With Windows Phone It’s Not The What, It’s The Why

On December 4, 2014, Techpinions’ own Jan Dawson wrote a 33 page report on Windows Phone. While it sounds long, for those interested in the topic, it is easy reading and I highly recommend it to you.

Jan’s report answered the “What” questions — What’s gone wrong with Windows Phone and What should Microsoft do about it. His answers are compelling. But I am far more interested in the “Why” than the “What.” Why is Microsoft doing phones at all?



Why Windows Phone? Does it help sell more Window’s licenses? No it does not. ((Microsoft launched Office for iPad in March and says it’s seen 40 million downloads of the three apps since then. But the full functionality of the apps has only been available to Office 365 subscribers, and it’s added less than three million Home and Personal subscribers since then, at roughly the same pace as it added subscribers earlier.  People have been very interested in the apps, but most haven’t been willing to pay for the full functionality (or already had access to it through existing Home or Business subscriptions ~ Jan Dawson)) Microsoft is now giving away Windows on any device smaller than 9 inches. Microsoft Windows phone is not necessary to pursue that strategy.

Why Windows Phone? Does it help sell more Office licenses? No it does not. Microsoft is now giving away Office on all mobile devices under 9 inches. Microsoft Windows phone is not necessary to pursue that strategy.

Why Windows Phone? Does it help entice more people to upgrade to Windows 365? There is no evidence that it does.

Why Windows Phone. Does it make money from the sale of hardware. Not it does not. Windows phone is a money loser.

Estimated share of Q3 handset industry profits: Microsoft: -4%, Motorola: -2%, HTC, BB: 0%, LG: 2%, Samsung: 18%, Apple: 86%. ~ Kontra (@counternotions) 11/4/14

Further, if is far more likely that Microsoft is making far more money from licensing its patents to Android manufacturers than it is from selling its own phone hardware.

Strategy Tax/Conflict Of Interest

Why Windows Phone? Does it complement Microsoft’s licensing model? No it does not. If fact, it does just the opposite.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone directly competes with its own manufacturing partners. ((With the Lumia line, now manufactured by Microsoft Mobile following its acquisition from Nokia, Microsoft is now playing Windows Phone from both sides, as the only licensor and by far the largest licensee. It’s competing with its other licensees in the most direct and dominant fashion, even as it seeks to increase the number of OEMs using Windows Phone. ~ Jan Dawson)) And if you think those manufacturers haven’t noticed, then you haven’t been watching as they one-by-one flee the market.

In what is yet another blow to Microsoft’s mobile efforts, Huawei — a top-5 smartphone maker in 2014 — confirmed to The Seattle Times that for the time being, it is done with Windows Phone. What’s more, the company’s head of international media affairs said that Huawei has not made any money with Windows Phone… and neither have any other Microsoft partners. ~ Zach Epstein, BGR

Where Is Microsoft Headed?

Microsoft is doing a great job of moving towards services. Its Windows, Office and on-premise Server businesses are throwing off cash, while Office 365 and Azure are rapidly growing.

Windows hardware is not only doing poorly, it is antithetical to Microsoft’s services business model. Consider the following four quotes from Satya Nadella:

— (Microsoft’s core question is) How do we harmonize the interests across end users, developers, and IT?

— Microsoft wants to be a player everywhere.

— I definitely don’t want to compete with our OEMs.

— We are a software company at the end of the day. ~ Satya Nadella

You cannot harmonize those quotes with the sale of Windows Phone. And, in fact, I don’t think that Nadella actually wants to be in the hardware business. It was forced on him by his predecessor and he is slowly backing away from it.

I’ll make a bold prediction. Microsoft will eventually drop Windows Phone. Unfortunately, based upon what we’ve seen of Satya Nadella’s cautious style, I think it will be later rather than sooner.


Windows Phone is probably a lost cause…

When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it can’t be cured. ~ Anton Chekhov

…but so what? That’s not the problem. The problem is that Windows Phone doesn’t advance Microsoft’s strategic interests. Yet Microsoft is pursuing it anyway. That’s bad strategy…

Endurance is frequently a form of indecision. ~ Elizabeth Bibesco

…and it needs to stop.

It is better to run back than run the wrong way. ~ Proverbs

Microsoft needs to stop doing what others are doing just because others are doing it.

