CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

Summary: Should Microsoft move to a more Apple-like model and make its own smartphone? Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer didn't provide a firm yes or no answer to that Web 2.0 Summit question.

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Microsoft has put all its eggs in the multiple-OEM basket with Windows Phone.

Or has it?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was the last speaker on the hot seat at the Web 2.0 Summit on October 18. Federated Media host John Battelle asked Ballmer about a wide-ranging set of topics in his 20-minute interview -- everything from whether Ballmer regretted not buying Yahoo for $44 billion in 2009 (to which Ballmer replied "Sometimes you're lucky"), to Skype's role as a social-media property.

Steve Ballmer at the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit

Steve Ballmer at the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit (Credit: James Martin/CNET)

The one question to which Ballmer's (non)answer somewhat surprised me was Battelle's query about whether Microsoft would ever make its own phone. Even though the short-lived Kin was actually a Microsoft phone, despite Microsoft execs' claims to the contrary, Microsoft has not gone the Apple route and created a closed-platform, end-to-end phone ecosystem with Microsoft itself as the only "OEM."

In response, Ballmer told Battelle that the company was "focused on enabling hardware innovation." Battelle re-asked the question, noting that making one's own phone didn't preclude hardware innovation. But Ballmer didn't explicitly defend the current Microsoft multiple-OEM model. Instead, he repeated that Microsoft would focus on enabling hardware innovation..

The interpretations of that statement varied, as I saw on Twitter. Some took it to mean enabling hardware innovation of partners. And it's worth noting that Ballmer also proudly told Battelle and audience that Microsoft phone partner Nokia would be showing a "bunch of new devices running Windows Phone" at the Nokia World show in London next week.

But Ballmer never said, point-blank, that Microsoft wouldn't make its own Windows Phone.

In some ways, if Microsoft were to follow more of an Xbox-like model with phones, it would make life easier for itself. The company seemingly has licked operating system distribution problems, as its nearly problem-free delivery of the Mango Windows Phone update over the past couple of week has proven. However, there are reports from Mango users of a variety of problems seemingly introduced with the Mango update -- everything from disappearing soft keyboards, to Zune service freeze-ups, to battery-drainage issues. Some of these problems, like the Zune one, seem to be tied to a single hardware platform (in the Zune case, HTC's). A Microsoft spokesperson said they are investigating the reports of various reported issues.

Bit if Microsoft didn't have to worry about so many different Windows Phones permutations and combinations, might it be able to maintain a tighter and less problematic Windows Phone platform?

Instead, even though the Softies seemingly have strong-armed (or sweet-talked) carriers into delivering the Mango phone OS update in a more timely manner than they did its predecessor NoDo, there's still an extra step involved in making fixes to Windows Phones because of the multiple-handset-maker model.

If Microsoft does end up fixing the disappearing keyboard issue, battery drainage problem, or Zune freeze reported by some users, the company can't and won't just shoot the fix/fixes out as over-the-air (OTA) updates. I asked a Microsoft spokesperson about this today and was told that Microsoft will continue to follow its established policy of delivering any Windows Phone updates to handset makers and carriers; allowing them to test them; notifying users via messages on their screens of updates; and then pushing them out (via the Zune PC/Mac software client) to those needing them. This is a multi-step process that Apple doesn't have to follow with the iPhone.

Is handset choice enough of a reason for Microsoft and its customers to stick with its current multi-OEM model for Windows Phone? Would the trade-off of fewer form factors for quicker updates and tighter integration be worth it?

Update: One of my Twitter chums, @joshuaziepke, made an interesting point. Microsoft could also pull a Google and have Nokia do a Microsoft phone on its behalf (similar to the Google Nexus). Microsoft doesn't have to necessarily go no OEMs or all OEMs; it could straddle the fence.

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Telcos, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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46 comments
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  • Who cares anymore?

