Nokia adopts Windows Phone 7: game on

Nokia and Microsoft have announced a strategic partnership in which Nokia is to adopt Windows Phone as its “principal smartphone strategy”.

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There is a smidgen of uncertainty. The release says “Nokia and Microsoft intend…” Still, I think we should assume it will go ahead.

The key elements of the agreement:

  • Nokia adopts Windows Phone for most of its smartphones. The word “principal” leaves space for others.
  • Nokia will contribute hardware design, language support, and “help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points”.
  • Nokia will adopt Bing search and use Microsoft adCenter.
  • Nokia Maps will be integrated with Microsoft’s mapping services.
  • Nokia’s app store will be integrated with Microsoft Marketplace.

A few observations.

  • First, this is what Windows Phone 7 needs. It is a decent mobile OS with potential for excellence, but needs better than the luke-warm support it has received so far from Microsoft’s hardware partners. I have thought in the past that Microsoft needs to make its own hardware, but this deal is better.
  • It also plays to Nokia’s strength in mobile hardware design. Recent high-end Nokia devices have had excellent hardware engineering spoilt by poor software.
  • Windows Phone 7 already has strong development tools; I have seen comments from developers that the same app takes less time to develop than on Apple’s iOS or Google Android. What it has lacked is a true mass market; this deal has the potential to change that. Windows Phone 7 is invisible in my local town centre, despite the presence of three specialist mobile phone retailers. That has to change for Microsoft’s OS to succeed.

Sounds good, but there are also reasons why this might not work out well.

  • Currently Apple iOS and Google Android are the Smartphone operating systems to beat. There is no guarantee that Nokia’s change of direction will move the market. After all, if Nokia’s current Smartphones underperform, its new Windows devices may underperform too.
  • A major change of direction is costly in both time and skills. Can Nokia deliver excellent Windows phones in time to claw back market share? In its press release, Nokia says:
    Nokia expects 2011 and 2012 to be transition years, as the company invests to build the planned winning ecosystem with Microsoft.

  • There is no tablet form factor for Windows Phone 7, and Microsoft seems resistant to the idea. Apple and Android exploit the potential of tablets and give app developers the benefit of two similar platforms for both small and medium size mobile devices.
  • Historically, Microsoft has proved a difficult partner. The tie-up with Palm for Windows Mobile a few years back did not save Palm. In mitigation, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is ex-Microsoft, and if anyone knows how to make this work, he will do.
  • Nokia will have a tough job convincing its own people of the value of this deal – by which I mean employees as well as third-party developers and partners. It is discarding a huge amount of previous investment. This could be mitigated if Nokia is able to support Qt, its primary development platform, on Windows Phone 7; but I have not seen any hint of that yet. In my view Windows Phone 7 needs a native code development option, and Nokia should press to allow it.

Nevertheless, the battle for mobile has just become more interesting. This is a huge boost to Microsoft’s phone and many in the industry will now be taking it seriously for the first time.

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Related posts:

  1. Nokia plus Windows Phone 7 – would that be a smart move?
  2. Qt will not be ported to Windows Phone 7 says Nokia
  3. Will Nokia’s Qt come to Windows Phone?
  4. Nokia results: hope for Windows Phone?
  5. Nokia at Mobile World Congress: one year after the Windows Phone shift, how is it doing?

14 comments to Nokia adopts Windows Phone 7: game on

  • Hey Tim,

    On “In my view Windows Phone 7 needs a native code development option”.

    What do you think is lacking that could not be exposed by extending the managed API and opening up more features to developers through the supported SDK and Framework on WP7?

    Thanks,

    Phil.

  • The App store is perhaps the biggest coup, as big as the Playbook getting Android apps. The ability for the WP7 app store to get the thousands of apps already available for the Ovi app store is major, as is the possibility of allowing a second development platform to produce apps, so those familiar with one won’t have to throw out all of their work to move to the WP7 platform. There’s going to be a lot of duplicate apps that shouldn’t count towards the total, but I think that this could be a major jump for the WP7 store. It’s not going to be in Android, let alone iPhone, numbers for a while…but it’s going to reach significant numbers faster than either of those two platforms did.

    I think Microsoft made out on this deal a heck of a lot more than Nokia, but I think it’ll do them both well.

  • tim

    @Phil performance, efficiency, and the ability to develop in C/C++.

    Tim

  • I miss Nokia already. They were flailing in the North Atlantic, but managed to grab the anvil rather than the life preserver. Sorry, boys, that’s just tragic.

  • How much do you want to bet that Qt becomes the new dev platform for WinPhone7? Silverblight is a dog that won’t hunt. But sadly, not even the beauty of Qt will save them – it’s WAY too late for that.

  • @Dave

    Silverlight is actually a fairly smart strategy if Microsoft can actually pull their heads out of their butts and put together some cohesive ideas.

    Their announcement of Windows on ARM seemed flat, but think about it like this: the Atrix is going to do the whole phone/laptop thing, but many users might not like using the environment the Atrix has for their phone. If you had a phone/tablet that had a good touch-based UI (and I do think that WP7 is such a UI), but when docked could become a Windows 7 device? Well that’s a pretty big win, because by and large people want what they know, and they know Windows. It might not be a full version of Windows, but it could be very good for users.