Once a problem is solved, you compete by rethinking the problem, not making a slightly better version of the current solution. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

Instead, Microsoft needs to focus its efforts on those areas where it has a competitive advantage.

It’s not about doing what you can, it’s about doing what others can’t. ~ C. Michel ((Excerpt From: C. Michel. “Life Quotes.” C. Michel, 2012. iBooks. https://itun.es/us/AyIDI.l))

I fully understand that this is easy for me to say and hard for Microsoft to do…but that doesn’t make my advice any less valid. What I’m suggesting is the hard path but its also the smart path and the courageous path.

The right thing and the easy thing are never the same. ~ Kami Garcia

Microsoft’s future is in services and that future can be great. But that future does not need hardware and, in fact, hardware is impeding Microsoft’s progress. And I’m not the only one to say so:

Abandon devices. The devices business is only worthwhile if you are able to sell at a high margin; while this does not offer the margin percentage of software licensing, the absolute monetary value of a high margin device is significant ($300+ for an iPhone, for example). However, Lumia’s are simply not competitive at the high end; all volume to date is that the very low end (<$150), and is being sold at a loss. Moreover, Lumia volume is too low to be supply chain competitive, at least once the former Nokia feature phone business is spun off. ~ Ben Thompson

Microsoft should embrace their future and let go of everything that ties them to their unsuccessful past. And that especially includes Windows Phone.

Post Script
Jean-Louis Gassée has a very different, yet very compatible, take on Microsoft’s hardware future. Highly recommended.

Say Goodbye To Microsoft

In the beginning, Microsoft’s business model was simple. They made the Windows operating system and licensed it to manufacturers, who then put it on their various computing machines. In the mid-nineties, Windows gained critical mass with businesses which, in turn, led to the adoption of the Windows operating system by consumers. The PC OS Wars were not just won by Microsoft, they were decisively won by Microsoft. Every other company that made competing PC operating systems was annihilated, save Apple, which only held on by the skin of their teeth.

Microsoft’s original audacious vision was a computer on every desk. (Importantly, that vision later became corrupted and transformed into “Windows” on every desk.) By the turn of the century, Microsoft had, for all intents and purposes, accomplished their mission. Now what?

A company that feels it has reached its goal will quickly stagnate and lose its vitality. ~ Ingvar Kamprad

When Money Is Your Guide, You Are Lost

Steve Ballmer has often said his goal was to make money. And he did. But making money is the means, not the ends.

Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. ~ Ayn Rand

I’m a HUGE fan of companies making money. Money is the way one keeps score. But money is not the game. And the game’s the thing.

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. ~ Bette Davis

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business. ~ Henry Ford

There are people around here who start companies just to make money, but the great companies, well, that’s not what they’re about. ~ Steve Jobs

Money is a great incentive, but when it becomes your main incentive, it attracts the wrong kind of people.

You cannot motivate the best people with money. Money is just a way to keep score. The best people in any field are motivated by passion. ~ Eric S. Raymond

If a company values profits more than its vision, it will first lose its vision and then, ironically, it will lose its profits too. Money is an excellent servant but it is a terrible master.

Microsoft’s Lost Decade

Microsoft desperately tried to get into phones, tablets, watches and TVs but they missed and they missed badly. This is where their subtle shift from “a computer running a Microsoft operating system on every desk” to “a computer running Windows on every desk” came back to haunt them.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. ~ John Viscount Morley

At Microsoft, Windows was the Sun and anyone who espoused anything else was a heretic that had to be hunted down and eliminated.

Rather than try to create an operating system right for the various emerging form factors, Microsoft insisted — over and over and over again — on trying to shoehorn Windows onto every form factor. The results were disastrous.

The Mobile Wars Were Over Before Microsoft Even Entered The Fray

iOS and Android won the mobile OS wars as decisively as Microsoft had won the PC OS wars.

First, iOS and Android got out to a huge lead long before Microsoft was able to respond with Windows Phone 7 (then 8) and Windows RT and Windows 8.

Second, Google undercut Microsoft’s licensing model by giving their Android OS away for free.

MicroChartMicrosoft – like World War II Japanese soldiers stranded on deserted islands – continued to pretend the war was ongoing while everyone else went about the business of post-war reconstruction. Not only had Microsoft lost the post-PC wars, but their insistence the world was still fighting the PC wars jeopardized their possibilities in the post-post-PC world, as well.

