Microsoft’s CEO regrets giving up on Windows phones

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella regrets the company’s decision to move away from Windows phones, believing there could have been ways to reinvent computing in the mobile space.
  • Microsoft’s attempt to reinvent computing with Windows 10 Mobile and Continuum didn’t succeed in convincing developers to bring software experiences to Windows phones.
  • Nadella sees AI as Microsoft’s biggest opportunity and advocates for global governance to ensure responsible AI development.

The ill fate of Microsoft’s Windows Phone (and Windows 10 Mobile) efforts is one of the company’s most famous blunders, and one that still causes some pain among fans. But it turns out that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also has regrets about moving away from Windows phones.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Satya Nadella talked about a long list of topics, ranging from his personal life to the future of AI. But one particular question stands out. When asked if there was a strategic mistake or wrong decision made as CEO of Microsoft, Nadella mentioned that the company’s move away form mobile space may not have been the best choice:

“The decision I think a lot of people talk about – and one of the most difficult decisions I made when I became CEO —was our exit of what I’ll call the mobile phone as defined then. In retrospect, I think there could have been ways we could have made it work by perhaps reinventing the category of computing between PCs, tablets, and phones.”

Unfortunately, that’s all that was said during the interview, but it’s interesting to think about what Microsoft could have done differently. Microsoft did try (to some extent) to reinvent computing with Windows 10 Mobile and its vision for Continuum, a feature that offered a desktop-like experience when a Windows phone was connected to a larger display, something that Samsung phones are still doing today with DeX. However, had Microsoft been able to leverage its experience with Windows on the desktop and convince developers to bring software experiences to Windows phones, things may have been different. We did see a glimpse of hope with the HP Elite x3, a phone that was meant to be used as a laptop or desktop PC depending on what you connected it to. Samsung is still the only one offering a desktop-like experience with DeX, though being limited to Android apps takes away some of the excitement of this kind of all-in-one device.

The interview goes over other interesting points, but mostly AI, which Nadella says is the “biggest opportunity” Microsoft has right now. Microsoft has been betting hard on Copilot, an AI-based assistant that’s baked into almost every major Microsoft product at this point, including Windows and Microsoft 365. Nadella mentioned that there should be “some level of global governance” to ensure that AI development moves along at a similar pace across the world without turning into an arms race between two superpowers.

Touching on Bing’s rivalry with Google, Microsoft’s CEO also commented that AI like Bing Chat and ChatGPT are changing user behaviors, which can be a great opportunity for Bing to grow and a great challenge for Google in the future. However, as Nadella puts it, “they definitely have a head start, because they already have all the users”. Microsoft has been pushing Bing Chat and Copilot, based on the same technology, very hard since the start of 2023, building Copilot into Windows 11, Microsoft 365, and Edge. The company is definitely putting in the work to make inroads in the AI sphere, but the results of that will take a while to be felt.

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