Steve Jobs famously said the iPhone and iPad would usher in the "post-PC era," a prediction that's mostly come true: the traditional Windows PC market has cratered as consumers and app developers have moved to mobile platforms like iOS and Android. But Microsoft missed the mobile revolution, a failure that cost the company dearly and ultimately cost CEO Steve Ballmer his job.
Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella appears eager to move past those missed opportunities — explicitly. In his first public interview as CEO today at the Code Conference in LA, the easygoing and relatable Nadella said he thinks the tech industry is in "the beginning of what I would call the post-post-PC era." It's a little silly, but the idea is to highlight Nadella's repositioning of Microsoft as a "cloud-first, mobile-first" company that serves services and data to all sorts of devices, not just Windows. "It's a multi-device world where you build platforms and applications that span devices," he said. "From now on you'll see us launch things on different platforms."
The first of these is Office on iPad, which finally arrived in March to solid reviews after years of trying to push Office customers to use Windows devices. Nadella said that he thinks it'll be other things that push MIcrosoft's share of mobile higher. "Suppose you asked Jobs in 1999, 'what are you doing about your three percent marketshare?' We have four percent global market share in mobile, so we're looking for the next big thing."
Nadella didn't pull any punches about having to reconfigure the PC market along the way to that goal, although he tried to sound diplomatic. "I want to avoid competing with our OEMs," he said, mostly because he has to keep the peace. He then offered a clear indictment of the existing market. "I want to create new categories. The PC ecosystem needs new innovation. It'll come in the software layers, it'll come in the hardware layers. We need new apps."
Nadella did offer one peek at upcoming products, demoing an forthcoming version of Skype that translated a video conference between a German speaker and an English speaker in close to real-time. It wasn't perfect — German speakers in the audience gave it middling reviews — but as an early tech demo it was certainly impressive.
Nadella also made it clear that he's fully in charge of Microsoft, even as Bill Gates spends up to 40 percent of his time back at the company as an advisor. After praising Gates' ability to "gavanize the company," Nadella put his foot down. "I think Bill's presence and Bill's high standards are helpful. But at the end of the day there's no confusion: I run the place, and Bill's helping."
Nadella was speaking to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at this week's Code Conference, an independent reboot of the long-running D: All Things Digital conference the pair hosted in partnership with the Wall Street Journal for many years before splitting off to run their own site, Recode.net. But while the conference is technically new, the speaker lineup is as strong as ever: in addition to many others, Google's Sergei Brin will be speaking later tonight, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts will speak tomorrow morning, and Apple's Craig Federighi and Eddy Cue will headline tomorrow night.