    Silverlight as browser plugin- it’s going to die. Silverlight as an application framework that could allow developers to make a single application workable on a WP7/Windows 7 device with minimal effort? That’s a solid plan, and it also gives WP7 another “look at what we have” sort of point. If developers can get an ARM-friendly copy of Windows on their devices, provided they make them with WP7 as the OS when it’s not docked, they could score some pretty big points to entice hardware manufacturers to get on board.

  • Hey Tim,

    Thanks for the reply.

    Where do you see WP7 lacking in performance?

    With Silverlight applications it’s all about how you write your UI (as with any UI Framework), you can write fast or slow UI.

    There’s a whole wealth of information out there on how to get the best out of Silverlight on WP7 devices:

    http://channel9.msdn.com/Shows/SilverlightTV/Silverlight-TV-57-Performance-Tuning-Your-Apps
    http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff967560(v=vs.92).aspx
    http://silverlightfeeds.com/post/1835/Windows_Phone_7__Silverlight_Performance.aspx
    http://code.msdn.microsoft.com/WP7Performance

    I’m certain with each release of the Operating System we’ll see improvements to speed of all the underlying systems and controls that developers can use out of the box, in addition to third party control vendors are already ramping up the performance of their control suites with each and every release.

    There’s even the Rx Framework to make UI updates even slicker in WP7 Silverlight applications now.

    http://www.silverlightshow.net/news/Reactive-Extensions.aspx

    For games and heavy use graphics applications we have XNA which I don’t think anyone could argue is slow or inefficient.

    As for the ability to develop in C/C++, I assume you mention this not because of the language as a preference for style etc but rather because it’s “closer to the metal”. Obviously there’s a cost to developing in C++ be it managing your own memory (properly) or understanding the fact you might want to work at a lower level.

    Personally I don’t believe there’s anything that could not be exposed through the Managed UI that prevents the kind of performance we expect from a mobile device, so I’m still intrigued as to where you think these areas of performance could be improved bearing in mind the general limitations we as techies and consumers expect of a mobile device.

    Thanks,

    Phil.

  • Its a smart move by MS and Nokia

    Re Performance:
    As I understand it is possible for device manufacturers (and people with unlocked devices) to develop components in C++/C and use them from a WP7 application. This apps won’t make it though the marketplace verification. The question is should every developer be able to do this. Native C++/C gives you a slight performance boost, but the downside could be a more unstable OS. I can see a future where MS gives some developers this access, but there really is no advantage to most developers. If you need more performance in c# develop better, your code could probably be more efficient. If you really need C++/C, ask microsoft nicely…

  • tim

    The performance discussion is hard to nail. In my experience native code apps tend to be smaller (in memory not exe size) and faster, but it can be close. But it is not just about performance; it is also about existing skills and code. WP7 is not a complete platform while it lacks a native code dev option.

    Tim

  • Tim,

    Performance as an argument is not hard to nail, frankly it’s the easiest of all arguments developers have to nail, it just requires metrics.

    Vague waving in the air and saying the fish you caught was [--------] big isn’t enough :) the principals of performance testing are quite clear on this, you can’t make statements like that unless you have metrics to back things up.

    Smaller and faster, at runtime, okay, even without metrics I can probably go with that, with the proviso they’re written well. Now, are they as cost effective to build and maintain, what’s the development lifecycle like, what about supporting that system etc. We have abstraction for a good reason, gone are the days where magnetised needles are used to set the 1′s and 0′s on disk platters.

    Existing skills – there are 6 million plus .NET Developers out there (statistic 2004).

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/itfacts/net-developer-statistics-a-word-from-microsoft/5890

    That’s a lot of .NET Knowledge and a lot of developers. What number of developers would you say does give WP7 a competitive point and enables it to compete?

    Cheers,

    Phil.

  • John

    We’ve been ramping up Silverlight for some internal projects. Its well put together, performance is good and the tooling is very good. There is no reason these days to use a non-managed environment. The speed difference is neglible for what most people need (except for really hard core games) but the benefits of a secure and protected platform should be obvious.

    I don’t want someones buggy C++ code running on my mobile phone.

  • tim

    > Performance as an argument is not hard to nail, frankly it’s the easiest of all
    > arguments developers have to nail, it just requires metrics.

    @Phil how can we get these metrics when there is no choice in the matter?

    Not everyone wants to code in .NET; merely pointing out that there are a lot of .NET developers out there does not mean much in this context.

    In mobile apps efficiency and performance matters more than on the desktop.

    Tim

  • The competition (Android, iOS) already have unassailable leads in the market. Nothing people are discussing here seems like it’ll be ready without quite a bit of development (like a year or more), and if it depends on MS’ ARM port of Win7… then it’ll be WAY too late. Bye bye Nokia.

  • Lurkio

    @Phil Winstanley

    So, how many of Microsoft’s own WP7 applications are written in Silverlight? Given your steadfast defence of the current policy for 3rd party developers, that figure should be pretty close to 100%, right…? Especially in the context of your inference (and, by extension, Microsoft’s) that the folk out there looking to develop WP7 apps in native code are unwashed, antediluvian bit-twiddlers with too much time on their hands… :-)