Off with their heads: Microsoft to lay off 18,000 employees and kill the most interesting thing Nokia’s done in years
Between the 18,000 people who will lose their positions at Microsoft and the Nokia X devices that will be forced to adopt Windows Phone instead of using Android, Satya Nadella must feel like the Queen of Hearts from “Alice in Wonderland,” demanding heads left and right. Pando contributor Kevin Kelleher was right when he wrote, “There will be blood” at Nadella’s new Microsoft, and these likely won’t be the last drops shed.
The changes were announced in a memo published this morning in which Nadella promised to offer severance packages and job transition assistance to the 13,000 people who will be laid off in the next six months. (It’s not clear when the remaining 5,000 will be handed the pink slip.) The layoffs were prompted by the acquisition of Nokia’s Devices and Services Division and the company’s need to focus on different areas as it moves forward, Nadella said in today’s memo.
Nadella is trying to refocus Microsoft despite the continued unpopularity of Windows Phone and widespread criticism of the latest updates to the Windows desktop operating system. Clearing house is one way to make that transition easier, even if it requires the termination of 18,000 employees. But these efforts will also erase the most interesting thing Nokia has done since it partnered with Microsoft: the Nokia X smartphone line that shipped with Android pre-installed instead of Windows Phone.
Nokia X was doomed from the start. It debuted while Nokia and Microsoft were negotiating their partial merger, and there was little chance that Microsoft would decide to keep making smartphones with a rival software platform pre-installed, even though Windows Phone is a non-starter. It almost felt like a parting gift from Nokia meant to show everyone what might have been even though it knew that the Nokia X line probably wouldn’t be around very long. (People have been clamoring for a Nokia-built Android smartphone for the last several years.)
Keeping the smartphone line around would have certainly damaged Windows Phone’s chances of success, but it might also have given Microsoft a chance to do what every other smartphone manufacturer has done and twist Android to suit its own purposes. Unless things change for Windows Phone in the next few years, that’s going to be the outcome anyway — why not work towards it now with a product line that could prove Microsoft’s prowess as a hardware-maker without saddling the company with the weight of its own (unsuccessful) software platform?
It seems that Nadella — and Microsoft as a whole — enjoys shouting “Off with their heads!” too much to give Nokia X a chance to prove its worth to Microsoft. Instead, consumers will be left with a hollow promise and a glance at what might have happened if Nokia had never tethered itself to Microsoft and the Windows Phone operating system in the first place.