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Nokia could make no other decision – But that doesn’t make WP7 right

The instinct we had in the first five seconds of hearing that Nokia had opted for Windows Phone 7 as its smart phone operating system was that it was

By PETER WHITE

Published: 17 February, 2011

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The instinct we had in the first five seconds of hearing that Nokia had opted for Windows Phone 7 as its smart phone operating system was that it was now consigned to the dustbin of history. We have revised that opinion somewhat, but not too far.

There is little thanks and not much margin for any handset maker which supplies the world with phones to talk through, which do little else. Ask Motorola, which tried to supply cheap phones to emerging economics at margins which broke its back, before it gave into Android and was recast as a hardware “mostly” handset company on the back of the rescue, enacted by Sanjay Jha. That rescue took two years, created a period of non-belief in the business, and there are still many non-believers in the future of Motorola, due mostly to the fact that it is now faced with problems differentiating itself from the likes of HTC and Samsung. Nokia is faced with a similar two years it seems, but perhaps made worse because it is the global leader in handsets.

Why is it that companies like HTC and Samsung can use operating systems like Android with impunity, do some level of UI innovation and they have no problems gaining credibility and market share, and a company like Nokia can’t pull the same trick? Why can’t Nokia use Android, WP7, MeeGo, WebOS and Symbian?

Well first off, Nokia has spent three years with its head in the sand, ignoring the touch paradigm and specifically ignoring the need to update its UI to work with capacitive screens, which need finger sized icons, instead of resistive screens that need a stylus anyway, and so can use tiny icons.

What Nokia has had is a sort of “embrace” touch without embracing it, approach. And that’s the approach of a market leader who doesn’t think it has to change. And that’s the problem right there, and don’t forget, even after the shift to WP7 the issues that beset Nokia are STILL there, and still have to be fixed. Shifting to Windows Phone 7 will not fix them in its own right, but it will allow Stephen Elop, the new Nokia CEO, the chance to bring in a completely different set of people to fix the problem, Microsoft style people, mostly Americans, who can think the Microsoft way, not that it’s a good way, but at least it’s not a Nokia way.

But by accepting WP7 Nokia has at least three or four continuing problems. The first is that it looks like it has joined the ranks of the handset companies which cannot build a software business, and which cannot build a cloud service strategy.

Ovi is a good portal in principle – it offers as much music as Apple, almost as many games, some video and lots of Apps or widgets as Nokia calls them. It’s not as successful as Apple’s strategy for a number of reasons, and these reasons have to be fixed. First off Ovi is difficult. It’s difficult for users to actually work with, because of the lack of touch, the way things are not straightforward, the way when things go wrong, it tells the user nothing. But it’s also difficult for the developer. Nokia has companies as technical and as mighty as EA Games throwing up their hands a few years back at what it took to get Nokia to accept a game onto its N-Gage platform. Partly arrogance, partly lack of experience and partly Finnish stubbornness, that it knew best.

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