    I've had 3 Zunes, used Windows Live OneCare, and am using Win7 (albeit, not by choice). Anything MSFT actually "makes" is radioactive to me now. I want nothing more to do with it.
    mwidunn
    • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

      @mwidunn your loss
      taabello@...
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @taabello@... I do not know if it's a looser or not but this man certainly knows more than we know. <a href="http://www.papa-johnscoupons.net">Papa Johns Coupons</a>
        karismasand07
    • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

      @mwidunn Apparently you still care if you're taking the time to read an all things Microsoft blog.
      OvyOneKenobee
    • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

      @mwidunn
      MS may not have delivered the best hardware in the past but if they intend to go the mobile hardware route, they can do it with their OEM partners by doing a round-robin with each of them delivering an MS-branded handset for a staggered release, etc. A win-win for everyone and none of them feeling left out. This will also amount to more WP devices. MS should not take to just one OEM on this, it may backfire just as the Motorola issue with Google.
      techiegz@...
    • Right. That sound so believable

      @mwidunn
      No really, it did.
      I had 3 iPods, used MobileMe, and used OS X (albeit, not by choice). Anything Apple actually "makes" is radioactive to me now. I want nothing more to do with it.
      William Farrell
    • Believable is right

      [i]I had 3 iPods[/i]

      3?? What did you do? Dunk them in water? :D

      [i]used MobileMe, and used OS X (albeit, not by choice).[/i]

      Now how did you manage to do that? Don't tell me that with the kazillions of Windows machines out there, you didn't have access to one? Hmm?

      I have a new bridge to sell you. What color would you like?

      [i]Anything Apple actually "makes" is radioactive to me now. I want nothing more to do with it.[/i]

      Whatsa matter? They didn't hire you at one of the Apple stores? Afraid you'd scare the customers away?

      lol...
      ScorpioBlue
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @ScorpioBlue in absolutely every conversation you're such a troll, jeez. Ever tried to contribute to something???
        You do realize that (as a joke) he copied the entire post that's on top of this page and just changed "microsoft" to "apple". Grow some brains
        belli_bettens@...
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        [i]@ScorpioBlue in absolutely every conversation you're such a troll, jeez.[/i]

        Gee, is this another sock puppet of the Ferret's? Poor way of showing it...

        [i]Ever tried to contribute to something???[/i]

        Sure I have. Have you been over to the Ed Bott report, lately? We were having as nice debate over there.

        Or maybe you did drop in under another name. Hmm?

        [i]You do realize that (as a joke) he copied the entire post that's on top of this page and just changed "microsoft" to "apple".[/i]

        I know the stupid comment he made and I responded in kind. The guy never owned an Apple product in his life so he pretends with this nonsense.

        [i]Grow some brains[/i]

        Soon as you do. Btw, you've been flagged for flagging me.
        ScorpioBlue
    • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

      @mwidunn
      do you know what the #1 selling console for 2011 was?
      neonspark
  • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

    Nokia should just create an Xbox Communicator or something. *scratches head*
    TheFilipinoFlash
  • Just buy out Nokia

    MS should just pull the trigger & buy Nokia outright. Nokia has global brand cachet and makes slick hardware. It would make sense.

    This would allow MS to focus on developing the platform and Nokia to develop the hardware & services (ie; Nokia Maps, etc.).

    Apple has proven that the "Xbox business model" is the right model for "post-pc" consumer devices. Do your own hardware, software & services.
    smulji
    • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

      @smulji
      Why buy it now while it still has some value? Better to wait a bit longer until the share price drops even further.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • They should buy it now. If MS waits, it'll cost more once

        @Habiloso
        Nokia's share prices goes up with the release of their new phones.
        William Farrell
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @Habiloso

        Because competition is ferocious right now. The longer you wait the faster you get left behind. The mobile device war is nowhere near over. Get going while you still have a chance to be a major player.
        smulji
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @Habiloso
        companies like MSFT buy companies on the rise. not companies in decline unless said companies have unique abilities they want. nokia is a hardware maker. beyond the xbox, every single msft hardware project has failed. they aren't about to get into the hardware business of phone making. they learned from the zune that there is no profit in doing so.
        neonspark
    • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

      Wrong.According to wikipedia:<br><br>The Xbox is a sixth-generation video game console manufactured by Microsoft. It was released on November 15, 2001 <br><br>The iPod line was announced by Apple on October 23, 2001, and released on November 10, 2001.

      That makes it the iPod model, not the x-box model.
      THavoc
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @THavoc
        Sorry but the iPod came out just 5 days before the xbox in Nov 2001
        stm24
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @THavoc I think the Ipod were released within 5 days of each other in Nov 2001, and the Xbox Live service was released a year before the iTunes Store was available. So yes, the Xbox model.
        cdiddy502
      • RE: CEO Ballmer's (non)answer on whether Microsoft will build its own Windows Phone

        @THavoc The model in question is to own the hardware, software and services. Services for iPod were available the year after services for Xbox. And back to the xbox model we go.
        cdiddy502