Microsoft’s Anti-Strategy

Strategy is about choices, about making the hard decisions and about focus. Microsoft’s response to iOS and Android might be described as an anti-strategy. They chose not to choose, they decided not to decide, they focused on everything (which is to say that they focused on nothing).

  1. Microsoft wanted to be Google so they created Bing
  2. Microsoft wanted to be Microsoft so they licensed their OS software
  3. Microsoft wanted to be a monopoly so they ported their desktop OS to tablets
  4. Microsoft wanted to be iOS so they created Windows Phone 7, then 8
  5. Microsoft wanted to be in tablets so the created Windows RT
  6. Microsoft wanted to be the iPad so they created the Surface
  7. Microsoft wanted to be Apple so they restructured their company along functional lines
  8. Microsoft wanted to be the iPhone so they bought Nokia

Be yourself. The world worships the original. ~ Ingrid Bergman

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear. ~ Brian Tracy

We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. ~ Tim Cook, Acting Apple CEO, January 2009 FQ1 2009 Earnings Call

Microsoft didn’t play to their strengths. Instead, they entered every game and tried to compete everywhere.

If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete. ~ Jack Welch

Microsoft didn’t want to narrow its options. Instead, they wanted to be everything to everybody. They didn’t want to be anything in particular so they produced nothing anybody particularly wanted.


CAPTION: The very epitome of a Microsoft product — chicken-flavored vegetable ham.


Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger. ~ Franklin P. Jones

The recipe that made Microsoft dominant is not the recipe that will make them relevant again. Say goodbye to Microsoft…


…the new Microsoft has arrived.

Next week, I’ll look at Microsoft’s new strategy and analyze its potential and its potential pitfalls. (SPOILER ALERT: So far, I like what I’m seeing.)

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s Bottoms Up For The Windows Phone

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of upbeat reports regarding Microsoft’s share of the smart phone market. This has been accompanied by claims that Microsoft has finally gotten developers to adopt their Windows Phone 8 platform.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone boss, Joe Belfiore, claims that Microsoft will have completely eliminated its app gap with rival platforms by “the end of 2014.” Writing on his Twitter account, Belfiore has been crowing that “the 3rd ecosystem is decidedly here!

All well and good. and I congratulate Microsoft on their increased market share. Only here’s the thing…

All Of The Windows Market Share Is Coming From The Bottom Of The Market

Windows Phone’s impressive growth in 2013 has been driven almost entirely by low-end and mid-range smartphones while it’s languished in the high-end market. ((Kantar agrees, stating that a large chunk of Windows Phone sales come from lower-end devices.))

“In Britain, almost three quarters of Nokia Lumia sales in the latest period were low-end devices such as the Lumia 520 and 620 — a pattern that is similar across other EU markets,” said Sunnebo.

Just 1 of the top 4 Windows Phones in the world is a high-end model while the rest of the platform’s top devices are in the low-to-mid-range market.

What’s particularly interesting is that AdDuplex found that the Lumia 1020 — which is not only the best Windows Phone device on the market but has also received a very strong advertising campaign — doesn’t crack the top 10 in any market.

The most popular Windows Phone in the world by far is the Lumia 520, a budget model that accounts for more than one-quarter of all Windows Phone devices sold in the world.

Here is the AdDuplex report showing that the low-end is the driving force behind Windows Phone success:


This is what the Windows Phone device ecosystem looks like over the past 13 months:


If you look carefully at the above chart, it reveals that the low end is growing, the “other” is growing and the high end is being squeezed between them.

The Battle For The Bottom With Android

Android — via Google — isn’t just sitting still and letting Windows regain market share. Google’s recent KitKat OS seems to be designed to run best on low-end devices. Further, Motorola’s Moto G phone may be an attempt to directly attack Microsoft’s new found low-end base.

Biggest Moto G impact could be on Lumia. Great majority of sales are <$200, where quality is better than cheap Android. Not for much longer. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

It’s difficult to say who will win in the battle for the low end. However, since Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to make money from licensing their software and Google’s goal is to disrupt that business model by giving away their software for free, I believe that Google holds the better cards and — to conflate my metaphors — the upper hand.

