Nokia’s Former Head of Developer Relations on How Microsoft Can Make Acquisition Work
Richard Kerris has a unique perspective on this week’s $7 billion-and-change deal by Microsoft to acquire Nokia’s mobile phone business. His last job was running developer relations at Nokia during the period when it first embraced Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform. Before that, he ran WebOS developer relations at Hewlett-Packard, and at Palm before it was acquired. He worked in developer relations at Apple before that.
In March he left Nokia to start his own independent boutique firm, Kerris Media, which aims to help companies navigate the world of building mobile applications across all platforms. It’s still early and kind of running in stealth mode, but clients so far include the Rolling Stones, with other musical acts following.
Anyway, when the deal closed, he was the first person I thought of calling for his opinion on how Microsoft might make its new acquisition work. Here’s a summary of our conversation:
AllThingsD: Richard, I guess anyone who took the long view saw this deal as inevitable. Was it?
Kerris: I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone. From Day One everyone wondered if an acquisition by Microsoft was going to turn out to be the eventual plan. If product had flown off the shelves, perhaps this would not have been the outcome. Reality is that it has been slower to catch on with the phones than they would like.
So what in your opinion does Microsoft have to do to make this work?
Microsoft will have to focus on the apps developers and stop trying to pursue a me-too strategy. Microsoft is not Apple and shouldn’t try to copy Apple. It should stand strong and show the world why it has a great OS that’s well designed and that it has great developer tools. Why not tell people about those things rather than chasing Instagram? (For the record, there is still no official Instagram app on Windows Phone. -Ed.)
So how do you suggest changing that?
Turn the developers into the heroes of the story. Instead of spending $100 million on marketing to try and get people to switch away from their iPhones and Android phones, spend it on promoting app developers the world has never heard of. Developers will want to be a part of that. Developers don’t make much money on any platform unless they get very lucky and are featured on one of the app stores. Microsoft could play the game differently. Market new developers and make them the heroes and give them a better chance to be seen and heard and recognized.
Is it all about promotion or are there more practical things that Microsoft can do?
Here’s a practical thing: Port the developer tools to every platform and make them free. Most of the app developers out there work on Macs, but to build for Windows phone you have to build the app on Windows. That means you have to buy a separate machine or run a virtual Windows session. And then you have to pay for the developer tools. Make them free and let them run everywhere. One of the proudest changes I was a part of during my days at Apple was that we convinced the company to put its developer tools on every single Mac that went out the door. Now every kid on the planet that has a Mac can start building software, and all you have to do is open up the tools.
Any other changes you’d make?
Lose the name Windows Phone. The Windows name carries a connotation that it’s all about the desktop and that makes it a little like you’re buying your father’s Buick. Lumia is a great brand name. Maybe use that. Call it the Lumia Phone and the Lumia OS or LOS for short. Xbox is not called the Windows Game Box. Its team is relatively independent within Microsoft and it’s successful. Microsoft should do the same thing with the team running the phone business. They need that same level of autonomy. Apple might not have had the same impact with its phone if it had been called the Mac Phone.