Crunch time for Nokia, but Windows Phone 7 isn't the answer

Crunch time for Nokia, but Windows Phone 7 isn't the answer

It hasn't been the best of times recently for Nokia, has it?

A near-perfect storm of indifferent financial figures, continued delays to upcoming handsets like the E7 and the microscopic focus all the big mobile players are subject to in the run up to Mobile World Congress have conspired against the Finnish firm in cruel fashion over the past week or two.

The result is the unlikely prospect of one of the biggest phone companies of all suddenly unsure of just which way is up, floundering around in the mobile bywaters like a naïve tourist who's misplaced his map.

Most recently we've had rumours that Nokia is about to line up its fortunes with Windows Phone 7, a fact that has done little to sway the cynics given the undercurrent of ridicule Microsoft's platform suffers – almost completely unfairly – as a hangover from the Windows Mobile days.

Those rumours largely originated in Nokia's new CEO Stephen Elop commenting frankly that the company must “build, catalyse or join a competitive ecosystem”, comments that spurred a couple of analysts to suggesting WinPho 7 was the answer and that Nokia should write off the troubled MeeGo altogether, with this week's major strategy day the time to make the announcement.

Elop himself can't be criticised here – all he's done is tell the truth. But it's worth noting the use of the word “competitive”. He's not saying MeeGo, or indeed Symbian, doesn't have merit, he's simply looking at their current potential for helping Nokia take the fight to iOS and Android in the battle for consumer affection, which after all is where the money is spent.

In both cases, Nokia can argue that the issues with Symbian and MeeGo are not of its own making. The former was set sail on its own in near-philanthropic fashion by Nokia, intended to be a usable and affordable OS all manufacturers could get on board with just as Android arrived to steer the smartphone market in a different direction, particularly the entry-level part of the market Symbian was plainly aimed at serving. Cue most of the high-level Symbian Foundation members turning their backs, and Nokia having to take it back on board as its own, with no immediately obvious way to pick up the momentum again.

MeeGo, meanwhile, as been pilloried as a waste of time because of just how long it's taken to appear in any kind of recognisable final form the public can get on board with. However, much of that blame appears to lie with partner Intel's inability to back up Nokia's software work with a serious hardware commitment. From the outside it seems (rightly or wrongly) that what is a central part of Nokia's smartphone strategy is little more than a sideline for Intel.

But does it make sense for Nokia to turn its back on all the work it's put into MeeGo just when actual consumer products like the N9 smartphone are finally on the horizon? It's hard to say it does, especially when the mooted alternative is an OS only recently launched and which has around 2% market share – surely not the “competitive ecosystem” Elop is referring to.

Yet there are very real issues to be addressed. One is undoubtedly what to do with Symbian. Nokia continues to shift more units than any other phone maker on the planet thanks to its near-invincible position in developing markets, yet the further up the price scale you go, the more Symbian's competitiveness weakens.

Before the likes of Sony Ericsson and Samsung pulled out of the project, the Symbian Foundation had a detailed roadmap in place for future releases of the platform. The challenge for Nokia is to keep something of that aggressive release plan in place now that Symbian is back in-house, even if the specifics need to change – and they probably do.

The company also has to do a far better job of shepherding its high-end devices from announcement to launch. Time after time, new Nokia handsets are announced with great fanfare, before first the disappointment of release dates way into the future then the added frustration of those shipping dates being missed. Launching desirable consumer products is largely a game of theatre, and it's one Nokia needs to become much, much better at.

Elop's appointment as the new face at the helm has signalled Nokia's willingness to change, and an extensive executive reshuffle is apparently underway as part of that change. It's just as well, too, as while rumours of Nokia's demise are largely overrated, there are certainly signs of trouble.

But whatever Nokia has lined up for the “big announcement” supposedly coming this week ahead of MWC, it's hard to see how switching to Windows Phone 7 is much of a solution.

Read more about: Windows PhoneNokia N9MeeGoSymbian

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JanSt / MOD  Feb. 6, 2011 at 12:56

Folks compare the success of Android - which is used by numerous manufacturers - to the perceived failings of Nokia. Yes, Android is very sucessful, but how successful are individual handsetmakers using the Android OS? Not all Android devices are mega hits. Sony Ericsson use Android and struggle. They used winmo and struggled. In Q4 2010 Nokia's N8 outsold (by early calculations) the Samsung Galaxy S, one of Android's stars... Nokia's mapping solution is one of the most popular in the world. I'm not saying, all is well in Nokia land, but all is relative.
This talk of Nokia joining up with Microsoft comes at a strangely convenient time: Microsoft get a beating for the poor Windows Phone 7 launch, but bam: suddenly the table is turned, and they are portrayed as the galant suitor ready to save Nokia. ... yep. Where's my pinch of salt?

Stelph  Feb. 7, 2011 at 11:39

Im still excited about Maemo hope Nokia dont scrap it(at least, until it gets a chance!).

The open source community is taking its first steps into multitouch with Ubuntu the last version of Ubuntu included it but I believe they are now pushing for multitouch to be supported in applications for Ubuntu and to make the whole thing native, so I think we are on the cusp of a large number of open source, multitouch apps hitting the market.

If Maemo was available (and since it is based on Debian Linux) I would assume it wouldnt be too hard to have the apps ported to the Maemo, and im sure those developers would love to have a phone that supported a linux OS that could run their apps out and about as well as their PC's at home

Stelph  Feb. 7, 2011 at 11:40

Sorry, Meego!

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 7, 2011 at 12:42

Meego won't be scrapped. Only in November Intel ran massive job application ads on pretty much every Linux related forum. They are as committed to Meego as Nokia are.
All the rumours right now are just that.

When the Toshiba TG01 was released it flopped and many people said, oh, Snapdragon can't be that great then....
Professional analysts predict the future. cause they have no grasp of the present ;)
Lets just wait and see what happens.
Nokia released 3 non-phone maemo tablets that were niche products. And instead of ditching it they built the N900 which is also a bit 'niche', but successful enough to not be called a failure.


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