Market Share Is Not The Goal

There’s so much talk of market share that we sometimes forget that market share is not the goal. The goal is:

1) To create a viable platform; and
2) Make money.

Taking the bottom of the market will not accomplish either of those goals for Microsoft.

…OEMs are trying to go upstream not downstream. ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

We’ll see. But if Microsoft is going to become a genuine player in phones, it’s going to be a long, long, hard slog. They’ve got the money to stay in the race. But staying in the race is not the same as winning.

Here’s to you, Microsoft. Bottoms up.

Microsoft and Nokia: A Strategic Blunder

There’s an old military adage, “Reinforce success; never reinforce failure.” By purchasing Nokia’s device business for about $5 billion, Microsoft has just reinforced failure in a big way. It has been three years since Microsoft attempted to reboot its mobile business with Windows Phone 7, two and a half years since the company struck a broad partnership with Nokia, and a year since the introduction of Windows Phone 8 and the Surface tablet. Microsoft has next to nothing to show for any of these efforts.

Microsoft can easily afford the purchase price; it has the money lying around under the cushions of various couches around the world. The issue is one of strategic focus. At a time when Microsoft should be turning its attention to its successful core businesses to build for the future, it is redoubling  its efforts in an area where it is struggling, at best.

Microsoft financials chartAt a time when it should be thinking about the strategic direction of  a new CEO, Steve Ballmer in his remaining months and his now probable successor, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who will become a Microsoft executive vice president, will instead be devoting a lot of time and effort to integrating Nokia. The money-losing device business had about $15 billion in revenues last year, which would make it Microsoft’s fourth largest division (see chart.) But its 32,000 employees will increase Microsoft’s worldwide employment by nearly a third. A Finnish hardware unit and Microsoft, the quintessential software company have cultures that likely will resist easy integration.

The challenges for Nokiasoft are overwhelming. I thought for a long time that there was room for a third platform in mobile phones and that Windows Phone might well be it. But Microsoft, even with the Nokia partnership, has yet to rise above minuscule market share in the U.S. or worldwide. The implosion of BlackBerry was the best opportunity for Microsoft to grab share, but it has failed to do so. Microsoft must struggle to carve out a niche in what has become an iOS-Android world, or maybe an Apple-Google-Samsung world if Samsung and Google part company.

Missing apps. Furthermore, Windows Phone, now with more Nokia, still has the same old problem: The lack of an adequate app ecosystem. In software, Microsoft doesn’t get anything from Nokia that Windows phone didn’t already have (Nokia’s strongest mobile software asset, its maps business, is not part of the deal.) After three years, Windows Phone still lacks such table stakes apps as native YouTube and Instagram clients. Maybe a Herculean effort by Microsoft management could change this, but such an effort means other, probably more important things, are not going to be done.

The outlook in tablets is even bleaker. Windows RT, the version developed specifically for tablets, is a resounding flop and Windows 8 on tablets hasn’t faired much better.  Nokia reportedly has a Windows RT tablet ready to launch this fall; unless it is a lot better than the Surface or the Surface’s planned successor, it would just split a tiny market.

The iPhone has turned mobile phones, even business phones, into an overwhelmingly consumer business. This means the Nokia acquisition has plunged Microsoft far deeper into an area it really should be abandoning, Microsoft simply is not very good as a consumer company. And it is hard to see what Nokia, headed by a man whose greatest managerial success came as head of the Microsoft Business division, brings.

The Xbox problem. Xbox is Microsoft’s one consumer bright spot, but the chart above shows its fundamental weakness. Even putting aside the enormous sunk cost of Xbox and the fumbled launch of the Xbox One, the Entertainment & Devices segment is too small, especially in profit share, to make much of a difference. With little prospect for explosive growth in the game console-cum-set top box market, Xbox is not going to save Microsoft.

With whatever energy Microsoft management has left after coping the the challenges of the Nokia acquisition, the company should focus on what it does well, and that is to sell business software. That is a market that has been changing,  but here Microsoft has been adapting, converting its traditional sale of permanent software licenses into software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service offering.

Windows sales will shrink with the PC market, but they aren’t going away and will remain highly profitable; a 50% operating margin for the Windows division in a crummy year is impressive. The urgent need is for Microsoft to develop a replacement for Windows 7 that businesses might want to buy–something with the under-the-hood improvements of Windows 8 but without either of its unloved user interfaces.

