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Holy Buyout Batman! Microsoft Buys Nokia’s Device Business – So Now What?

You know, you take one day off to celebrate your nation’s labor unions and you miss out on almost $140 billion (with a “B”) of mergers and acquisitions.  Yup, the deal we all knew would happen eventually happened – oh ya, and Verizon bought the 45% of Verizon Wireless it didn’t own from long time partner Vodafone.  Actually, I jest because the talk of the town for the last few days had been about the $130 billion deal…and then we hear that Microsoft buys Nokia’s mobile devices and services business.

My first reaction when I heard the news this morning was “Holy Cow!”  After a very long day, I have had the time to reflect more on this deal.  The fact of the matter is that after Stephen Elop joined Nokia and that Espoo made the choice to focus exclusively on Windows Phone, we all knew that there was a very high probability that Microsoft would SOME day buy Nokia.

But SOME day became today.

As with so many large deals, there are as many answers as there are questions.  The thing is though, this deal is different.  I was talking to a colleague last week and we were discussing the challenge that Mr. Elop has/d at Nokia.  See, not only does he have to report to the board and the shareholders, but he also has to report to Finland…yes, Finland…as in the entire country.  See, Nokia is (was?) special.  It was the embodiment of Finland.  It IS Finland.

But now, Nokia’s mobile device and services division has been sold to Microsoft.

There are so many thoughts that are going through my mind as I think about this deal.  Let me see if I can share them with you in some sort of semi-cohesive manner.

  • I can’t get excited about owning a Microsoft phone.  See, people who own Nokia devices (including me) are often passionate about them.  I have owned over the years more Nokia devices than I can recall.  In fact there’s a nice article over at The Verge that shows many of those devices.  But my Nokia Lumia 920?  I love it.  My Microsoft Surface (RT) – uhm, not so much.  My Microsoft Windows machines – not so much (and for the record, MacOS X drives me bonkers).  It’s just hard to not be dispassionate (yes, double negative) about Microsoft products….and mobile is all about passion.  How can Microsoft ever accomplish that?  Is passion even in their DNA? And for the record, “Developers! Developers! Developers!” is so 20th century.
  • Quick question for you.  Does Microsoft know how to do Marketing?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Let’s just look at some recent examples.  The original Surface commercials made me want to dance – not buy a tablet (BTW, if you are the part of the team that built that campaign, you should connect with the product manager for Lotus Notes and create a start-up).  That said, some of the new Lumia commercials as well as the Surface commercials that use the Siri voice are quite entertaining – but again, what in the hell does break dancing have to do with the value of a tablet that should have been in market two plus years ago?  Ah, the joys of management by committee.  Sometimes I think the people in Redmond just don’t get it.
  • So speaking of getting things…does Microsoft get mobile?  I mean seriously.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually think Windows Phone is a great platform…DESPITE Microsoft!  (Side note: I remember one time when a MSFT employee on the MOBILE team asked me a few years back “do you really think people care how long it takes for their phones to boot up?” Kill me now.  The problem is that Microsoft now says “shut up and ship” and forgets to deliver on the 2nd part of that statement.  Remember when they said a few weeks ago that an enterprise patch for Windows Phone 8 would be available some time in the first half of 2014?  I’m sorry, but 10-12 months in mobile is a G*d awful eternity!  I had penned an open letter to Microsoft over 2 ½ years ago with some suggestions on what Microsoft could do to improve things on the (enterprise) mobility front.  With the acquisition, they have gotten two of the five recommendations accomplished.  Oh and by the way….last week, they were still 0 for 5. Now mind you, I’m not suggesting I’m a business expert, but they were pretty common sense suggestions.  And who did those two things? Stephen Elop.
  • So now comes the inevitable question of the day about Stephen Elop as it pertains to the search for a new CEO at Microsoft.  Let me not beat around the bush on this one.  The ONLY person in my opinion who has a chance in hell of making Microsoft relevant in mobile as well as steer the rest of the aircraft carrier is Stephen Elop.  He has worked for many years as a senior level exec at Microsoft, so he knows how that place (doesn’t) work.  He’s obviously also worked extensively as a Microsoft partner and knows what Microsoft is doing well in mobile and what they’re not doing well in mobile. I think he brings the right balance of outsider perspective with the (unfortunately) necessary understanding of how Redmond operates.  An outsider would see how messed up it is, try to radically change it and make things worse.  An insider would think nothing’s wrong and make things worse.  Elop balances both fronts – and as we know from his burning platform memo, able to look at himself in the mirror and call it like it is.  On a personal note, I also get excited when I see Elop present.  He’s very polished, always on message and has a very elegant way of interacting with people.  See, Steve Jobs offered High Tech Theatre and you got to watch it.  With Elop, it just feels more genuine.
  • Speaking of the cluster better known as Microsoft’s mobile offerings, what about the Surface team?  Nokia is rumored to be ready to launch a RT based tablet, as well as a Phablet…and obviously there are some other devices already in the works.  Moving forward, Microsoft can’t do both – from a design language or from a time/investment perspective.  So what does this mean with regards to the Surface team and the current/near term initiatives?  Also, speaking of time, do you think we can ever expect a Microsoft Lumia (doesn’t that just roll off your tongue?) launch more than once a year?  How many devices has Nokia launched in the last 12 months?  I don’t think that’s in Microsoft’s DNA….but then again, maybe with Elop at the helm, that could change.

So there you have it.  Just a couple of thoughts around today’s big news.  It truly is the end of an era knowing that Nokia will soon stop making mobile devices. I do sincerely hope that Microsoft can take that legacy and do honor to the history and tradition that comes from Espoo and Tampere.

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