Hey Nokia, is that a Windows Phone in your pocket?

Darren Humphries
Columnist from Oshawa, ON Canada
Published: February 10, 2011

Stephen Elop Nokia

Perhaps you've heard the rumour by now of Nokia putting Windows Phone on their smartphones; if not, you're welcome.  But is this really a good strategy for Nokia at this point?  What are their alternatives and which is the best?

The first thing we need to do here is admit that Nokia has a problem.  I get the irony of that statement coming from a long-time Windows Mobile user, but there is no denying which way Nokia's sales charts are pointed (at least for smartphones).  Microsoft went through the same thing and came out the other side smelling like roses...just not many roses.  While there are a lot of die hard fans of Symbian it certainly isn't winning over many new initiates. 

Nokia's problem really is not hardware.  They know how to build excellent phones at a competitive price.  In my opinion the E71 was a fantastic looking device that suffered from OSitis (man, I can hear the rush of hate mail coming down the hall).  As great as that hardware is, their OS just has not kept pace.  It is certainly functional but not in the least inspiring.  When was the last time the masses drooled over a new release of Symbian?

This is not news to anyone, including Nokia.  They are fully aware of their sales trends just perhaps not aware of the solution.  Revamping Symbian or developing an all new OS is a huge undertaking, and while it is probably still what Nokia is planning to do but they need something in the meantime.

The easy answer that everyone wants to throw around is 'Android'.  "Hey, it's free!"  Yes, Android is free to use...if you don't want any consulting services from Google while in development, and you don't need any of the Google services to be included.  Plus, it's highly likely using a "freely" available OS leaves you wide open to patent lawsuits which might cost you some chump change; just ask Motorola.  Honestly, maybe those costs are worth it when spread over the sales of millions of devices;  Manufacturers of Android-based devices don't seem to be complaining too much.  But perhaps this requires a manufacturer to have very long-term goals for Android to invest that kind of time and money.  If Nokia is truly considering using an alternate smartphone OS (and I'm not sure they are) it is probably only as a stop-gap while they create the Symbianator.

So, is Windows Phone a decent alternative for them?  Perhaps.  It would allow them to license the OS for a term and have a very straightforward reference design.  They can focus on devices for now while the secret OS ninjas build something new.  The problem with using Windows Phone?  Well, I love it, as do a lot of people but it isn't exactly tearing up the record books in sales.  There are a lot of people that are too nervous to jump into the Microsoft swimming pool just yet and those who just love to hate the evil Redmond monster.  Putting Windows Phone on Nokia hardware may be the equivalent of outfitting an aircraft carrier with oars.  I'm not saying Windows Phone is a bad option but its a risky one, is its unlikely to draw in the masses.  Nokia would need to rely on stellar hardware design to gain attention.  This doesn't need to be Nokia's saving grace and a runaway success, just enough to stabilize their sales while they rework their own OS.

Still, are there many options for Nokia at this point?  Do they continue on with a failing OS, switch to Android and perhaps get lost in the crowd, or jump on board with Windows Phone, a rather slow moving hay ride?

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