A long time ago, when people bought mobile phones to make phone calls and Apps were still a twinkle in Steve Jobs eye, I had a rather clunky Samsung clam-shell with a green and black screen. I was quite pleased with it. Until that is, I saw a Nokia.

Still a good phone. The Nokia 6230

Nokia phones were everywhere. They were almost a fashion accessory. And they excelled at nearly everything they did. Their predictive text was the best on the market, they had hot swappable covers, a vast range of models, long battery lives and, most importantly for me, they had an excellent user interface. They were simply much better and much more intuitive than anything else around at the time.

Jump forward to 2011. I don’t own a Nokia anymore. Like many many others, I own an iPhone…and the reasons are largely the same as before. Apple were the first to market with something that was simply better than everything else out there. The UI was super slick, the handset design was uber pretty and, call me a sheep if you will, but everyone else seemed to have one already. Tech-lust won out and having been sucked into the Apple machine I haven’t looked back, forward or anywhere else…until maybe now.

The Windows Phone Platform

Microsoft released its new Windows Phone platform late last year into an already established marketplace, knowing that it would be an up-hill struggle to gain market share. Since then it has been met with mixed reviews. Having spent considerable time using and developing for the Windows Phone 7 platform alongside both iPhone and Android, I have to say I believe that it has huge potential. There is a fairly heated debate out in the blogosphere as to whether it will flounder or flourish with zealots on both sides of the fence.

I want to take a step back and look at what it has going for it and what is causing its apparent lukewarm reception.

What might make the platform a success

  • First and foremost, having personally used iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, I think that Microsoft have done something truly bold and new. The Metro UI on Windows Phone is a breath of fresh air. It feels modern and slick. When I go back to my iPhone I am left feeling like I’m using something that’s a bit out-dated; no longer the game changer that it was a few years ago.
  • Developers, Developers, Developers. In terms of smartphones and the realm of the app, developers are the new king makers. There are a wealth of Microsoft developers out there whose skills are matched to the languages and tools Microsoft provide for its fledgling smartphone platform. Again, having developed for all three platforms I can honestly say that it is a pleasure to develop for. It is one of the most productive development environments out there, even if the SDK has a little way to go before it catches up with the features offered by the competition.
  • Shear determination and force of will. The whole windows phone debacle is surprisingly similar to Microsofts attempt to enter the games console market some years ago. The original Xbox got off to a shaky start but just look where it is today. Make no mistake. Microsoft wants this platform to succeed and they will chuck one hell of a lot of money at it in order for it to do so.
  • Time. Its frustrating to hear all the comparisons with the other platforms: Number of apps, Number of sales, Number of updates etc etc. The platform is under a year old! Its not competing in the same marketplace that Android and iOS grew up in. When you stop comparing the cold hard numbers and look at the current smartphone climate, its actually doing pretty well. Its attracted a lot of developer attention and has sold a decent number of devices. It may not be a raving success just yet but it is definitely not a flop.

What is hindering its success?

  • If you live in the UK you are probably in the minority if you even know what the new Windows Phone OS looks like. Microsoft have concentrated their marketing efforts heavily on their home soil. Go into a mobile phone shop in the UK, or look online, and you will have to do some serious hunting to find a phone running Microsoft’s new OS.
  • It is frustrating to be a non-American developer too. You have to jump through several tax hoops just to get paid and even then you can’t bank on any revenue from Ad’s…unless you have a registered address, stateside. Admittedly these issues will be resolved shortly, but its not helping things off to a great start.
  • There are only a handful of handsets out there at the moment and, while there are probably just about enough to choose from, there aren’t enough to penetrate the already crowded choice of android phones.
  • It’s still a v1.0 product. As such, it doesn’t have the same feature set and/or capability as the competition and It doesn’t excel in either the consumer or business markets. It may well do in six to twelve months. But it simply doesn’t cut it. Yet.

What the think tanks say

IDC, Pyramid Research and Gartner have all predicted that Windows Phone will grow to take considerable market share by 2016, even putting it ahead of Apple and iOS. Can this be true?

Well, I remain to be convinced. But it does seem that the people who make the predictions are betting on the platform to succeed. None of the sooth sayers have predicted the demise of Microsoft in the smartphone market – which in itself is remarkable, seeing as Microsoft had a terrible fortune prior to the launch of its Windows Phone 7 platform.

And it would seem that this dramatic turn around is due, in the main, to a recent deal between Microsoft and…who was it again? Oh yes. Our old friend. Nokia.

Microkia

The once awesome Nokia, who’s name was synonymous with mobile, has been struggling in recent years. Once the master of both the consumer and business markets it seemed to somehow take its eye off the ball in the smartphone revolution, losing out to Blackberry, iPhone and Android.

But a recent deal is set to change all that. Microsoft, with its new mobile operating system and Nokia, with its vast R&D budget, global market presence and years of experience in the mobile phone arena. The game, for both companies, is back on.

So. Why might this work? Why are companies predicting success? Well, I think what we have here is a very interesting relationship and one that could drive development for both companies. Lets see what we’ve got.

  • Nokia make phones and sell them all over the world. They make a diverse range of handsets for a diverse range or markets. Windows phone is currently only available in a handful of countries and there are even less handsets. I believe Nokia is the kind of partner Microsoft need to drive their product into the global market. Nokia will demand it, and Microsoft will have a reason to pursue it.
  • There is already talk about the integration of Nokia’s mapping solution into the platform. Free satnav, enjoyed by those on Android, may be coming to a Windows Phone 7 sometime next year.
  • Someday soon, every phone will be a smartphone. I hope that Nokia can do their magic and create some really compelling, affordable phones for both business and the consumer. Can Microkia phones be the consumer smartphone for the mass market?

Nokia/Windows Phone 7 Concept Handsets

  • The Windows Phone OS sparkles. It fits the Nokia brand like a glove. For me, it once again gives Nokia a stand out UI that really could be the best out there.
  • Nokia’s symbian platform is focused at the enterprise; it meets the needs of business. Windows Phone 7 needs to mature in its support for enterprise and again, the Nokia partnership gives this a renewed urgency. It brings focus to the platforms evolution and development.

Conclusion

The Microsoft/Nokia deal is big news. The pundits are predicting that it will be a game changer. Whether or not they are right, only time will tell. But I for one think that the potential is exciting. Will I own another Nokia in the next few years? If Windows Phone continues to mature and the competition stick to their outdated UI’s then who knows? Given the right handset at the right price…