Nokia make Windows Phone their strategic smartphone OS
The news has been everywhere, including the BBC television bulletins: Nokia are abandoning hopes of owning the entirety of their stack and the board - led by CEO Stephen Elop - has decided to partner with Microsoft. The main reasons cited are Nokia's lack of ability to deliver a next generation mobile OS, and an ecosystem to go with it. Elop's conclusion is to go back to his old employer and use their OS, platform and ecosystem: Nokia will adopt Windows Phone as its primary smartphone strategy, innovating on top of the platform in areas such as imaging, where Nokia is a market leader. Nokia will help drive and define the future of Windows Phone. Nokia will contribute its expertise on hardware design, language support, and help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies. Microsoft development tools will be used to create applications to run on Nokia Windows Phones, allowing developers to easily leverage the ecosystem’s global reach. Reaction has not been positive. Some elements of the US technical press are enthusiastic, but Nokia shares were down 15% following the news and the reaction from developers has been swift and visceral. Nokia finally had a good developer story: Symbian at the mid-range, MeeGo at the high-end with Qt and QML as the common development platform; and were delivering some cutting edge and exciting developer tools (such as the new Qt Creator with QML support). It is sad to see that MeeGo hasn't been given a chance, and one wonders how things might have been different were Nokia to push MeeGo forward hard, and release a couple of astounding devices this year. Having said that, it's easy to see what each side gets:
* Nokia don't join an existing ecosystem with established players and commodity hardware. However, they do leap frog the development of their own OS and get one ready made whilst also reducing costs.
* Microsoft get an experienced, big name hardware vendor on side for a platform which is otherwise quite niche. They get global supply chain and logistics, as well as access to some services.
Your editor, along with many others, was looking forward to an updated N900, running an evolution of Maemo 5 with a shinier user interface; better battery life and slightly less bulk. Looking around the mobile landscape, there's no obvious alternative at the moment, with HP's webOS series of devices looking most likely. It's sad to think that the N900 might have been a "Concorde moment"; and Nokia's MeeGo device will be treated similarly to the 770 five years ago, but without the future promise of OS 2005. Unless there's a change in Nokia's leadership (or at least Nokia's leadership's mind), the MeeGo device from Nokia will be stillborn.
There are, of course, many others involved in MeeGo, and so MeeGo itself may see some traction, especially in tablet computers. However, getting another major consumer electronics manufacturer to make MeeGo a core plank of its strategy - when they see that one of MeeGo's cofounders won't - will be hard work.
But there is a possible benefit to existing N900 users. With no clear successor device, some people will keep theirs for a bit longer, others - who may have been waiting for the Harmattan device - may now buy one. This means the Community SSU can have more users, more developers and more polish. Already we've seen patches which fix hildon-desktop's CPU eating bug; make Modest work better offline; make Modest more conformant to standards; an improved TV-out control panel plugin; an improved notification LED control panel plugin and so on. Many of these also widen the system's support of portrait usage.
We also already have improved development tools with the Qt SDK. Although there may not be a compelling new device, we have a reinvigorated platform. Maybe that's enough.