Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Nokia and Microsoft

14 February 2011 by Nicholas in Technology

The new CEO of Nokia (whose name I forget and I am disinclined to look up) caused a few raised eyebrows the other week when he released a memo to his staff basically maligning the two software platforms that Nokia smartphones run on: Meego and Symbian. Now I used to buy a Nokia every time I needed a new phone. I had two separate N73s alone. In its day Symbian was brilliant and still has an active eco system going supporting it. Meego I know less about.

This week he raised a few more: he announced a deal whereby Nokia would use Microsoft Phone Operating Systems and basically signaled an end to using Symbian and Meego.

Obviously I know nothing about running a huge multinational company. But I can’t help but think this is the wrong decision for any one of a huge number of reasons. Firstly, just in terms of general PR: many within the company are incredibly unhappy with the decision and a large number walked out for the day on Friday to voice their displeasure. Existing users have basically just been told that their phones are obsolete and the company whose name is on them views them as a bit of a joke and useless. I don’t see that really engendering much brand loyalty (the goodwill that accountants love to over declare the value of).

Secondly, the whole thing smacks of short termism. In the rush to bring a smartphone to market, the company has turned its back on two separate platforms it could be hoping to exploit and pinning its future on the whims and relative merits of Microsoft. Windows is a PC product with a lot of flaws caused by legacy code and backwards compatibility. As it moves onto different platforms these problems tend to exacerbate themselves by it still being designed for mouse and full keyboard input and having a large footprint. Simply put, it isn’t designed for a phone, a touchscreen or a low powered processor and trying to force it to do these things stops it doing what it is actually good at. It’s a me too product with more problems than solutions in this space.

The rationale behind the decision is apparently to make phones that appeal to businesses by having the Windows brand on them. There are two things about this, in my mind: it makes the Nokia subservient to Microsoft on the phone and Apple in particular have made huge strides in appealing to businesses. Microsoft are trying to enter the smartphone space on the back of Nokia as a brand and Nokia are doing the same on the back of Microsoft. All the while the two leaders in the space are finding more and more ways to appeal to businesses using platforms that were actually designed for phones in the first place.

And where does this leave Symbian and Meego?
Symbian is a collective that produces the software, but Nokia is probably central to its success. Without them there is no real vendor and probably not the financial support it needs. Meego is a partnership with Intel which makes no real sense, but I don’t think Nokia really wants to upset Intel at this point, just in case it needs them in future.

As much as I want to see Nokia thrive, I don’t think this is going to do them any favours and is probably disastrous in the long run. And I am starting to think the trend for this decade, in technology terms, is Microsoft fading from the market leader into the sort of position IBM currently has.