There were a lot of upset Nokia fans in February last year after Microsoft and the Finnish phone maker announced a "strategic partnership". The deal meant Nokia would drop Symbian, at least here in North America, and focus its efforts on Microsoft's Windows Phone platform.
It was a bold move and a risky bet, to say the least. But it was one we all were interested to watch pan out. Windows Phone was young and fresh with lots of potential and Nokia is world-renowned for quality devices with fantastic hardware. At first, the two seemed almost like a match made in heaven.
Nonetheless, everyone was at least a little flustered that the partnership meant we may never see a union of Nokia's brilliant hardware (and topnotch image sensors) and Google's wildly popular Android OS … officially. It didn't totally throw the deal off the table. But Nokia was never all that interested in Android to begin with (not publicly, at least), and the partnership all but killed the hopes of a Nokia-made Android phone in the near future.
Entering 2012, we finally got to see and enjoy the fruits of Microsoft's and Nokia's labors. Nokia launched a pair Lumia devices in the U.S.: the Lumia 710 on T-Mobile and the Lumia 900 on AT&T. And they launched the Lumia 800 in other various markets. Aside from the camera and a few software bugs (that were quickly patched and more than compensated for by way of a $100 bill credit straight from Nokia to anyone who purchased the device, which essentially made it free on-contract), the Lumia 900 was the recipient of pretty fantastic reviews across the Web. Nokia's excellent choice in a polycarbonate unibody design and ClearBlack AMOLED display perfectly complimented Microsoft's software.
But there's a problem. AT&T, Microsoft and Nokia each fueled a lot of cash into the launch of the Lumia 900. AT&T prepped for their "biggest launch ever" and completely screwed the pooch. The device was scheduled to launch on Easter Sunday, when most brick and mortar stores were closed. And Nokia CEO Stephen Elop revealed in late April that while the Lumia 900 had been the recipient of "encouraging awards and popular acclaim", actual sales "have been mixed".
Not only that, but just a few short months after their first crop of Windows Phone device launched, Nokia had to announce that their current devices will not be upgraded once the Windows Phone 8 update is available.
In normal fashion, following meager Lumia sales and Windows Phone adoption, people are beginning to jump to conclusions and second-guess Nokia's decision to jump on the Windows Phone bandwagon. One individual in particular spoke out against Nokia's CEO directly and suggested he be fired, along with the rest of Nokia's board members. That man's name is Jean-Louis Gassée, former Apple executive, investor and the founder of Be, Inc. (BeOS). Not mincing words in an interview with Computing.co.uk, Gassée said:
"I told them to drop everything and go Android. Do it in secret and let the rumours fly. I would have used Nokia's design flare to make very nice phones. I would integrate Ovi [Nokia's app store] into Android and people would say that Nokia sided with the winner."
While some will agree with Gassée, I'm not so quick to jump to the conclusion that Nokia made the wrong decision, or that Elop isn't the right person for the job. Android may seem like a sure-shot. But the competition is getting heated, countless manufacturers are being sued left and right for patent infringement by Apple and Microsoft and Nokia's carrier relations in the U.S. weren't exactly great before rekindling them with the help of Microsoft. Making great hardware and loading Android on it with a mediocre game plan wouldn't overcome all the hurdles Nokia faces in the U.S. market. And, who knows, they may have turned out even worse than they are today.
Windows Phone was certainly a risk, and so far, it seems like it was a pretty poor decision. (Scrapping 11,000 jobs isn't something any company should be proud of.) But Windows Phone 8 and the ecosystem Microsoft is quickly building out has a ton of potential.
At the end of the day, Elop took a risk. He went with a smaller platform on the hopes that it would grow into something someday. And, albeit very slowly, it is. And if at any point Windows Phone begins to fail, Nokia has noted they have an alternative plan. For all we know, that Plan B could be Android.
I may not be particularly fond of Windows Phone. I've tried it countless times to come to the same verdict: it's boring and lacks the features I need in a smartphone. But it's turning heads, and with over 100,000 applications in Marketplace, it's proving that at least in terms of developer support, it's a force to be reckoned with. Windows Phone may not see a lot of growth this year, especially considering Windows Phone 8 has been announced, is still months away and current devices will not be upgraded. But 2013 could definitely be the year of Windows Phone's uprising. Time will tell …
In the meantime, Nokia and Elop, keep doing what you do best: making fantastic phones. You're not in a dire situation … yet. But if things get considerably worse, don't be afraid to turn to the little green robot. He very well may be your best friend. For now, though, Windows Phone needs a hardware maker to carry it, and I couldn't think of a better one for the job.