Tag Archives: windows phone

Microsoft acquires Nokia’s device business: a risky move for Windows Phone

Microsoft is to acquire Nokia’s device business:

Microsoft Corporation and Nokia Corporation today announced that the Boards of Directors for both companies have decided to enter into a transaction whereby Microsoft will purchase substantially all of Nokia’s Devices & Services business, license Nokia’s patents, and license and use Nokia’s mapping services.

Nokia’s Stephen Elop is no longer CEO:

Stephen Elop, who following today’s announcement is stepping aside as Nokia President and CEO to become Nokia Executive Vice President of Devices & Services

The plan is that Elop, together with other executives from his team, will move to Microsoft. This is a circle completed for Elop, who was formerly in charge of Microsoft Office.

Nokia is retaining its patent portfolio, but licensing its patents to Microsoft for a 10 year term. 

Microsoft is acquiring approximately half of Nokia’s business overall, but all of its phones including the low end Asha range.

What are the implications for Windows Phone? One the face of it, the deal makes some sense. Nokia was the only Windows Phone OEM making real efforts to support and establish the platform, and has a large market share within the Windows Phone market. Although Windows Phone is struggling versus the iOS and Android giants, to Nokia’s credit it has established itself as a firm number three, ahead of Blackberry, and done some impressive work especially with the camera element.

Nokia has also managed to push out low-end but still capable Windows Phones at keen prices, and it is this more than anything else that has won it increasing market share. Recently, Kantar published a report showing solid gains for the platform:

Windows Phone, driven largely by lower priced Nokia smartphones such as the Lumia 520, now represents around one in 10 smartphone sales in Britain, France, Germany and Mexico. For the first time the platform has claimed the number two spot in a major world market, taking 11.6% of sales in Mexico.

What will be the effect of the acquisition on the Windows Phone platform and ecosystem? On the plus side, it gives Elop’s team access to more funds and removes any uncertainty surrounding Nokia’s future. If Microsoft keeps the proven team and its design and manufacturing expertise together, this could work.

There are obvious risks though. Without Nokia, Microsoft did a poor job of marketing Windows Phone, and while some of that is down to half-hearted hardware partners, Microsoft was also to blame for poor execution. Now that Nokia is Microsoft, there is a danger that its effectiveness will slip back.

Another question is how this will impact the other Windows Phone vendors, such at HTC and Samsung. Nokia already seemed to be a favoured partner, so perhaps little will change, but it seems unlikely that this will energise the other partners and it may have the opposite effect. The Windows OEMs hate Microsoft’s efforts with Surface (even though it was their own failings that forced Microsoft into the venture) and the phone vendors may well feel the same about Micro-Nok.

There is now no non-Microsoft smartphone vendor for whom Windows Phone is anything but a small sideshow. That could change, but it is not a sign of health.

Whether Nokia was right to embrace Windows Phone rather than Android is an open question; and perhaps it should not have abandoned its Meego (Linux) efforts, but given that it did both, it seems to me that Elop has performed well and was successfully growing the platform, albeit from a small base. Will he be allowed to continue that work at Microsoft, as well as gaining greater control over the software side of Windows Phone whose slow pace of development, it is rumoured, was a source of frustration to Nokia?

Alternatively, history tells that Microsoft can suffocate its acquisitions (remember Danger?).

Personally I like Windows Phone. When I looked at a Samsung Android recently, I was struck by how disorganised and confusing an Android smartphone can be, though impressed by its capability. Windows Phone is decent and I hope it carves out a reasonable market share.

The risks, though, are obvious.

Not just Instagram: the Windows Phone (and BlackBerry, Firefox OS) app problem

I like the Windows Phone OS and use one day to day. However it has become impossible to do my job in technical journalism without either an Apple iOS or Android device alongside it. The reason is that I review gadgets and find increasingly that they come with app support – but only for iOS or Android.

The Fitbit exercise tracking gadget, for example.


Or the Corsair Voyager Air wireless hard drive, almost inaccessible from Windows Phone (you can do it with a firmware update and DLNA).