Reinforce success. The business software operations also deserve reinforcement. The big part of the tech commentariat that knows little or nothing about business software consistently underestimates the importance and staying  power of Office (I agree that Office is finished in consumer markets, but that was never its real business anyway.) Back-office tools such as Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server remain mighty money-makers and the Microsoft Dynamics suite of resource planning, customer relationship management, and accounting tools is growing nicely.

Web services, particularly those that serve business rather than those that are directly consumer-facing,  are another area of strength. While behind Google in many areas, Microsoft is well ahead of Apple, which often seems as clueless about Web services as it is savvy about devices. Azure, another service little-known to those who do not follow enterprise software, has made impressive gains the the platform-as-a-service business, though Microsoft should stop hurting itself by branding the product as Windows Azure. Windows has had a great run as a brand, but it is time to move on.

In the constantly mutating tech world, Microsoft cannot afford for its top management to take its eyes off these successful operations. But I fear that it will be hard to give these operations, which I think represent Microsoft’s best chances for future success, the attention they deserve while management is deeply distracted by the enormous challenges of Nokia. The $7 billion investment (including a patent licensing deal) was not a huge amount of money, but its ultimate cost to Microsoft could be a lot higher.


Do Nokia and Windows Phone Have Any Hope for 2012?

There were a number of priorities for me at this years CES.  One of my top priorities was to better understand Nokia’s strategy for Windows Phone and the US Market.  Secondarily to Nokia’s US strategy was Microsoft in general and whether Windows Phone can grow in market share in the US in 2012.   

As I have written before, Nokia has again entered the conversation at large, but more importantly, they have become relevant in the US smart phone market.  I have expressed my belief that they contain some fundamental strengths, like brand, quality design, and marketing smarts, to at least compete in the US.

For Nokia, this years CES bore two important and timely US events.  The first was that their US presence was solidified when the US sales of their Lumia 710 officially became available at T-Mobile this week.  The second was the announcement at this years CES of the Lumia 900 which will come to market on AT&T.   

Both products are well designed and the Windows Phone experience is impressive.  That being said, Nokia’s and Microsoft’s challenge is primarily convincing consumers that Windows Phone is an OS worth investing in.

I use that terminology because that is exactly what an OS platform is asking consumers to do.  Not only invest but allow this most personal device to become a part of their life.

Currently, only a small fraction of consumers are convinced that they should buy into Windows Phone 7 and it will take quite a bit more convincing for most.  Nokia and Windows Phone face stiff competition with the army of Android devices and the industry leader in Apple. If anything, Nokia and Windows Phone have a small window of opportunity to rise above what is the Android sea of sameness – but it is only a small window. This is because many more of Android’s core and loyal (on the surface) partners will continue to invest resources in Windows Phone over the next few years. If Microsoft and Nokia are successful the result should be that the market will contain not only a sea of Android devices but of Windows Phone devices as well.

This is why the battle will again turn to differentiation across the board on both the Android and Windows Phone platform. I have previously dared the industry to differentiate and this will need to be the focus going forward.

As I look at where we are right now, it appears that Nokia is faced with an unfortunate dilemma.  Nokia now bears the difficult task of not only spending money to develop their brand in the US but to also help Microsoft convince consumers Windows Phone is the right platform for them.

Microsoft is unfortunately not building or investing in the Windows Phone consumer marketing as aggressively as they should on their own.  So rather then be able to simply focus on their brand, Nokia must also invest in marketing Windows Phone. This will inevitably help Nokia but also their competitors in the long term.

All of this, however, presents Microsoft with what is the chance of a lifetime and it all relates to Windows 8.  The importance of Windows 8 to Microsoft seems to be wildly shrugged off by many.  But I believe that if Microsoft does not succeed in creating consumer demand with Windows 8, they will begin to loose OS market share even faster than they are right now.  

Windows Phone’s success in 2012 can pave the way for Windows 8.  If Microsoft can, at the very least, create some level of interest and ultimately generate demand for Windows Phone, it will almost certainly do the same for Windows 8.  This is because once you have gotten used to the user experience of Windows Phone, it creates a seamless transition to the Windows 8 experience.   

