By now you've heard it, no doubt: Nokia, Microsoft, Windows Phone 7, all in one nice big lump. Big news? Absolutely. What does it mean? Well, that's a little murkier.
For starters, I have to admit that I'm pretty clueless on the whole Nokia/Symbian ecosystem, which is a result of the platform's failure to gain foothold and mindshare in the US, coupled with my own personal move into the smartphone—and, indeed, even cell phone—world only about a year ago. However, I'm well aware of Nokia's worldwide market share numbers and that these devices have just as many avid supporters as Apple's iPhone or Google's Android devices.
What Nokia didn't have was a modern smartphone OS to compete with its rivals, who have been steadily eroding the company's once strong market share lead. From that viewpoint, this partnership with Microsoft to use Windows Phone 7 as the OS for future Nokia smartphones seems to make sense—WP7 is ready to go now, and it's distinct in the marketplace from the other options. In fact, from people who have actually used WP7, I've heard nothing but praise; all the negative comments about WP7 I see are from supporters of other platforms who wouldn't even bother to try Microsoft's smartphone entry.
This deal is a potentially big win for developers as well. Microsoft's developer tools for WP7 are widely praised, while developing for the Symbian OS has apparently not been a pleasant experience. And the ability to reach a much larger audience than WP7 is currently by partnering with Nokia has got to be attractive to anyone thinking of developing apps. And the more apps you can get on the platform, the more likely it is to succeed. As Robert Scoble wrote in his blog on this subject today, "Apps are the ONLY thing that matters now."
So, if things go well, and both company's strengths really are brought to the fore, this could be a major move forward for them both in the smartphone space. However. Yeah, however. Will it happen? My first thought is that to succeed in this market today, you've got to move quickly. Android has been rightly criticized for delays in OS updates, which are the fault of the individual carriers. So how quickly will we see a Nokia device with the WP7 OS?
Most of the speculation or predictions I've found are saying we'll wait anywhere from six to eighteen months to see the first devices from this union. I'd say six months would be at the far end of fast in this space these days; a year is a lifetime; any longer than that, you might as well forget about it—everyone else will. In their "Open Letter from CEO Stephen Elop, Nokia and CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft," the company bosses wrote, "Success requires speed. We will be swift." I guess we'll see what that means to them over time.
Another big point I wonder about is how much effect this will have on the US market for either of these platforms. As we know, Nokia hasn't directed much effort into advertising in the US. Meanwhile, WP7 has been advertised fairly heavily but has still been slow to catch on. What will the two companies do following this partnership—and what meaning are we to take from the fact that the press conference announcing this major union was scheduled at a time when the vast majority of the US was asleep? Sure, Nokia is a European-based company, but simply setting the press event a couple hours later would have at least let the US east coast media to cover it during working hours.
I guess any way you look at it, it's exciting news. Perhaps it's crushing news if you've been a big supporter of Nokia and the Symbian OS. It's a windfall if you're a WP7 developer. And if you're in the business of writing about this mob of mobile OSs, hey, it's just another day.