Or the Seagate Wireless Plus. Actually this one is better as it has a web UI, but no app.


My bank is Nationwide and has an app – uh oh.


It’s not just Instagram.


Where do Microsoft and Nokia go from here? Or other contenders like BlackBerry and Firefox OS? The answer of course is to sell lots of devices so that discontented users beat up the companies that do not support them. But selling lots of devices is difficult when the customer says, “it’s a nice phone, but it does not work with my portable hard drive. Or my bank. Or my Fitbit.”

The Mac survived versus the PC for many years with this kind of problem. It takes a loyal customer base and excellent 1st party and niche apps. There are still areas of strength which Microsoft and its phone partners could exploit (though they have been poor at this to date). Enterprise integration with Windows Server and System Center. Consumer integration with Xbox.

If the company can get it right with Windows tablets that would help too, especially combined with unification of the Windows 8 and Windows Phone app platforms.

Unfortunately for Microsoft though, the market has already decided that only two mobile platforms matter, and that will not be easy to change.

Nokia 925: smart camera and metal band design continues Windows Phone 8 and Lumia effort

Nokia has announced the Lumia 925, a high-end Windows Phone which will go on sale in Europe in June from Vodafone and others. The price is around €469 + VAT, presumably without a contract. Vodafone customers will be offered an “exclusive 32GB version” according to the press release.


So what’s special about the 925? It sports a 4.5″ AMOLED 1280 x 768 display, which is decent, along with 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. Battery life is a claimed 440 hrs standby and 12.8 hrs talk time. No SD card slot, presumably for the same reason as for the 920: it would have “defiled it” according to Nokia VP Kevin Shields.

A big attraction is the camera, or rather cameras, including the main 8.7 MP PureView which also offers 1080p 30fps HD video, and the front-facing 1.2MP wide angle camera. The magic is said to be both in the lens and the software, especially the Smart Camera update (coming shortly after the launch) which enables the camera to take ten images in one shot, giving the user options for which one to keep (sounds similar to Microsoft’s Blink app which is already available for Windows Phone).

There is also Nokia’s HERE mapping suite which the company says offers “the world’s only fully integrated and true offline maps experience.”

Another Lumia innovation is the metal frame which is for “antenna functionality, appeal and robustness”. Presumably Nokia has ensured that it does not kill the signal when touched in the wrong place, as happened with the metal band for Apple’s iPhone 4.

Seemingly every mention of a Nokia phone has to ask the big questions. Can Windows Phone succeed against iPhone and Android? Can Nokia survive?

Whatever is the answer to those questions, this phone is unlikely to change it.

I will say that after a shaky start with the 800 (nice phone, terrible battery life and unfortunate bugs) the Lumia range has evolved into something excellent, that spans from good budget smartphones like the 620 to devices like the 820 and 920 which are a pleasure to use.

Microsoft’s growth areas: Azure, Server with Hyper-V, Office 365, Windows Phone

Microsoft has left slip a few figures in posts from PR VP Frank Shaw and platform evangelist Steve Guggenheimer.

Observers have tended to focus on Windows “Blue” and what is happening with Microsoft’s core client operating system, but what caught my eye was a few figures on progress in other areas.

  • Windows Azure compute usage doubled in six months
  • Windows Azure revenue growing 3X
  • Office 365 paid seats tripled year on year last quarter
  • Server 2012 Datacenter edition licenses grown 80%

A notable feature of these figures is that they are relative, not absolute. Office 365 is a relatively new product, and Windows Azure (from what I can tell, since Microsoft did not release numbers) performed rather badly until its renaissance in early 2011 under Satya Nadella, Scott Guthrie and others – see here for more about this). It is easy to post big multiples if you are starting from a small base.

This is real progress though and my guess is that growth will continue to be strong. I base this not on Microsoft’s PR statements, but on my opinion of Office 365 and Windows Azure, both of which make a lot of sense for Microsoft-platforms organisations migrating to the cloud.