If Microsoft can generate some level of success for Windows Phone in 2012, it will build a needed level of momentum for Windows 8. Primarily because the Windows Phone and Windows 8 Metro UI are very similar.  All of these steps are necessary for Microsoft to not only create demand for their OS platforms but to also create demand for their ecosystem.  I have emphasized the importance of the ecosystem in past columns and Microsoft must leverage their assets to create loyal consumers.

So what is my conclusion for 2012?  Simply put, and to use a sports analogy, it is a rebuilding year for Microsoft and Nokia.  Both companies need to view 2012 as a “laying-a-foundation-for-the-future” year.  I do expect Windows Phone and Nokia to grow in market share in the US but I am not sure if we can count on double digit growth. If both companies play their cards right in 2012, then 2013 will present them with the growth opportunities they both desire.

Past Columns Mentioned:
Why Nokia is Interesting
Dear Industry – Dare to Differentiate
Why It’s All About the Ecosystem

Has Nokia Raised the Bar Enough?

Yesterday in London at its big conference. Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop announced its next generation phones, Lumia (Windows Phone 7.5 based) and Asha (S40 based), which we were told means “Hope” in Hindi. Although Asha is an interesting device for many emerging markets, it’s the Lumia that is most important to Nokia’s future and the announcement the market was anxiously awaiting. So while Nokia did introduce two new Windows Phone smartphones of nice design (the Lumia 800 for the premium market and a slightly less costly version the 710), and three Symbian devices meant for the market between feature phones and smart phones, overall the announcements at Nokia World disappointed on a number of accounts.

First, Nokia did not confirm when and what would go to North America – only that there would be a portfolio of devices released early next year (once LTE stabilizes they said). What does that say about the commitment from the carriers to Lumia? If you have a halo device (where Lumia is being positioned) and it’s not being sold in the largest market, what does that say about your market position?

Second, there was no mention of how Nokia would differentiate from other Windows Phone vendors, other than with a better camera, navigation application and music services. Not enough. Samsung makes a nice Windows Phone, as does HTC. Why would a consumer choose a Nokia device?

Third, the pricing was set at a premium pricing level (420 Euros, or about $599 US before subsidies). Nokia is competing against the market leaders at about the same pricing level. There is no advantage taken by Nokia in trying to get back into the marketplace at a reasonable price with a premium product. It’s roughly the same price as iPhone 4S after subsidies and this could be a tough sell.

Fourth, what about the enterprise? There was no mention of how they would help with management and security for corporate. customers other than pointing to Microsoft tools and capabilities. IT doesn’t need yet another device to work with when there is already so much diversity from BYOD. IT wants help and expects some advantage from key suppliers. Microsoft management tools for mobile are inferior and especially so when looking at a diverse environment. Where were the partnership announcements with MDM vendors that would have indicated the serious nature Nokia places on business?

Fifth, what about Windows 8? That is the future (Windows Phone 7.5 is a place holder until the next-gen devices come out in 12-18 months and bridge the PC, tablet and phone markets). This would have been a great opportunity to make a strategy statement at a high level at least, even if not a detailed statement. And it would have indicated an acknowledgement by Nokia of the importance it places in the partnership with Microsoft.

Finally, where was Microsoft’s endorsement? No one from Microsoft spoke during the keynote. No doubt Microsoft wants to keep some distance to not offend its other OEMs, but if this is such a close partnership, where is the “love”?

So I’m left with many questions after the announcements. How do the new devices fit into a diverse environment in an enterprise setting? Where are the enterprise tools to deploy, activate secure and manage them? What is the Nokia Value Add on top of plane Windows Phone? What did they do to enhance the Windows Phone platform beyond what Microsoft offers? Nokia seemed to show once again that they understand how to make appealing hardware, but fell short in service offerings that could differentiate them in the market, especially with the important business user.

Bottom Line: Nokia World was really Nokia’s coming out party. It was meant to show a revitalized company. They did offer a couple of new phone families (one Windows Phone, one Symbian). But they missed the opportunity to show what Nokia represents longer term, how it adds value to the Microsoft standard OS features, and what it will do to differentiate in the market from both other Windows Phone makers and the Android and iPhone market. Nokia a missed opportunity.

Why Nokia is Interesting

What if I was to tell you that the global handset war of the future will be between Apple and Nokia? On a global scale this may very well be the case as I am convinced now that, from a global perspective, Apple and Nokia think very similarly.

