Microsoft’s Windows Phone Head Lees Taking On New Role Ahead Of Huge Year

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is shaking up the leadership of its Windows Phone unit heading into a huge year for its revamped mobile strategy. Andy Lees, who was previously in charge of the overall effort, will give way to engineering head Terry Myerson but remain with Microsoft in a new role that sounds very post-PCish for a PC-oriented company.

CEO Steve Ballmer announced the changes in an internal memo Monday, according to AllThingsD. It’s not clear whether Lees is getting kicked upstairs and out of the way or whether or not he’s being given responsibility for a crucial part of Microsoft’s bid to evolve: how to roll out Windows 8 across phones, tablets, and PCs.

“I have asked Andy Lees to move to a new role working for me on a time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8,” Ballmer wrote, according to the report. Microsoft definitely faces a challenge defining how it can contribute to a new era of computing that is largely being driven by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), and it’s still not entirely clear how Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows 8 will co-exist across phones and tablets.

Windows Phone is a lot like that indie movie that all the critics adore but nobody goes to see: the Metro user interface is definitely a different take on mobility from what Apple and Google have been advancing, but Microsoft and its Windows Phone partners have little to show for those design breakthroughs. Given that Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has no choice but to do everything it can to help make Windows Phone a success that may change in 2012, but changing leaders right before that huge year is a little curious.

Lees will continue to report directly to Ballmer, but it wasn’t clear from the report whether Myerson would continue to report to Lees.