elop build 2014Image: Jon Phillips

'No' to Nokia name's future, 'yes' to the Nokia X: Stephen Elop holds post-Microsoft Q&A

For better or worse, Stephen Elop, Microsoft’s new devices chief stuck to the script in introducing himself and Microsoft Mobile, which rose from the ashes of Nokia upon its acquisition from Microsoft.

Elop took to the pages of Nokia Conversations to address questions from the legions of Nokia fans in a Reddit-styled “Ask Me Anything” session that reiterated Microsoft’s commitment to its customers and Windows Phone platform. One revelation of note: The intriguing Nokia X Android phone will apparently be around for a while.

With the close of the Nokia deal last week, Microsoft will slowly begin integrating the tens of thousands of Nokia employees that the deal brought with it, and begin folding the Lumia brand, plus its development and design teams, into Microsoft proper. And that was Elop’s message Monday morning.

Case in point: The branding for the next Lumia. Elop said that, not unexpectedly, the existing branding could not remain the same—though neither "Nokia" nor the rumored "Microsoft Mobile" branding will be used for smartphones in the future.

“Now that we are One company, the marketing and product folks will lay in the plans for the shift to a consistent brand,” he wrote. “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...”

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Nokia’s Lumia 1020.

Elop declined to address whether the 1020 would receive a true sequel, but said that Nokia’s imaging hardware would persist, as expected. “While I can’t comment on specific product plans, it is safe to say that imaging will continue to be an important differentiator for us in the future.”

Best of Nokia now at Microsoft

Likewise, the apps and services that Nokia offered on the Lumia phone line will transfer to Microsoft. Elop wasn’t asked about, nor did he directly answer, what the future will be of the Windows Phone mapping application. Lumia phones use HERE Maps, the map technology that Nokia has licensed to Microsoft for four years

“We have been building a lot of apps that have been specific to Lumia, but now those people and efforts will transfer to [Microsoft],” Elop wrote. “ We believe that these types of capabilities are critical to differentiation, so you will see these themes continue.”

Likewise, Elop wrote, phones like the well-regarded Lumia 1020 could have been pushed further if Nokia could have drawn on Microsoft’s talent. “[We] could have gone further if the engineering teams between [Microsoft] and Nokia were not in separate companies,” he wrote. “As we come together, innovation will be able to move faster.”

Elop did note, however, that it will continue to need the assistance of its developer community as well as its hardware partners. Windows Phone partner HTC said last week that its relationship with Microsoft remains unchanged. “It is GOOD for Microsoft to encourage other OEMs to also build [Windows Phone] devices, and there have been some announcements in this direction recently,” Elop wrote. “Our intent is for the Microsoft Devices Group to ‘make the market’ so that others can participate, so we will be doing things to facilitate other OEMs as much as possible.”

New hardware? No comment

Given that the session took place on a Nokia blog, Elop wasn’t publicly asked about—nor did he answer—questions about Microsoft’s other hardware efforts, namely the Surface tablet and the Xbox. The closest he came was when he addressed a question about the integration of the various platforms.

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Will the Surface eventually morph into a Lumia tablet?

“I think that people are looking for and deserve a consistent and continuous experience across their different devices and platforms,” Elop wrote. “A good example of this today is OneDrive, where I have consistent access to my stuff across all of my devices. Same thing with Skype.”

Elop did, however, endorse the Nokia X, the Android-powered phone which connects to a variety of Microsoft services. Alhough the Nokia X appears to have been a modest success, it will apparently live on. 

“Microsoft acquired the mobile phones business, inclusive of Nokia X, to help connect the next billion people to Microsoft’s services,” Elop wrote. “Nokia X uses the [Microsoft] cloud, not Google’s. This is a great opportunity to connect new customers to Skype, outlook.com and OneDrive for the first time. We’ve already seen tens of thousands of new subscribers on [Microsoft] services.”

And as for the colorful Nokia Lumia design scheme? That apparently won’t go away, either. “I’m pretty sure you will see this ‘colorful’ personality transcend into Microsoft,” Elop wrote, noting that employees dressed in Lumia colors on Monday morning. 

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The Nokia X.

Left unsaid was whether or not Microsoft’s Xbox would be done up in Lumia yellow, the fate of a Surface phone, or how Microsoft plans to further address the post-PC world. On the last issue, Elop issued an arguably more provocative statement about Microsoft’s future as part of a press release. 

“The vast majority of people do not have, nor will they ever have a personal computer,” Elop said. “They haven’t been exposed to Windows or Office, or anything like that, and in their lives it’s unlikely that they will. And yet through the mobile phone business we have an opportunity to introduce what we like to call the next billion people, the next billion people to connect to the Internet, to Microsoft, because they’ll have an opportunity perhaps to have a first Skype experience, or a first experience with Bing, as an example.”

Elop’s had months to consider his new role at Microsoft. In his defense, however, Elop’s first priority is most likely operational, ensuring that the new business unit docks into the Microsoft mothership. Over time, however, we can hope that we’ll hear a bit more substance.

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