Why the growth in Server 2012 Datacenter? This one is easy. Datacenter comes with unlimited licenses for Windows Server running in Hyper-V virtual machines on that server, so it is the best value if you want to the freedom to run a lot of VMs, especially if some of those VMs are lightly used and you can afford to overcommit the processors (you need a new license for every two physical processors you install).

Here’s another figure that Shaw puts out:

Windows Phone has reached 10 percent market share in a number of countries, and according to IDC’s latest report, has shipped more than Blackberry in 26 markets and more than iPhone in seven.

Spin, of course. This February report from IDC gives Windows Phone just a 2.6% market share in the 4th quarter of 2012. Still, it did grow by 150% year on year, thanks no doubt to Nokia’s entry into the market.

My personal view is that Windows Phone will also continue to grow. I base this on several things:

  • I see more Windows Phones on the high street and in people’s hands, than was the case a year ago.
  • Windows Phone 8 is decent and the user interface is more logical and coherent than Android, which mitigates a lack of apps.
  • Nokia is bringing down the price for Windows Phone devices so they compare well with Android in the mid-market below Apple and the premium Android devices.
  • There is some momentum in Windows Phone apps, more so than for Windows 8. Guggenheimer notes that downloads from the Phone Store now exceed 1 billion.

The context of the above is not so good for Microsoft. It is coming from behind in both cloud and mobile and the interesting question would what kind of market share it is likely to have in a few years time: bigger than today, perhaps, but still small relative to Amazon in cloud and Apple and Android in mobile.

There is also the Windows 8 problem. Many prefer Windows 7, and those who use Windows 8, use it like Windows 7, mostly ignoring the tablet features and new Windows Runtime personality.

How will Microsoft fix that? Along with leaked builds of Windows Blue, Microsoft has announced the next Build conference, which will be in San Francisco June 26-28, 2013 (I am glad this will not be on the Microsoft campus again, since this venue has not worked well). There is a lot to do.


Windows Phone 8 enterprise security versus Blackberry 10 Balance and Samsung Knox

How good is Windows Phone 8 security? Actually, pretty good. The key features are described here [pdf]:

  • Trusted Boot prevents booting to an alternative operating system, using the UEFI secure boot standard.
  • Only signed operating system components and apps can run.
  • App sandboxing:

    No communication channels exist between apps on the phone other than through the cloud. Apps are isolated from each other and cannot access memory used or data stored by other applications, including the keyboard cache.

  • Private internal app distribution by businesses who register with Microsoft
  • Password policies set through Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)
  • Built-in device management client
  • Bitlocker encryption when set by EAS RequireDeviceEncryption policy. AES 128 encryption linked to UEFI Trusted Boot.
  • SD card data is not encrypted, but the OS only allows media files to be stored on SD cards.
  • Information Rights Management can prevent documents being edited, printed, or text copied (other than tricks like photographing the screen).
  • Remote Wipe

The security features in Windows Phone 8 are largely based on those in full Windows, since the core operating system is the same. However, devices are more secure since they are not afflicted by the legacy which makes desktop Windows hard to lock down without damaging usability.

While the above sounds good, note that in most cases a simple PIN will get you access to everything. On the other hand, unless the PIN is seen it is not all that insecure, since you can set policies that lock or wipe the phone after a few wrong attempts.

Does Microsoft therefore have a good story versus Blackberry 10 Balance and Samsung Knox, both of which feature secure containers that isolate business apps and data from personal? The approach is different. In Windows Phone the focus is on the whole device, whereas the other two have the concept of segmentation, letting users do what they like (including installation of games and so on) in one segment, while the business gets to control the other.

Windows Phone does in fact have a somewhat similar feature aimed at children. Kids Corner lets you create a "fun" segment containing specified apps and games, sandboxed from the main operating system. While this is currently designed for children borrowing your phone, you can see how it could be adapted to create a personal/business split if Microsoft chose to do so.

For the time being though, you might worry about the potential for users to install a malicious app or game that manages to exploit a bug in Windows Phone and compromise security.

Even if the business can lock down the device so that users cannot install apps, this impairs the user experience to the extent that most users will want another phone for personal use. The attraction of the Blackberry and Samsung approach is the way it combines user freedom with business security.

