While most of the industry seems to be confounded by the recent Microsoft and Nokia announcements around Windows Phone, I think there is a brilliant Silverlining.
And rather than heap more narrative upon the piles that have already been written about this partnership, let's cut straight to the chase.
WHAT IS MICROSOFT'S PROBLEM
In a two words: hardware and apps.
Arguably, Microsoft has an innovative mobile OS with Windows Phone that is ahead of its time. But the hardware is lukewarm at best. The hardware partners for WP7 have all introduced devices that do little to differentiate from Android counterparts, and they have failed to rival the lust worthy industrial design of devices like iPhone 4 or Motorola Droid.
Meanwhile, as the hardware fails to draw consumers in droves away from the sexy gadgets available from Apple and various Google partners, Microsoft faces a chicken and egg problem. They need stronger adoption to motivate developers to strongly back WP7, but they need more apps to gain adoption. Partners like Telerik are helping with programs designed to spur early WP7 app development, but more fuel is need to turn these sparks in to a roaring marketplace and platform.
WHAT IS NOKIA'S PROBLEM
In two words: software and focus.
Everyone understands Nokia's software problem. After dominating dumbphones for years, Nokia failed to transition to modern smart phones fast enough to remain relevant. They have proven unable to move fast enough independently to solve their software woes without assistance.
As they struggle with software, that has led to some stumbling hardware designs. Saddled with an OS unable to support modern smart phone concepts, Nokia engineers have been producing phones that fail to impress.
WHAT MICROSFT AND NOKIA DO WELL
Despite their problems in today's smart phone market, Microsoft and Nokia are two industry veterans very familiar with the mobile market and loaded with "weapons" for a renewed mobile battle. Among their biggest strengths:
- The huge .NET developer audience that already has the skills to build WP7 apps (they just need more incentive)
- Industry leading development and debugging tools (just compare the process of registering a WP7 dev device to Apple's iPhone dev device registration process for a good case-in-point)
- A mature partner network and developer ecosystem, with vendors like Telerik already gearing-up to provide tools unmatched by competing platforms
- A critical understanding that the future of Microsoft depends heavily on the success of WP7
- Lots of cash
- Unmatched hardware distribution channels. Nokia shipped more than 111 million devices in 2010, compared to Apple's 47 million and Android's 67 million.
- Highly tuned supply chain (you don't ship 111 million devices without one)
- One of the most valuable consumer brands in the world (Microsoft brings this, too)
- With the ousting of internal software efforts, a critical understanding that they must build great hardware or die
MICROKIA: THE PERFECT MARRIAGE
Nokia and Microsoft may be operating from positions of weakness today, but they are the perfect example of two companies that are stronger together than independent.
With Nokia providing near exclusive focus on producing killer hardware, and Microsoft re-focused on improving upon its innovative mobile platform, "Microkia" (as the Microsoft + Nokia partnership has been dubbed) is positioned to start shipping devices by the end of 2011 that firmly leap-frog Android and maybe even iOS, which is starting innovate more slowly under the weight of its huge adoption. If Microsoft and Nokia combined can't make Windows Phone succeed, it never will.
THE MISSING CONVERSATION: TABLETS
Everyone (self included) has accused Microsoft of missing another cycle by failing to have a good answer for the iPad early this year. Nokia may be the godsend Microsoft needs to recover.
If Nokia is no longer investing significant energy in software, it has "nothing" to do other than focus on designing and building great hardware. Imagine a sexy Nokia tablet concept running Windows Phone 8 (the naming of the tablet OS gets a bit tricky…can't go back to Windows Mobile or Windows OS) by late 2011. If, and this is the big IF, Nokia and Microsoft can execute on these opportunities together, they can re-spark the excitement both companies so desperately need.
SURPRISE! THE ANALYSTS ARE WRONG
Many analysts and pundits seem to think Microsoft and Nokia are "screwed" because Android and iOS have sizable leads in the modern mobile world. Really? How much of a "lead" did RIM and Microsoft have when Apple hit the scene in 2007? Remember the headlines? How about:
- (Reuters) RIM co-CEO doesn't see threat from Apple's iPhone (which includes "expert analysts" scoffing at Apple's ability to charge premium prices for a phone)
- (Bloomberg) Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move
In those articles, we find quotes from the same pundits and analysts dooming Nokia and Microsoft, like this choice insight from Forrester:
"The iPhone will not substantially alter the fundamental structure and challenges of the mobile industry."
Among the pundits arguments against Apple at the time? You got it. Apple is "too late" to the game. Sound familiar? That's one of the primary assaults launched against Nokia and Microsoft for not having the apps and hardware they need to compete on the market today.
Give it time. Give it 2011. Microsoft and Nokia are more focused than they have ever been on making Windows Phone succeed. The future of both companies depends on it, and they have the resources, focus, and ammunition to go to battle and win.
(SIDE NOTE: Remember Xbox? Another great example of Microsoft making a come-from-behind play for a market and toppling two well entrenched industry giants. Ironically, Xbox may now play a critical role in helping Windows Phone achieve similar success.)
WINDOWS PHONE IS GOLD
What should you, the developer, take from this lengthy analysis? If you're sitting on the sidelines with Windows Phone, rethink your position. Now is the time to get in ahead of the coming rush of excitement Nokia and Microsoft will create later this year. There will soon be an explosion of apps for Windows Phone and a wave of consumers to buy them; the next major mobile gold rush.
Telerik is clearly committed to helping you seize the opportunities of this gold rush by providing highly optimized tools for Windows Phone apps, so get started today. Or don't. Just don't be surprised when Nokia is shipping 60+ million Windows Phone devices and your app is missing.