”…..

  3. Microsoft execs were convinced that Windows and Office were their guaranteed golden tickets to mobile nerdvanna.

    They couldn’t conceive of a world where anyone could live with a mobile device without a those two pieces of software.

    They also were completely incapable of recognizing that the extortionist licensing structure they received for PCs for two decades would never work with smartphones—especially when Google was giving away a “free” OS and especially when they never had anything close to a monopoly in phones.

    They couldn’t look past the cash cows.

  4. The other thing is that MS sat on their butts for around 10 years after starting their smart phone efforts in the late 90s. They never seemed to address:
    1. the huge deficiencies of their mobile software
    —cumbersome, crappy, inflexible, awkward software
    —poor battery management
    —crappy development tools
    —horrible app pricing structure—cost too much, do too little
    —horrible access to apps, strangled by telcos
    2. Crappy handware issues
    —poor battery life
    —crappy mobile processors
    —Waited on OEMs to come up with solutions, instead of subsidizing solutions
    —even worse, waiting on the Telcos to come up with solutions.

    And most of all, completely forgetting that with a cell phone, their main customer was the consumer, NOT the IT department.

  5. Unfortunately it appears to me that Apple like Microsoft is becoming so overconfident that they can’t see issues developing.

    Buggy, limited software advertised as an improvement.

    Products left to languish.

    Way overpriced compared to the competition.

    For example, MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS 15. Both systems top of the line models – $3700 after AppleCare vs 1899.99 with four year warranty for Dell. That is way too high of premium!

  6. “We could point fingers at one or more Microsoft execs as the culprits, but that misses the point: Microsoft culture did it,”

    No, it was Steve Ballmer.

  7. And yet Microsoft is doing just fine without smartphones.

    Apple needed iOS. Google needed Android. Microsoft never needed the mobile space and is better off without it. They still own a 92% – and growing again – share of the PC market. And their search/ads market share is slowly growing also.

    I have always felt that while Google needed Android to survive against Microsoft, focusing on it kept them from making the moves that they needed to make in order to become an enterprise company. By contrast, once Nadella took over, Microsoft stopped wasting their time trying to compete with the iPhone and iPad like Ballmer wanted to do and took Azure from literally almost zero to #2 behind Azure. Meanwhile Google, who technically started their enterprise cloud business not long after Amazon started AWS, neglected it because they focused so much on Android, and Microsoft blew right past them. Now with Amazon #1 and Azure #2, there really is no need for a third major cloud player, especially if you don’t offer something that AWS and Azure do. Google tried to compete their usual way – by underselling AWS and Azure and forgoing profit to grow market share – but that didn’t work. The worst thing: Google already had the infrastructure to win in cloud but didn’t use it. Microsoft boatraced Google in cloud without having the infrastructure in place and having to built it out as they went! Now Google is retrenching again, working with legacy pre-cloud companies like Citrix and VMware to try to deliver virtual desktop type solutions to enterprises but that is it. By contrast, because they weren’t focusing on maintaining a mobile OS, Microsoft took what Google was already doing with Google Docs for free, made it into Office 365, and is selling it to enterprises and consumers! Google COULD have gotten more enterprises to switch from Office to Docs back when it was still a desktop-bound application, but that required the type of focus that went into making garbage like Android TV and Android Wear instead. Now, no matter how much Google improves and promotes Docs, no one but small cash-starved enterprises are ever going to use Google Docs (which really is nothing but a cloud version of OpenOffice/LibreOffice to begin with but who cares).

    See, tech is going to change. Mobile devices are on top now, but who knows what tech we are going to be using 10 years from now. Microsoft has positioned themselves to where no matter what tech people use and what company manufactures it, consumers and enterprises are still going to have to rely on their cloud. Google has not done the same thing, so 10 years from now they are going to be still scrambling to be relevant in whatever technology will be dominant then (because we know that Google cannot innovate, but rather they can only iterate, though they do seem to be quite good at that … Android is a good iteration on iOS whether you admit it or not, Chrome was a great iteration on IE and Firefox, and they took what Yahoo and the others were already doing with search/ads and did it much better).

    As for Apple, who knows. They are a hardware company instead of a software and services company like Microsoft and Google, so any direct comparisons between them and Google/Microsoft makes no sense. But it really looks like while Android and iOS won the battle, by becoming #2 in cloud/backend Microsoft may win the war. Especially if 10 years from now, what are now considered to be mobile devices are very cheap and practically irrelevant.

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