February 2011
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Day February 11, 2011

In memoriam: Microsoft's previous strategic mobile partners

Microsoft’s new “strategic partnership” with Nokia is not its first. For a decade the software company has courted and consummated relationships with a variety of companies in mobile and telecom. Here are the ones I can remember:

  • LG. In February 2009 Microsoft Corp. signed a multiyear agreement for Windows Mobile to be included on devices from LG Electronics Inc. LG would use Windows Mobile as its “primary platform” for smartphones and produce about 50 models running the software.

What happened?

Two turkeys don't make an eagle, but no penguin will ever soar.

Vic Gundotra of Google tipped off the world two days in advance that on Feb 11 Android would play no part in Nokia’s strategy. To be sure, Elop said that Nokia didn’t choose Android because of “differentiation challenges and commoditization risk” (begging the question of how these challenges and risks are mitigated by licensing another openly available OS).

But I won’t weigh the merits of one module vs. another. Rather, the more pertinent discussion should be on why license instead of build. Clearly, Nokia threw in the towel. Not because they could not build, but because their building processes could not create greatness.

But can greatness ever come from modularity? I’ve argued that it can’t. I’ll maintain that argument as long as what is being built is not good enough. In other words, as long as innovation remains relevant, improvements will be absorbed and rewarded. Once innovation exceeds what can be absorbed, the basis of competition will shift to convenience and price which are best served with a modular business architecture.

Android is a fast follower. The first Android prototypes looked like Blackberries because that was the input paradigm of 2006. When capacitive touch was shown to be a better input method, Android reacted swiftly. When app stores created a new medium Android reacted swiftly. When the iPad demonstrated that computing can be done in new settings, Android reacted. At such time when there will be nothing to follow Android will be the king of the last commoditized innovation, but as long as there is something worth inventing Android will be there to reproduce it.

This is not a judgement, but an observation: Nokia and Microsoft may not make an Apple but neither will Android ever create the future.

Changing places: Microsoft trades HP for Nokia

The juxtaposition of HP’s strategy of increased independence and Nokia’s new strategy of increased dependence can’t be more striking.

HP is probably Microsoft’s biggest customer. As the largest licensee of Windows it probably generated more revenue for Microsoft than any other company. The fact that HP invested in a new operating system for its mobile efforts shows a level of discomfort with the lack of strategic leverage.

Nokia, on the other hand, has been resolutely independent in its software strategy. For over a decade it held out against licensing any OS, especially one from Microsoft. The pantomime theatrics that took place over that decade will make a great case study some day.

Visualizing jumping off a burning platform

Here’s what a platform jump looks like:

The devil is in the details. Although there was great excitement among investors at the prospect of platform agnosticism, the reality of the press releases shows that Nokia may have some significant short term pain.

A review of Asymco Predictions on Nokia’s new platform strategy

Predictions on Nokia’s new platform strategy: new OS for the US | asymco.

Here are my predictions from January 27 for the February 11 Nokia strategy announcement followed by the actual quotes from Nokia’s press release: