Has Christensen really moved far from Microsoft Mobile?

by Guy Kewney | posted on 06 November 2003

When Juha Christensen (he's Danish, that's not a misprint) leaves Microsoft next month, he takes on a new role in a startup company doing "web services for wireless." By an odd coincidence, "web services for wireless" is exactly what Microsoft and Vodafone described as the key strategy of their joint XML development plan last month. Coincidence? Hardly ...

Guy Kewney

<1/> Juha Christensen

Christensen hasn't moved very far from Microsoft at all. His resignation as head of Microsoft Mobile was reported by Reuters today, without drawing much attention to his turncoat past. But he was a co-founder of the joint venture between Psion, and Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and Matsushita, and was very much the deal-broker.

Speculation about reasons for his departure focused on the fact that the division he was hired to set up has still not broken into profit, or anywhere near it, despite the strength of Microsoft Pocket PCs.

Google's news pages greeted the story as "Juha Christensen - top boss of Microsoft smartphone fired !" and some reports virtually said that he was a failure. Others noted that: "There are no immediate plans to replace Christensen," - attributed to Microsoft, where an executive was quoted: "He will leave the company December first, and start his new company January first."

Strangely, nobody seems to have drawn the link between Microsoft's announcement, last month, of a joint venture with Vodafone, and the stated aims of Christensen himself. The common theme is "wireless web services." The Financial Times said: "He is to move into the San Francisco bay area and will work for a wireless company with which Microsoft has a partnership arrangement."

The new company, which wasn't named, will provide Web services for smart mobile devices, noted Wireless Week.

This suggests that Christensen has hardly been fired; rather, that he's moving into a strategically vital spot for Redmond, quite probably with the blessing of his latest boss.

The fact is, nobody actually knows, for sure, what "web services for wireless" actually means.

However, our own our own analysis is that this has to do with mobile payments, using the phone SIM as identification, and the phone network as the transaction channel.

At Symbian, ex-colleagues still speak highly of Christensen. One told NewsWireless.Net that "we really missed him when he left; his move to Microsoft was a major blow to us." That's an assessment which would surprise many who perceive only what Micrsoft has actually achieved in mobile phones.

But the work he did at Symbian was far more visionary than what Microsoft needed him for. He founded the European mobile centre, and research was supposed to be a major part of his work. Instead, he seems to have been prized more for his contacts in the phone industry, and the doors he could open into both handset and carrier companies. That job, pretty much, is done.

The phone manufacturing business itself isn't what interests Microsoft. Microsoft phones - physically - have outsmarted Symbian till now, being generally smaller and neater - but the next generation of Symbians will be far more varied, with the legacy of "brick" phones like the Nokia 9210 and the Sony Ericsson P800 fading.

Symbian still has a firm grip on the bulk of the market, with Symbian being the underlying OS inside several phones, not necessarily smartphones. And the smartphone concept, convincing though it may be to insiders, has yet to inspire the general phone buyer.

If Juha Christensen had planned to stay in the phone business, his smartest move would probably be to go into a supplier like NEC, which must be starting to realise that it doesn't know what it is doing, or into a carrier like Hutchison 3G, which is equally floundering.

But from the reports of his new company, it seems he's back to deal-making and relationship brokering. Mobile payments is where the money will be, and it's going to be interesting to see what his company is called, when he announces it formally.

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