Microsoft and Nokia have teamed up in the hope of at last conquering the smartphone
market. Many are calling this a last ditch effort for both the phone maker
and the OS vendor to have any sort of presence in this complex market. Here's why the venture is likely to fail.
Microsoft and Nokia are both drinking at the last-chance saloon as far as their mobile businesses are concerned, following last week's announcement that they are to team up in the mobile device market. For Microsoft, the deal is a desperate attempt to make its Windows Phone 7 mobile OS relevant at a time when its traditional desktop and server OS businesses face increased competition from open source solutions, cloud services and powerful mobile hardware.
Despite the good reviews Windows Phone 7 received, it's in grave danger of disappearing without having made any impact whatsoever. Ask yourself this: When did you last see anyone (who isn't a Microsoft employee) actually using the mobile OS?
But the Nokia Nokia (NYSE: NOK) deal will not save Windows Phone 7, and here's why:
1. Every time Microsoft does a deal with a mobile hardware maker, it fails.
We've been here before. Microsoft Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) made plenty of deals with hardware makers to prop up its Windows Mobile OS, and all ended in disaster: LG (2009), Palm (2005) Motorola (2003), Sendo (2001) Ericsson (2000). The results should be making Nokia very nervous indeed: Sendo went bankrupt, LG and Motorola and Ericsson lost profitability in the market and switched to Android, and Palm couldn't make its Windows Mobile business a success and instead developed the WebOS mobile OS. Not exactly encouraging, is it?
2. A deal with Nokia can't hide Windows Phone 7's shortcomings.
Microsoft knows all about operating systems: The company has built itself into the giant it is on the back of its highly successful and hugely profitable Windows desktop and server OS products. One thing it learned over the years is that you can get away without rock-solid security and stability as long as your OS offers the features customers want. That's why Windows 7 is the huge, bloated product it is, and why Microsoft's server OS, Windows Server 2008 R2, includes advanced features like virtualization with Hyper-V.
But when it comes to features, Windows Phone 7 is pitiful. What were the big new ones that Microsoft was promising for the future at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week? Copy and paste, and multi-tasking! Two features that even the mobile OS Nokia is effectively abandoning -- Symbian -- has offered for years. Make no mistake -- Windows Phone 7 is miles behind iPhone, Android-powered phones and the rest of the competition.
3. Hardware makers are just not that important any more.
When you buy an Android phone, you buy just that: an Android phone -- not an HTC, a Motorola or an LG. Of course, the model you choose may well be made by HTC or Motorla or LG, but that's not important. What you are buying into is the whole Android ecosystem, developer community, app store and all. The same is true with Blackberry. The handsets are not bad, but what most people want is the security and other features of the Blackberry OS
Apple is in some ways an exception to this. People do love Apple products. But when they buy an iPhone they are still choosing the whole Apple ecosystem -- developer community, App Store and all.
And the fact is no one is going to buy a Windows Phone 7 device purely because it's a Nokia. Nokia doesn't make great smartphones, it just makes, frankly, odd ones. Adding Nokia to the Windows Phone 7 stable adds nothing of interest whatsoever.
4. Microsoft is uncool enough without Nokia making it even squarer.
The smartphone space is a tough nut to crack because as well as attracting enterprise users, you must make it big in the consumer market place. The incidence of user-owned devices (like the iPhone) in the enterprise was very rare until comparatively recently, when iPhone owners, and then Android users, clamored for their devices to be allowed into the workplace.
Hence, for Windows Phone 7 to be successful it has to be cool enough to appeal to consumers, and one thing Microsoft isn't, is cool. Apple is cool in a smug designer sort of way. Android is cool in a rebellious counter-culture sort of way. Even Blackberry is cool in that highbrow, James Bond kind of way. But Microsoft? Not in a million years.
And the truth is that a Windows Phone 7 device made by Nokia -- a brand favored by the likes of African taxi drivers and Burmese government officials -- does nothing for Microsoft in the way of making it cool enough for consumers to want to buy it and bring it into work. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.
5. The deal has been done, but nothing has really changed.
Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is still a largely irrelevant mobile OS that has failed to ignite the interest of consumers or enterprise customers, and Nokia is still a phone maker that has lost its way and doesn't produce exciting smartphones. As Google Vice President Vic Gundotra tweeted: "Two turkeys do not make an eagle."
I couldn't put it better myself.
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.
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