Is Microsoft doing a good job of articulating the enterprise features of Windows Phone 8? That is a hard question to answer; but my observation is that Nokia, the main Windows Phone vendor, seems to focus more on consumer features like the camera and music, or general features like maps and turn by turn navigation. Enterprise features are hardly mentioned on the Nokia stand here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, while Microsoft does not have a stand at all. On the other hand, you would think that the company’s strong partner ecosystem would be effective in communicating the presence of these features to enterprises.

Cross-platform frameworks ordered by percentage of shared code

Following my piece on different approaches to building the user interface in cross-platform frameworks, twitter user Sam Hogarth pointed me to the PropertyCross project. This implements a non-trivial application in 8 different cross-platform tools, covering Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Note that only four of the frameworks support Windows Phone.

Using the pie charts presented for each framework, I was able to order them by percentage of shared code as follows:

1= Adobe AIR (100%), JQTouch (100%) , RhoMobile (100%), Sencha Touch (100%)

5. Appcelerator Titanium (around 90%)

6. JQuery Mobile (around 80%)

7. Xamarin (around 40%)

8. Native (0%)

A couple of notes. Of the 100% frameworks, three do not support Windows Phone, and the one which does (Rhomobile) seems to be a bit broken on Windows Phone, judging by the screenshots. The Property Details and Favourites pages do not render properly.

You would get more code sharing with Xamarin if you only supported two rather than three platforms. That is logical: since it does not abstract the GUI.

In most cases (not Rhomobile) it is striking how different Windows Phone appears versus iOS and Android, even with jQuery Mobile which uses HTML5.


Windows Phone 7.8 Live Tiles are buggy, say users

When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8, one disappointment was that existing phones would not be upgraded to the new mobile operating system. In mitigation, Microsoft promised Windows Phone 7.8 instead, an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.5 that implements the most visible feature of WP8, a new Start screen with more flexible live tiles that can be sized small and other new features.

Some users are now receiving 7.8 upgrades, but the news is not all good. According to reports on the Windows Phone Central forum, many users find that the Live Tiles are not refreshing correctly after the upgrade.


The idea of Live Tiles is that they refresh in the background with the latest data, such as news alerts or incoming emails.

Developers Heathcliff writes in detail about the problem. He describes three methods to update a Live Tile. The basic ShellTile.Update method works OK, he says. However, if you use an external URL to update a tile, using ShellTileSchedule.Start, it “behaves erratically” and may trigger a problem that drains your battery and makes excessive use of your data connection. Finally, HttpNotificationChannel.BindToShellTile, which uses Microsoft’s notification servers, does not seem to work at all.

On WP 7.5 this method just works as expected. I actually hope I did something wrong here. Or else I don’t understand how this could ever get past the Microsoft Quality Assurance department.

he says.

Finally, users also complain of slower performance after the update, which makes starting apps more laggy.

If Microsoft has put more effort into its new Windows Phone 8 operating system than into an update for existing user, that is understandable, but short-sighted. Those existing users are the best possible evangelists for the platform as well as potential repeat customers; and Windows Phone with its tiny 2.6 per cent global market share, according to IDC, needs all the help it can get.

That said, with decent new WP8 phones like the Nokia 620 available cheaply (O2 in the UK offered this for £120 pay as you go earlier this week), existing Windows Phone 7 users who want to stay up to date are better off buying a new device.

A good quarter for Nokia, but Lumia still has far to go

Some good news from Nokia at last. The company reports sales ahead of expectations along with “underlying profitability” in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Success for Windows Phone? It is a positive sign, but short of a breakthrough. Here are the details. I am showing three quarters for comparison: fourth quarter 2011, third quarter 2012, and fourth quarter 2012.

  Q4 2011 Q3 2012 Q4 2012
Mobile phone units, millions 113.5 77 79.6
Smartphone units, millions (Lumia in brackets) 19.6 (?) 6.3 (2.9) 6.6 (4.4)

Looking in more detail at the Smartphone units, the Q4 2011 smartphones were mostly Symbian. Lumia (Windows Phone) was launched in October 2011 but with only two models and limited territories (it also sold short of expectations, and rumour has it, with a high rate of returns).

