If you don’t know what happened in the mobile industry on this day you are living in a bubble. At a Nokia investor event, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced that Windows Phone would become their primary platform, with the first phone probably released in the 4th quarter of 2011.
This threw me. I was shocked – I was looking at this through the eyes of a developer and a consumer and it made no sense. I was also looking at this as someone looking out for the rumored N9 – the first Meego device that i was so excited about with or without a keyboard.
So what now for Meego? what of Symbian and QT? What about all those folks like me who liked nokia because it wasn’t connected to the empires at Google or Microsoft, or the fashion accessory closed world of Apple – would they still have something to buy?
I had not done much development yet, except the battery meter tutorial for QT, but i had read the Nokia road-map, I knew that it was simple – QT apps unifying all Nokia operating systems. After a lot of life changes with jobs changes and moving i was getting ready to kick on, but this changed things didn’t it? The folks at Maemo.org certainly thought so. As did the Meego.com developers. As did so many others – why develop QT when there would be no more Symbian, and Meego was being relegated to a research project?
After reading many news articles, blog posts, bits of opinion and analysis, plus videos and transcripts of things people at Nokia have said, including both department heads and the Nokia Conversations folks, i now give my considered opinion.
A new ecosystem
Symbian is doing okay. There are over 30,000 apps in the ovi store and in Q4 it had 29% market share, more then any other OS. Nokia shipped more handsets than anyone too. Good news, right? Not so good when that market share is falling fast, reviewers everywhere are saying Symbian is outdated and north American carriers treated Nokia phones like a bad smell. The basic problem being they were not apple and didn’t run android.
Could Symbian have been improved? Possibly, they had various UI updates planned – once dubbed as Symbian 4, but Nokia’s speed of execution had been slow. What about Meego? Some say a handset version was ready but no sign of it at Mobile World Congress whilst the tablet version was regarded as not being ready yet. It makes you wonder about how progress has been on the handset version and if that really was ready. Nokia had discussions with Google about android but rejected that sighting a difficult to differentiate. After reading about MWC I have to agree – that market has so many almost identical handsets. With windows mobile they would have the same issue for different reasons had they not been given the ability to customize the OS and work with Microsoft on future development. They also have distinctive OS that’s new. So i understand why Nokia may have made the choice they did.
Windows phone 7 has a pretty user interface, xbox gaming, zune music and the ability to edit office documents. All very nice. It’s missing things like copy and paste and multitasking but these will be added in an update late this year. Sounds nice, though it’s unclear if it will support things like bluetooth file sharing, swppable SD cards and USB hosting any time soon. It also has a bug / feature where the camera resets to default settings when you exit the app, which i believe on at least one device is vga mode – imagine that when you have a 12MP camera.
There have been plenty of folks who have said they would love to see a windows phone device on Nokia hardware and who believe this combination could be great for the end users. Nokia will get to contribute to the OS and customize it a bit, but ultimatly, it will be the same Windows Phone that HTC, Samsung, LG, Dell and everyone else has on their phones. Nokia’s hardware has to remain creative, and high quality.
Nokia are loosing market share fast so something had to be done. However, windows phone 7 has a tiny market share of about 1.5% and at MWC there were hardly an abundance of WP7 devices. I read that LG, a key partner at launch bought precisely 0 WP7 phones and i don’t remember reading about and new devices from anyone.
However, it has been leaked that dell will be rekleasing a couple, plus acer too, and there will be CDMA support coming so that will boost some markets too. I’m certain Nokia will raise the profile of windows phone, but during these transitions they may well loose market share. This is because before their first Windows Phone comes out, Nokia will still be making Symbian phones -it hopes to ship 150millioon of them before retiring the OS. However, developers, sales reps and shoppers who do their research will know Symbian has a limited lifespan now. So Nokia may loose market share more quickly than before, up until they have some Windows phones. They may continue to loose market share in the low cost and business phone device segments if the can’t push Windows Phone into those segments, as well as having high end devices.
Microsoft has a huge developer community and massive events like TechEd and all kinds of resources. Silverlight is a known entity for Microsoft developers who work on websites and applications that use the .Net Framework. Many businesses develop applications using .Net and Silverlight will provide a way to make some of them mobile apps, sharing some of the same libraries their PC based versions do. For WPF applications, it could share some of the same XAML too. However, until now, Nokia developers have not been .Net developers. They are C++ developers who use QT and QML to write applications for Symbian and perhaps Meego / Maemo too. Nokia convinced developers that QT was the way to go, a cross platform environment, an open one too.
So Nokia has 3 jobs to do here. One is to convince QT developers who don’t want to learn Silverlight that QT will still be used and has a future with Symbian, Series 40 and Meego. The second is to convince at least a few of these minds to have a go at Silverlight and Windows Phone development and that using Microsofts tools can be a good experience. Lastly, they need to find a way for developers to port their applications from QT to Silverlight and vice versa. They are really trying hard to do the first 2 and evidence of this has been the number of folks from Nokia talking about QT in the second half of last week, mostly through the Nokia Conversations. They say discussions are ongoing on the 3rd.
It’s a risky move and Nokia is sure to loose some customers and developers as they go through this. However, if well executed it could be a hit and the transformation of Nokia and Microsoft into the 3rd ecosystem. In the meantime that means compelling Symbian products however with the promised UI updates, and fighting to get these phones in to the hands of providers around the world, but especially the USA. Ultimately it will mean launching a Windows Phone device that is just better than the rest, including being better than the last Symbian devices. This will need to have some distinguishing software elements for Nokia, plus from a design perspective, not be just another black rectangle. They will then need to launch device that convince the business community to use them, and a device for the low end – folks who want a cheap smartphone. Lastly, they will need to do all this before we all forget about it and certainly at the next Mobile World congress, they should have quite a few devices around, some already released.
I think they botched the announcement of this plan a bit, and a lack of comment regarding their existing platforms lead to a lot of shock, anger and panic. Nokia, have been working hard to rectify this since then and are doing a great job. Botching the execution would be disastrous.
As a European, a fan, a developer embarking on this journey with them, and a guy who things the world needs several competitive platforms, not just iOS and Android, I hope they succeed.