Now that Nokiasoft is (un)officially a thing, following the completion on Friday of Microsoft’s multi-billion dollar purchase of Nokia’s devices division, the question of which brand names Microsoft is going to push on its own brand smartphones comes to the fore.
Stephen Elop, formerly the Nokia chief — now freshly returned to Microsoft as head of its devices group – shed a little more light on that question today, during an Ask Me Anything on the Nokia Conversations blog (now, of course, a Microsoft property — despite still having ‘Nokia’ in its name).
Asked for clarity about whether Microsoft plans to rebrand the Nokia brand to Microsoft Mobile, despite having a 10-year license to use the name on phones, Elop said that the “Microsoft Mobile Oy” name – which cropped up in a leaked memo last week — is merely a “legal construct” created to “facilitate the merger”.
Since that explanation doesn’t exactly explain a lot, he goes on to confirm in his answer that the Microsoft Mobile name will not be used on phones.
He also suggests that Microsoft won’t necessarily be pushing the Nokia brand either for very long either. (Nokia itself, of course, does still exist — as a separate company focusing on its networking business, NSN, Here maps and some addition high tech areas — so continuing to trade off of that name, even when you’ve paid for the right to do so, likely doesn’t sit right with the marketing department.)
“[Microsoft Mobile] is not a brand that will be seen by consumers,” said Elop. “The Nokia brand is available to Microsoft to use for its mobile phones products for a period of time, but Nokia as a brand will not be used for long going forward for smartphones. Work is underway to select the go forward smartphone brand.”
Answering a related question, Elop again reiterated that work is still ongoing to determine the future phone brand that Microsoft will settle on – but he did mention the C-word: consistency.
“Now that we are One company, the marketing and product folks will lay in the plans for the shift to a consistent brand. While we are not ready to share precise details, i can assure you that it will not be the “Nokia Lumia 1020 with Windows Phone on the AT&T LTE Network” … too many words! That somehow doesn’t roll off the tongue…” he added.
So basically Microsoft’s phones are going to be badged Lumia or Surface or Xbox — or some shiny new streamlined phone brand that resonates with other existing Microsoft services.
Another questioner probed Elop on the future of the Nokia X, the Finnish company’s last great platform experiment and its first Android fork.
Questions have swirled about whether Microsoft would continue the line once it took over, but Elop didn’t deliver any new intel on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s intentions there — reiterating what he himself said at the launch of the first Nokia X handsets back in February (basically that the Nokia X is a Trojan horse designed to thrust Microsoft services into the Android ecosystem).
“Microsoft acquired the mobile phones business, inclusive of Nokia X, to help connect the next billion people to Microsoft’s services. Nokia X uses the MSFT cloud, not Google’s. This is a great opportunity to connect new customers to Skype, outlook.com and Onedrive for the first time,” he said.
Elop did add that “tens of thousands of new subscribers on MSFT services” had been seen since the launch of the Nokia X. But that’s suitably vague to sound non-committal. Likely the Microsoft jury is still out on the Nokia Android experiment.
In a follow-up question asking whether Elop generally thinks “Nokia with Android” is a good idea, Elop stressed that the Android fork is about attacking “a specific market opportunity”.
“We are being thoughtful to do it in a way that accrues benefit to Microsoft and to Lumia,” he added.
Another question — which smells suspiciously like a plant — asked whether more colour might start bleeding into Microsoft’s other hardware design, such as the Xbox and its Surface tablets, as a result of the Nokia devices acquisition.
Elop hinted that candy coloured Surfaces and brilliantly lurid Xboxes may well be in MSFT’s future hardware playbook.
“You may have seen a video today on youtube that celebrated Nokia’s arrival within Microsoft, and the theme was “more colorful”. Here in Espoo today we are all wearing the bright colors of our devices. I’m pretty sure you will see this “colorful” personality transcend into MSFT,” he said.
Elop also fielded several critical questions during the AMA — including accusations that he “killed Nokia” by discontinuing its own mobile platforms, and that he was a Microsoft Trojan horse from the moment he stepped into the Nokia CEO shoes.
“I know that there is a lot of emotion around some of the hard decisions that we had to make. Back in late 2010 and 2011, we carefully assessed the state of the internal Nokia operating system efforts. Unfortunately, we could not see a way that Symbian could be brought to a competitive level with, for example, the iPhone that had shipped THREE years earlier! And the Meego effort was significantly delayed and did not have the promise of a broad enough portfolio soon enough. We had to make a forceful decision to give Nokia the chance to compete again,” he said defending his record and decision to shutter several of Nokia’s in-house software platforms and adopt Microsoft’s Windows Phone instead.
“As a result of the work that we have done, we have transformed Nokia into a stronger company with NSN, HERE and Advanced Technologies. At the same time, our Devices and Services business has a new opportunity within a stronger Microsoft. As for the Trojan horse thing, i have only ever worked on behalf of and for the benefit of Nokia shareholders while at Nokia. Additionally, all fundamental business and strategy decisions were made with the support and approval of the Nokia board of directors, of which I was a member,” he added.
And of course, as is the AMA tradition, Elop was asked less serious stuff — including what his favourite pizza is.
Prosciutto ham, mushrooms, green peppers and tomatoes in case you’re wondering.