Nokia leaps off its burning platform - and into bed with Microsoft

The world's largest phone maker is teaming up with the world's largest software company. What could possibly go wrong?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 22 Mar 2011
What do you get when you cross the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer with the world’s largest software company? That’s the question most of the technology world has been asking today after Nokia and Microsoft reported that they’re planning to form a ‘broad strategic partnership’, which will see Nokia using Windows Phone as its main operating system for its smartphones. Until now, both companies have been lagging far behind rivals Google and Apple in the battle for supremacy when it comes to web-enabled mobile phones – but according to the pair, this tie-up makes it a three-horse-race. Can it be so?

The news comes just days after Nokia CEO Stephen Elop made a speech to staff describing the company’s situation as ‘standing on a burning platform’. Both companies say their plan is to create an ‘unrivalled global mobile ecosystem’ with ‘iconic hardware, stellar software and unique services’. That means Nokia doing all the hardware design, and both companies collaborating on marketing, development and something called a ‘shared development roadmap’ which will ‘align on the future evolution of mobile products’. Quite. Crucially, though, partnering with Microsoft will also help Nokia make inroads into the US market – where the manufacturer has had trouble in the past.

Presumably, both companies hope the deal will go some way to creating that elusive ‘ecosystem’ Elop referred to in his speech: an easy-to-use platform developers will find as attractive as Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace. Developers certainly seem encouraged: the Guardian quotes developer Mark Whitaker, who says it’s ‘fantastic news. Symbian [Nokia’s much-maligned operating system] has always been dreadful for developers. This can only be an improvement’.

But will it be enough? As Vic Gundotra, Google’s VP of engineering, (rather cruelly) tweeted the other day, ‘two turkeys do not make an eagle’. Both Nokia and Microsoft have previously held positions as leaders in their field (Microsoft was only shunted off the top spot in the smartphone market in 2007 by – you guessed it – Apple). But collaborations like this don’t always necessarily go smoothly, particularly when there are big egos involved. Some feel that Nokia should have gone with Google’s more established Android OS, instead of Microsoft, which has yet to have a resounding success in the smartphone.

So Elop’s taking a huge risk with this move. But given that there isn’t really much of an alternative, it’s a good move. At least it gives the two some chance in the smartphone market, which is better than they had before. A slim chance is better than no chance, and all that…

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