“Half a loaf is better than none” is an old saw, but it sure seems to describe the newest mobile development—the Microsoft/Nokia pact. The pact is being hailed and panned depending on perspectives, but maybe it deserves it because it’s not the whole solution for either party. Both companies probably know that and are gambling that this step will win them enough time to think of the right answer. But that may be behind both companies now, and maybe forever. Half a loaf may be no loaf at all.
For Nokia, the deal gives them a mobile platform that has a partner in the most critical smartphone market—the U.S. It offers Nokia developer cred, so to speak, and it acknowledges in a backhand way that Nokia needs a marketing partnership to be cool (its homeland climate notwithstanding). For Microsoft, the deal offers the promise of a much faster ramp on Phone 7 through a conduit with the largest provider, and a much-needed boost to 7’s credibility in an ever-more-competitive mobile OS space. It sounds like a win-win, so why am I so down on it?
To start, you have Nokia, the marketing-deprived company joining forces with Microsoft, whose own marketing (particularly in the phone space) has left a lot to be desired. In its core businesses, Microsoft is losing market share and credibility against both the top mobile rivals. It lost mobile share until Phone 7 came along, and it’s too early to say whether that will gain them anything. Get every marketing type in Microsoft and Nokia in a room, and a couple Apple or Google guys would nail the doors shut in a minute.
Then we have the issue of “joint development.” Where has either company had a major success with that? In fact, neither Microsoft nor Nokia independently have been able to drive a product to market in a timely way, or address the evolving needs of the mobile space before somebody else tied them up. Now we have the two trying to do it together, separated by miles of polar waste? Sounds like an advert for Cisco’s telepresence.
But the big problem is the timing. This is not an alliance of the agile, guys. They are not going to hit the ground running. Even spokespersons for the companies suggest that there’s a multi-year transition period to be faced. At the end of that period, where will iOS, Android, and perhaps even WebOS be? Will they suspend progress to give the Microsoft/Nokia alliance a fair shot? Will people stop buying phones to see what the new collective comes up with? Get real. The fact that Nokia refuses to acknowledge any meaningful change of status for Symbian or MeeGo doesn’t help, nor does the broader commitment to Microsoft for Bing and ad brokering. It makes Nokia a junior partner in its own deal, junior to a company that’s losing market share to mobile competitors too.