Nokia + Microsoft = Phoenix?

February 18, 2011

Adapted from my notes from a recent DeployAdpot podcast discussion.

 

Vic Gundotra summed up this deal by reusing the "Two turkeys do not make an eagle" quote. However, I think he is likely channeling some angst over losing it and may be missing the bigger picture that Microsoft and Nokia together may actually amount to the phoenix rebirth of both their mobile strategies that they both desperately need.

 

In the past week at their own press conferences and at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Nokia announced a deep partnership with Microsoft to build Windows Phones. There’s been lot of speculation on why Nokia decided to go this route rather than either adopt Android in a similar strategy or to continue to develop their own platform strategy. The introduction of Steven Elop, a former Microsoft executive, as the CEO is fueling some speculation that the Nokia decision may in part have been based on his former relationships rather than the objective best interest of the company. That seems to me to be a red herring.

 

I think this was exactly the right move for both Nokia and Microsoft (and Nokia’s employees and customers.) Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Magic 8 Ball says "Outlook not so good": Microsoft has had trouble getting back into the mobile space and has needed bolder moves and stronger partnerships for some time. Word is that Nokia’s internal predictions for smart phone market share showed them diving into single digits before too long. Their "platform" (current state strategy) is burning and is taking them in the wrong direction.
  • The Android Morass: I see the Android market as alive and vibrant, but also crowded and fraught with peril for anyone trying to differentiate. Android is becoming the mobile platform of choice for not only well executed devices but also for low end barely-smart phones. Nokia jumping on that bandwagon would have the potential to get them lost in the noise very quickly.
  • Better Together: Microsoft and Nokia need each other in ways that Google doesn’t. Microsoft sells software and Nokia sells phones. Both of them need the other to make money to be successful and they can compliment each other that way. Google sells advertising and could care less if you have to give your stuff away for free as long as they get they eyeballs. They want a slice of every device out there, good or crappy, and a race to the bottom for hardware makers is just fine. Microsoft has much more to gain from a strong Nokia than Google would and building best in class devices that unite each of their strengths is aligned well with what they both need.

 

Will they succeed? Signs so far point to MSFT continuing to move too slow and being hamstrung by current partner relationships in some ways. Unless they break that cycle and get their development and engineering velocity higher than both Google and Apple they are going to have trouble keeping up. This is a big challenge for them that they are falling down on so far since the launch of Windows Phone 7. Hopefully a tight partnership with a premier hardware vendor can help them drive reference devices that will push the rest of their partner/carrier relationships forward and drive higher velocity.

 

Enterprise/Business Perspective

  • iPhone is Bad for IT: My thoughts for some time is that iPhone and Android have been bad for business IT. Not because they aren’t capable platforms but because they come from a consumer oriented mindset and a lot of the best talent in the market place is getting tied up right now trying to build the next Angry Birds app. You can get business apps on those platforms but that isn’t where the energy is at right now. That coupled with the fact that the iPhone is not compatible with the development model of most IT departments and it’s a pain to get apps on outside the app store and you have a mobile platform that sets back business IT mobile development by years.
  • MSFT Enterprise Roots: MSFT and their mobile platform has at least a little bit of business IT DNA. Microsoft is downplaying that for now, but hopefully not excising it all together. My expectation is that anything better than a total failure of the platform will provide an outlet for real enterprise class mobile application development to flourish once more.
  • Calling All IT Devs: Bring on my ERP, CRM, HR applications… why aren’t I interacting with my core business tools via rich custom applications yet? There are a smattering of commercial applications in some of the marketplaces but my IT department should be making its own packaged and custom tools available, driving real business value to their mobile workforces.

 

Am I missing the mark here? What do you all hope to see from this partnership? What top apps from your IT department do you need on your mobile devices today?

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