Lumia units increased by 51% over Q3, but considering that Q3 was a bad quarter as customers waited for Windows Phone 8 that is a decent but not stunning improvement. Lumia units exceeded Symbian units, but remain far short of what Nokia used to achieve with Symbian.

There is also a warning about Q1 2013:

Seasonality and competitive environment are expected to have a negative impact on the first quarter 2013 underlying profitability for Devices & Services, compared to the fourth quarter 2012.

That said, here is what Nokia said in the Q3 release:

Nokia expects the fourth quarter 2012 to be a challenging quarter in Smart Devices, with a lower-than-normal benefit from seasonality in volumes, primarily due to product transitions and our ramp up plan for our new devices.

It looks as if the company prefers to be cautious in its financial statements.


The Windows 8 app platform: how is it going? A few clues from developers

One way of looking at Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy is as an attempt to establish a new tablet platform. By welding the tablet platform to the desktop platform, Microsoft ensured that every customer who wanted the latest Windows release would also get the tablet release, though some are stuck with keyboard and mouse to control it. The downside is that some users who would have upgraded to Windows 8 if it had been less radical will stick with Windows 7. Microsoft is betting that despite the controversy, the hybrid operating system is a better bet for the difficult task of creating a new ecosystem than building a completely new tablet operating system that few would have purchased.

So how is the new platform doing? I asked on Twitter for developers with apps on both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 to let me know how the rate of sales or downloads compare.

One was the maker of Cineworld, a cinema listing app for the UK and Ireland. He reported:

my cineworld app has about 1.8K downloads a month on WP.. on #win its a few hundred

The other was an app for fans of Manchester United football club called 1st4Fans:

Windows 8 is 70/day. Windows Phone is 130/day

Another was the maker of Barcode Generator:

Barcode Generator stats say 32K download since Aug and several hundreds dwn/day. Looks pretty good, isn’t it?

The author of TweeterLight says that he has “more downloads of W8 app in 1 month than WP7 app in 1 year”, showing that not everyone is finding the phone platform bigger than the tablet platform, though a key factor is that there is an official Twitter client for the phone but not for new-style Windows 8:


TweeterLight is also a paid-for app, which means fewer downloads and perhaps avoidance of the Twitter throttling that has afflicted the free clients.

Others are reporting a boom in Windows Phone downloads, like Lestyn Jones who says:

I’m finding that my #win8 app downloads are slowly growing where as my #wp8 have skyrocketed.

Put that together with the Cineworld stats – 1.8K per month for an app that is only relevant in the UK and Ireland. It does look as if Windows Phone has been considerably reinvigorated by the launch of Windows Phone 8.

Returning to Windows 8 though, my initial reaction was that these responses are not an impressive start for Microsoft’s new platform, considering the wide usage of Windows on the desktop.

My further reflection though is this. I find myself more willing to try out new-style apps on Windows 8 than desktop apps either on Windows 8 or previous versions, thanks to the ease of installation and removal, discovery through the store, and the additional security of the app sandbox. An interesting question to ask then: if Microsoft had not created this new app platform, how many of these niche apps would have been downloaded as desktop applications?

Despite its imperfections and mixed reception, at least Windows 8 now has an app platform.

This is a small sample and other reports would be welcome.

Nokia forms 71% of Windows Phone market according to AdDuplex research

These figures from AdDuplex, which runs an ad network for Windows Phone, surprised me. The company studies its stats for a random day in November, the 30th, and reports that 71% of the Windows Phone devices contacting its servers were from Nokia. The Lumia 710 leads with 24%, followed by Lumia 800 at 18%, and the Lumia 900 at 7%.


The obvious conclusion is that Nokia dominates the Windows Phone market. Bad news for HTC, which seems to be making a real effort with its 8X release (the 20th most popular device according to the stats).

Dominating the market may sound good for Nokia, but unfortunately the entire market is relatively small. The risk for the platform is that it becomes in effect a Nokia-only OS with all the other OEMs focused on Android.