A few years ago few consumers cared about mobile operating systems. And quite rightly, as long as the phone did what you needed then who cared what the OS was? Then along came the iPhone, doing what Apple does best: great product design, fantastic interface and an appstore where you could download great games and apps. With Apple’s game changer came the mobile OS wars. The biggest looser was Nokia. To be fair, they’d already started to loose the plot before the iPhone came along, but post-Apple, the world’s largest handset manufacturer turned out a number poorly though-out phones that were way off the mark. In the meantime, BlackBerry were doing very nicely (thanks in part to the teenage adoption of BBM) and Android was appearing on some really great phones.
In fact, Nokia do some great product design. My personal favourite was the 1100. The biggest selling information technology device ever. They even dominate the smartphone market in terms of sales. Where they have failed is OS. Symbian was a great OS for feature phones. Many people, myself included would only by Nokias as Symbian offered the best usability out there. However, iOS and Android showed how it really should be done.
To be fair, Nokia tried to address the OS problem, implementing new versions of Symbian and starting the MeeGo project with Intel. However, mobile is a rapidly changing consumer environment and the time taken to develop MeeGo would be too long. So in terms of a business relationship the partnership with Microsoft makes sense. The latest version of Windows on mobile is good. But it’s not great, in the way that iOS and Android are. Predictions were that Windows Mobile would not take off. So for Microsoft to partner with the world’s biggest handset manufacturer makes complete sense for them – in fact it may be the only way their mobile offering will survive long-term.
However, it will be a hard task to beat the likes of Apple and Google in the OS wars. Windows Mobile would have to be utterly brilliant to do that, and it isn’t. I believe there is one massive opportunity that this partnership offers: the combination of Xbox Kinect and Nokia Imaging. It could put Microsoft/Nokia the very heart of mobile gaming.