Earlier today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a major shake-up in the company’s mobile and gaming ranks. Robbie Bach, a 22-year Microsoft veteran who oversaw the company’s mobile and gaming division, announced that he was retiring.Microsoft decided not to replace him. Instead, Andy Lees, who was already overseeing mobile, will report directly to Steve Ballmer from now on. Don Mattrick will be leading gaming.
Of the two jobs, the mobile position is more interesting. Xbox, while facing challenges, is in decent shape. It is second to Nintendo, it has Project Natal coming out this year, and it turns in a profit for the company.
Mobile, on the other hand, is withering at Microsoft. Yes, it has projects in the pipeline, but it’s losing share today to Google and Apple. As Google and Apple’s mobile operating systems grow, they present the biggest threat yet to Microsoft’s Windows hegemony. These operating systems are forming the basis of the next wave of computing — mobile and tablets. If Microsoft doesn’t have a viable mobile operating system, it faces big challenges in the next 10 years.
According to a Microsoft insider, Steve Ballmer has taken an extreme interest in the company’s mobile efforts. So, Lees can expect to be talking to Steve a lot in the coming months.
Lees is a 20-year veteran of Microsoft. He spent time in the UK subsidiaries and was VP of Microsoft’s server and tools group before taking over the mobile division two years ago. (He replaced Peter Knook at the time.)
In that two-year span, Andy is credited with radically reorganising the mobile division. He brought in new marketing people, new engineers, and new product people. Andy is said to have recruited Joe Belfiore, VP of the phone program who was on stage to present Windows Phone 7, and Terry Meyerson also a VP of engineering on the phone side.
The biggest projects Andy’s mobile team have worked on are the Kin and Windows Phone 7 operating system.
The Kin launched to much fanfare, but seems to be a flop. We haven’t heard much about it since launch, and we have yet to spot them “in the wild.” Microsoft is not providing sales figures.
The problem with the Kin is that consumers pay the price of a full data plan but only get half a smartphone. This is something Andy should have seen coming when he was preparing to release the phone. The fact that he didn’t adjust Kin’s strategy is perplexing to us.
As for his other project, Windows Phone 7 sure looks promising, but by the time it hits the market later this year, it could look very old. Apple’s fourth iPhone will be on the market and Google will have the newest version of Android out, which will surely be stuffed with all sorts of goodies.
It’s up to Andy to make Windows Phone 7 amazing when it drops this holiday season. Can he do it?
We tried looking around for information on Andy, but since he’s basically a Microsoft lifer, we didn’t find too much. We did find interesting tidbits in the comments on Mini-Microsoft, a blog that’s a basically a comment board for Microsoft employees.
According to one commenter, Andy has been exhorting his employees to “aim for the moon.” Sounds like a good advice. Microsoft is at the bottom looking up.
Anybody work for or with Andy? Drop me a line at [email protected] to let me know what you think of him. Anonymity guaranteed.