Opinion: Barry Collins says neither Nokia nor Microsoft can afford to wait until 2012 to deliver Windows Phone 7 handsets
The smartphone market “is now a three-horse race”, declared Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, having just bet his shirt on Windows Phone 7 to catch up with Apple iOS and Google Android. But is Nokia riding one of those three horses?
Nokia’s decision to saddle itself with Microsoft’s mobile OS is a brave and, in my view, correct one. Yet, Nokia’s going to have to get a move on. The company says it will be late 2011 or even early 2012 before we see the first Nokia Windows Phone 7 handset – and neither company can afford to wait that long.
Nokia could have bought itself a little more time had Elop not poured a can of petrol over the rest of the company’s products, then stepped back and lit a match. In a memo that made Gerald Ratner look like a salesman extraordinaire, Elop said Nokia was “standing on a burning platform”, having fallen “years behind” its rivals. “The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that’s close to its experience,” the Nokia boss bemoaned.
It’s going to be at least another nine months before he does. In the meantime, who in their right mind is going to buy a Symbian smartphone?
Not only has the man in charge of the company admitted they’re about as cutting edge as Jimmy Savile, but developers will be leaving the platform in their droves. As Elop himself stated in his excoriating memo: “The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications....” Elop has effectively put up the “closed” sign until the end of the year.
The wait is equally bad news for Microsoft and Windows Phone 7, which is hardly a juggernaut of momentum right now. Only two million Windows Phone 7 handsets were “shipped” in the operating system’s first three months; Apple sold almost as many (1.7 million) iPhone 4 handsets in its first three days. Meanwhile, Google claims it’s activating 350,000 Android handsets daily. If this really is a three-horse race, Microsoft is several furlongs behind the leaders.
The handset manufacturers that backed Windows Phone 7 from the off are hardly going to be enamoured with the Nokia deal, either. Microsoft is almost certainly offering Nokia – which remains the world’s biggest handset manufacturer, lest we forget – far better terms than it’s offered previous partners such as HTC, Samsung and LG. Although Nokia will pay Microsoft to license Windows Phone 7, billions more dollars will flow the other way in terms of marketing and other “monetary” support, according to Elop.
Windows Phone 7 wobble
Little wonder, then, that those original Windows Phone 7 partners appear to be turning their backs on Microsoft. HTC launched five smartphones and one tablet at Mobile World Congress – all running Android. Samsung announced its Galaxy S II, the successor to the most successful Android handset on the market, while LG’s ground-breaking 3D smartphone is also built on the Google OS. The three companies didn’t announce a single new Windows Phone 7 handset between them. It isn’t only Nokia that has to wait until Christmas for a decent Windows Phone 7 handset, it could be Microsoft and its app developers too.
Does this mean the Nokia and Microsoft marriage is meaningless? Not necessarily. The Nokia/Microsoft alliance won’t harm Apple or Google – they’re already far too well established for the duo to wreak any significant damage.
Instead, the biggest threat is to the company Elop rather cruelly excluded from his three-horse line-up: RIM and its BlackBerry. Neither iOS nor Android has really infiltrated the business space. Nobody is rolling out swathes of iPhones or Galaxy S handsets across their organisation in the way they do with BlackBerrys.
Nokia has impeccable business credentials. From the wonderfully clunky Communicator right up to relatively modern handsets such as the E71, the company has produced some classic corporate devices. Nokia makes superb keyboards, and the battery life of its phones (admittedly, aided by the underpowered Symbian) is measured in days, not the single day afforded by most modern smartphones.
Windows Phone 7 also has plenty to offer business users, including impeccable Exchange integration (provided you don’t use a self-certified SSL certificate) and Office Web Apps. It has a fair few things to sort out – not least email encryption, company-wide remote management, and being able to connect to a hidden SSID – but at least it now has a few months to do so.
If the Nokia/Microsoft partnership can produce a decent selection of business-class handsets – and quickly – they really could be the third runner in the smartphone race, rather than the three-legged horse they’re widely regarded as at the moment.