Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices (E&D) Group is getting a makeover. On Tuesday, the company announced that Robbie Bach, head of the consumer-focused unit since its launch in 2005, will retire this fall following more than two decades of employment at Microsoft.
In addition, J Allard, currently senior vice president of design and development for E&D, will also leave to become a strategic consultant to CEO Steve Ballmer. The division heads -- Don Mattrick at interactive entertainment and Andy Lees at mobile communications -- will report directly to Ballmer.
'A Point of Sadness'
E&D is one of five operating units at Microsoft and, in the last quarter, accounted for 11 percent of overall sales and three percent of the operating profit.
"Robbie's an amazing business person and close personal friend," Ballmer said, "which makes his departure a point of sadness for me." Bach, aged 48, told news media that he wants to spend more time with his family and his nonprofit work, which includes the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He noted that his career has included participating in the launch of Office, Xbox and Xbox LIVE, the Halo franchise, Windows phones, and Zune.
Mattrick, the former president of Electronic Arts Worldwide Studios, has headed up interactive entertainment since the summer of 2007. David Treadwell, currently corporate vice president of live platform services, will take a new position as head of the core technology operation in interactive entertainment.
Lees has led mobile communications since early 2008, and oversaw the development of the new Kin phones optimized for social networking and of Windows Phone 7 Series.
While the Group's Xbox video-game console has been successful, there have also been a number of misses -- including the Zune portable media player and the lack of a strong entry into the tablet-computer market.
Windows 7, Project Natal
The company's rumored Courier tablet project had been stirring excitement for leaked innovative approaches to touch-based user interaction, but Microsoft has reportedly ended that endeavor before it released anything.
A Windows 7-based tablet device by Hewlett-Packard has also been scrapped, which some industry observers believe is due to HP's unhappiness with Windows 7's performance for touchscreens. HP is expected to release a revised tablet, using the webOS platform that it acquired when it recently bought Palm.
In the smartphone market, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, Google's Android, Apple's iPhone, and Nokia's Symbian are in the top four positions for operating systems in the U.S., while only 10 percent of smartphones in the U.S. use the Windows operating system. The Windows Phone 7 Series is scheduled for release by year's end.
E&D does have at least one exciting effort coming up, Project Natal. Launching in the fall, it takes the next step in video-game controllers -- right over the motion-sensing controller that helped make Nintendo's Wii a hit. It does away with the controller entirely, so that the user controls the console using body movements and voice.