Unlike Ballmer, Microsoft’s new CEO must understand mobile

A ton has been written on Steve Ballmer’s announcement that he’ll step down as Microsoft’s CEO, but I was surprised to see this post from Brian X. Chen of The New York Times’ Bits. Chen writes that while “it is easy to point fingers at the Microsoft chief executive for the lackluster success the company has had in mobile computing,” doing so “would be an inaccurate recounting of the story.” Microsoft was an early leader in smartphones, Chen argues, and was merely “slow to react” to the emergence of the iPhone and, in turn, Android.
I don’t agree. Ballmer failed to understand the appeal of the initial iPhone, as Chen concedes, which was far more user-friendly than the cumbersome Windows Mobile OS. And while Windows Phone is a top-notch platform, Microsoft’s market share remains irrelevant because the company has failed to execute in some fundamental ways: It has struggled to build a developer community, resulting in a Windows Phone app gap, and its marketing efforts have paled compared to Apple’s.
The big question now, of course, is who will replace Ballmer. Investors cheered the news, sending shares up as much as 8 percent, but Business Insider argues that optimism is misplaced┬ábecause the board remains in “lockstep” with Ballmer. “The new CEO is being picked by Ballmer, Bill Gates, and the board,” Jay Yarow notes, so “(Y)our best hope is the new CEO has a slightly better vision for technology and is gradually able to implement it.”
But technology hasn’t been Microsoft’s main problem in mobile for a couple of years now. Instead, Ballmer’s replacement must understand how the mobile industry works, and he (or she) must find marketers who understand can demonstrate to consumers why they should consider a Windows Phone or Windows tablet rather than an iPhone, iPad or Android device. In other words, the new CEO must be very different than the outgoing one.