This of course does not mean that other handset OEM’s will not be competitive in these areas. However, from a brand and global handset strategy perspective, Apple and Nokia seem poised to compete head to head.

Nokia has never fully exited the realm of relevance. I follow the WW market for phones and am quite interested in what are the big picture global handset consumer trends. Because of that, Nokia and even RIM for that matter, still come up in conversations. However, I believe Nokia has a brighter future than RIM.

Nokia has maintained its relevance both in the terms of product offerings and brand very well on a global scale. Those of us who live, watch, and study the US market primarily, often forget that the world is bigger than the US. Nokia has a weak to non-existent brand in the US so it’s easy to count them out–although we shouldn’t.

There are a few key reasons why I think Nokia is interesting and I will be keeping a watchful eye on them as a global handset competitor. The first is their ability to manufacture handsets in massive quantities.

Nokia currently manufactures 1 million phones every day. Now, those are not all smart phones and mostly feature phones. However, what is key is Nokia’s ability to handle scale. This is one of the key things any global player will need to be able to manage and execute to meet the global handset demands of the future. Nokia can manufacture massive quantities of a single phone design and that is not easy to do.

Nokia has an extremely efficient process for designing and manufacturing handsets and this is one of the key reasons I think they are interesting and, other than Apple, can meet capacity of the future demands.

Again this is not to say other brands like HTC, Samsung, Moto and others will not be successful, only that they will ship more products in lower volume rather than massive volume of only a few designs.

The other element I think Nokia brings to the table is their roots in design innovation. Nokia has certainly had their share of design flops but generally speaking, they are at least creative and out-of-the-box when it comes to design.

The design of hardware is one of the central things factoring into the buying process of consumers. The ability to design an object of desire is very difficult and even companies who do it well don’t necessarily hit home runs each time. Nokia has a history of innovative design and because of that going forward I find them interesting.

On a slightly lesser scale than the last two points, Nokia is also interesting because of their partnership with Microsoft. This, I feel, was a wise choice of an OS partner but it will still bring challenges.

I am very optimistic about Windows Phone and in particular Nokia as a partner in this area for Microsoft. Nokia has a strong brand in many parts of the region and with the release of two Windows phones, the Lumia 800 and the Lumia 710, they have taken their first step to become relevant in the smart phone segment.

Although I am optimistic and will follow Nokia with a keen eye from here on out, there are still many questions that need to be answered.

The first is how they will differentiate,beyond hardware design, on top of the Windows Phone platform. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again- selling a standard OS only leads to the “sea of sameness” and overcoming that sea of sameness will be key for Nokia. I believe their penchant for design is a good start. They are also bringing core apps with maps, music and sports to Windows Phone and that is a good start.

Second question is how successful will Nokia’s North America brand push be? Although here at Nokia World, Nokia did not release any specific data but they officially stated their commitment to the US market with a portfolio of products in the first half of 2012.

I believe there is still market share to be had with smart phones in the US and I feel RIM in particular is vulnerable there as well. In regard to Nokia in the US, if their efforts are successful,I believe it will affect Android devices more than the iPhone. So although Nokia is late to enter the US market, I hope they enter the US market strategically and relevantly and with a serious marketing budget as well. We will have to wait for further news before analyzing their North America efforts.

Overall, my take away from Nokia world is that Nokia is perhaps still highly relevant. In emerging markets they are designing devices with features consumers want, like dual SIMs, at price points they can afford. Their commitment to Windows Phone gives them a solid first step in smart phones and now executing in these areas above will be key.

The Big Questions for Nokia to Answer at Nokia World

Ever since Nokia made the decision to partner with Microsoft and standardize on Windows Phone software to drive Nokia hardware, I have become more optimistic on Nokia’s future.

Enough so that I felt compelled to attend Nokia World in London, which starts next week on the 26th. I am going there in the hopes to gain a better understanding of several key things from both Nokia and hopefully from Microsoft as well.

In my opinion Nokia needs to address three key things in order for me to believe they can be relevant in the worldwide smart phone market conversation.

The first thing I will be looking for is the quality in design of the their new hardware. In many countries smart phones are also status symbols, things people want to show off in public, like a fashion statement. Therefore, Nokia needs to release hardware that can become or be seen as an object of desire.

