Nokia makes both Windows Phone and Steve Ballmer relevant again

Note: This is my first blog post in English ever. Please help me with corrections and suggestions in the discussion below!

If you were in Antarctica in the last three days, you may have missed the announcement of the year. This video says it all…

Nokia and Microsoft announced the strategic partnership on Friday. Nokia will abandon Symbian, stiffle MeeGo, and adopt Windows Phone as its primary smartphone operating system. This transition will take place in the next two years. During the “black friday” Nokia shares fell horrible 14 % and Nokia employees walked away on a silent protest march.

About 1000 Nokia employees on a silent protest against Symbian discontinuation. (picture by Engadget)

About 1000 Nokia employees on a silent protest against the Symbian discontinuation. (picture by Engadget)

Web abounds with comments, as expected, but I feel that some things weren’t said yet. So let me offer some thoughts.

Nokia

Times were ripe for the change. Nokia’s flagship operating system Symbian is flawed and irreparable. Nokia tried hard to adapt it for the touch screen, but to no end. Symbian is too attached to individual phone models, they have practically different version of the system for every device, which is unmanageable in the long run. Nokia counts losses on all fronts, but its weakest spot is low margins and diminishing market share in smartphones. MeeGo, a promised open source savior, developed in cooperation with Intel, is still not ready and would mean just another lost year with no clear outcome.

Nokia was effectivelly forced by the situation to the humble decision to license an alien operating system. They had only two options – Google Android or Microsoft Windows Phone. Why they chose Microsoft? Because Google was just too evil for them.

Many argue that Google would be a better choice. It is clearly possible, nobody knows the future. But the effect on Nokia employees and Symbian developers would be the same and the effect on smartphone customers would be worse in my opinion. Now we have the race of three strong horses or rather three chariots – Apple, Google and Microsoft + Nokia. HP with its WebOS and RIM with BlackBerries are the main losers. They will face hard time to attract and retain developers. And developers matters.

Nokia has a clear strategy and must deliver upon it now. Nokia presented some concept designs already. It is critically important for them to launch their first WP handsets in the Holiday season 2011 in my opinion, otherwise the strategy will be in doubt.

Nokia rendered concept phones with Windows Phone OS. Rather not the real thing as there is no volume cradle on the left side. (picture by Engadget)

Nokia rendered concept phones with Windows Phone OS. Rather not the real thing. (picture by Engadget)

Another concepts from the Mobile World Congress presentation. These look little bit cheaper. (picture by wpcentral.com)

Another concepts from the Mobile World Congress presentation. These look little bit cheaper. (picture by wpcentral.com)

Of course, we should expect the Mango (7,5?) version of Windows Phone OS in these handsets.

Microsoft

Windows Phone 7 is not selling. Sure, MS has shipped two million pieces to operators, but it’s too little and we don’t know how many was actually sold to the end users. There are bad signs all around: At first, there are no new devices rumored to be announced at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona. HTC already said they have nothing to show there. I personally expect something from Asus and perhaps ZTE or other low-profile (phone) manufacturers, but the booths of Samsung, HTC, LG and Dell are going to be quite boring for WP7 fans.

Second: developers and software producers are not making money. Of course, there always are exceptions like Elbert Perez (I reccommend his free game Scribble Defense by the way), who makes $380 daily from his free, ad-supported games. But the number of such happy devs is very, very small.

And customers are not paying attention, because the phones are mediocre. Make no mistake, all the OEM partners have Android as their primary platform and save the best designs for Google. Windows Phone needs the dedicated, fully commited hardware partner and sorely lacks it.

Steve Ballmer’s genius gave a new lease of life to Bing by the contract with Yahoo in 2009. And he used the same pattern for saving of Windows Phone now. Steve is not an engineer, no doubt about it. He is not a technology visionaire. But he is a strategic thinker and probably would be a good military general. I guess that this briliant maneuver will save his own position in Microsoft too.

On the other hand: The accusations of Stephen Elop being a trojan horse of Microsoft in Nokia are ridiculous. Such monumental changes must be approved by the board of directors. During Nokia press conference at MWC today someone yelled at Elop “Are you a trojan horse?” And he replied directly:

I’ll take that question. The obvious answer is no. We made sure that the entire management team was involved in the process, and of course the board of directors of Nokia are the only ones that can make this significant of a decision about Nokia. They made that final decision on Thursday night.

In fact, the talks with Microsoft (and Google) started immediately when Elop took his position in Nokia on September 21, 2010. It’s pretty clear he had a mandate for this agenda. I even think that they deliberately chose a foreigner for the dirty work.

I should keep it short, but let me briefly discuss one last thing…

Developers and the WP platform future

Nokia clearly wants to extend the Windows Phone to the lower market segments and even hints a possibility of another hardware platform. This brings big risks: Platform fragmentation, lower hardware specs and possibly worse customer experience.

But do not forget that Windows Phone is designed from the ground up for the different hardware platforms. In fact, it supports two completely different platforms now: x86/x64 for development (in the emulator) and ARM (Qualcomm Snapdragon) in devices. For example, if Nokia wants to use Intel Medfield SoC, which is basically an ultra low consumption Atom with some radio-specific features added, Microsoft may just change the licensing terms. I exaggerate, but you get the picture.

The other side of the equation is simple: Market expansion from millions to hundreds of million customers.

Plus wider language and marketplace support and better maps in Europe (Bing is horrible here).

The picture is somewhat darker for Symbian developers. But even they knew for sure that the unavoidable transition to the other OS – MeeGo – was awaiting them. My advice is simple: Go there now, download the free Windows Phone developer tools and begin to study them. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Elvis Presley, Love me tender:

Do not miss Steve Ballmer’s keynote at MWC 2011, (Monday, Feb. 14 at 7 a.m. PST/10 a.m. EST/4 p.m. CET).

1 Comment

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One response to “Nokia makes both Windows Phone and Steve Ballmer relevant again

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Nokia makes both Windows Phone and Steve Ballmer relevant again | Stubborn Developer -- Topsy.com

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