The second thing I will be looking at is how, if anything, they have differentiated the Nokia experience on top of Windows Phone. My biggest concern for Windows Phone going forward is that they create the “sea of sameness” where other than design all devices are the same.

Differentiation is absolutely essential in mature and maturing markets. Because of that, I am hoping that Microsoft is beginning to work on ways that they can help their partners differentiate and compete in more than just hardware.

The last thing I will be looking at is branding. A company’s brand has become extremely critical in so many countries with regards to consumer electronics. Nokia, especially in the US, has little to no consumer mind share. Yet on a global scale the Nokia brand is still strong.

InterBrand ranks them currently at number 14, however, they suffered a 15% decline since 2010.
Although the Nokia brand is strong, I would content, that it is not synonymous with innovation and forward thinking technology. These are key things as consumer look to make investments in these devices for the future.

It will be interesting to see how, if at all, Nokia addresses these topics at Nokia World next week. I am optimistic, but then again I am an eternal optimist.

Is There Room for A New Mobile OS?

A couple of years ago, when various handset makers were looking for a mobile OS to back for their devices, they were given a proposition from Google that was hard to refuse. Google would provide an open source version of Android and with it allow the vendors to customize and add their own features so that they could differentiate their products from other Android licensees.

At first this worked well and Google got dozens of device makers to hop on the Android bandwagon. And for the most part, Android took off, especially in smart phones. But over time, many Android licensees found Google difficult to work with because of their design approach to Android, which was always a moving target. And while Google called it an open mobile OS, as time went on, it became much more controlled by Google and licensees have had less room to do things to help differentiate their devices. Even worse, they have found it more challenging to control their own destiny when it comes to many key services tied around their own offerings.

Now that Google has bought Motorola, many Android licensees believe Google will be exercise tighter control over Android and with Motorola develop a more vertically integrated approach to the market. This is similar to what Apple does through owning the hardware, software and services; integrating them tightly together to provide customers a seamless user experience. While Google has said that they will continue to develop Android as an open source product and work with licensees equally, none of the licensees I have talked to actually believe this. At the very least, they expect Motorola to get early code. Many believe tighter integration between Android and Motorola hardware is inevitable and doubt they will get a similar deal in any way. The various lawsuits against Android as well as the potential of having to pay extra royalties to Oracle and Microsoft should they win their legal cases against Android does not make them happy either.

Not long after the news that Google would buy Motorola, and that HP was going to ditch webOS, Microsoft started courting Android and webOS developers even harder. In fact Microsoft is offering free Windows phones to webOS developers and more hand holding if they jump ship and start developing for Windows Mobile 7and 8.

But what I am hearing from vendors and carriers is that the original need for a completely open mobile OS is what still they really want. Supporting Microsoft is equal to just supporting Android. Indeed, Microsoft would still control the OS and dictate the terms of use and development and give licensees very little room to innovate at either the hardware or software level.

It is also not clear where webOS is going. We don’t know who its owner will be yet. Does it stay with HP or go with the spinoff? We also don’t know if it will ever be an open OS that licensees of the future can freely customize for their own markets and customers. One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that in developed markets, complete ecosystems of hardware, software and services define the user experience. But that may not be the case in emerging markets.

In emerging markets, the need to have a truly open source mobile OS is very important since they need to be able to customize their offerings around a specific language and localized services. This is especially true for emerging market carriers. The fact that mature markets demand hundreds of thousands of mobile apps does not necessarily translate to the actual needs of smart phone users in emerging markets. There they need the dozens or hundreds of apps that are customized for their regions, customs and traditions.

Everyone knows Apple’s approach to their OS is proprietary. Even though Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 OS is freely licensable, it is fully controlled by Microsoft. And now that Google has bought Motorola, Android is looking more and more like it could become more tightly controlled as part of a vertically integrated offering. Unless HP quickly states that webOS will not only be licensable but also truly open (which I don’t think they will ever do), then I believe that there is serious room for a completely new mobile OS to emerge and especially give handset vendors targeting emerging markets an OS of their own to work with.

We are already hearing that even the big handset vendors who are backing Android are seriously looking for an alternative OS to back to hedge their bets and to help them go after emerging markets where giant app stores are less important for success. This leads me to believe that there is not only room for another mobile OS but a need for one that is truly open that will never be encumbered by big company agendas that drive the designs of their mobile OS.