“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
― Maya Angelou
I want Windows Phone to succeed. More than that, I want Android to fail. I hate Android.
There, I said it. Yes, I am a market analyst, detached, and I have absolutely no stake in the success or failure, rise or fall, of either Microsoft or Google, $MSFT or $GOOG, or Apple, for that matter. I simply do not like Android. I refuse to hide this fact.
I think Android is a pale, poorly executed imitation of Apple’s iOS. I have real concerns about the ethics of Google’s ex-CEO as he simultaneously served on Apple’s board. Google’s scale and de facto search monopoly allow it to undercut competition and stifle innovation in local-mobile services. That’s no good. I can’t stand the way they use terms like “open” the way fast food chains label yesterday’s hamburgers as “fresh.”
Nor can I ignore their duplicitous stance on patents.
Most of all, I am suspicious of Google Android’s business model, which is built upon the capture, store, sift and sell of an ever-increasing amount of my increasingly personal information, all of which is then bundled and sold off to countless unknown people and businesses.
With Google search, Google Maps, Google Android, Google Wallet, Google Play, Google Chrome and Google+, Google knows where we are, what we are buying, who we are with, what led us to that purchase — and has documentary evidence of it.
I don’t want this.
As everything goes digital and as everything digital collapses inside the shimmering smartphone screen, I see no justification for anyone cheering on Android.
I am not fueled by animus, however. I want the new Microsoft – Nokia to succeed because the world benefits if Windows Phone becomes a viable third alternative to iPhone and Android.
A Great Disturbance In The Force
Yes, I think Apple currently makes the best smartphone and operates the best smartphone platform. But, for sundry reasons Apple will not and cannot stop the global spread of Android. Should Apple release, as is widely expected, a low-cost global iPhone “C”, and if rumors of deals with DoCoMo and China Mobile are all true, it’s still likely that the very best Apple will achieve — ever — is well under 30% of the global smartphone market. Likely, 25% is their ceiling. I don’t want Google to own 75% of the smartphone market as I believe this would be harmful to innovation and a long-term threat to personal privacy norms.
Where Apple will not succeed, Microsoft now can. Pushing Ballmer aside and acquiring Nokia suggests an acceptance of the new world they must now compete in. No, it will not be easy to take on Android. It is unlikely they will succeed. Still, the company that once seemed like the Evil Empire is now more like an aging Annakin Skywalker — and our last, best hope to slay the Emperor.
There are many arrows in Microsoft’s quiver: Windows 8 + Nokia design + Skype + Bing + Office + Outlook + Nokia imaging + Windows Media — plus security and server tools for businesses of all sizes. Microsoft with Nokia also has the necessary global footprint. Taking on Android is not a suicide mission.
The Circle Is Now Complete
The greatest barrier to success, however, is that Microsoft remains of a world that no longer exists. Smartphones represent a transformative shift in computing – like mainframes to Minis and Minis to PCs. Companies optimized for PCs are, I believe, more likely as not to fail in this new age. Of course, Google is also optimized for PCs. That’s where nearly all its revenues come from, still.
Nokia, however, is optimized for mobile if not quite for this new age of smartphones. Moreover, they possess still another strength that Google does not: the user is also the customer.
This is critical — and little understood by most mobile industry pundits. Smartphones are with us all the time. They are in our hand when we awake and when we fall asleep. They are our most personal objects, containing our most private data, and the thing we touch more even than our own children. Carriers and IT units may be major channels for smartphone sales but unlike with PCs, the user will be the ultimate arbiter. These devices are simply too personal to allow others to decide what we choose.
Nokia possesses yet another strength, and one not well understood in the United States. The company truly knows how to make quality devices at amazingly low prices.
The pre-Microsoft Nokia lent me various “Asha” phones to test: the dual-SIM Asha 310, and the cute, colorful and long-lasting Asha 501. I also tested the Nokia 105 feature phone. I was legitimately struck by the functionality and usability of each of these phones, particularly on a per-dollar basis. I would not buy any of them — which means I cannot recommend them. That said, these phones can be had for $25 – $100, a truly amazing feat of engineering, design and manufacturing. In many parts of the world, most do not have the luxury of turning their back on a sub-$100 device like I can.
Analysts that confidently predict Android will forever dominate the smartphone wars on cost alone have likely never used a very-low-cost Nokia device. Similarly, those analysts that are convinced that Android will win because Google offers its services and applications for free badly under-estimate the value of functionality, reliability and security that is built into Microsoft’s software.
The Force Is Strong With This One
Microsoft and Nokia can deliver this to the world:
Low-cost, secure, functional smartphones that seamlessly integrate across multiple devices (e.g. smartphones, PCs and game console), that satisfy end users and businesses alike, that can incorporate Yammer, Skype, Xbox, Outlook and Office, and which provide a hedge against the overwhelming force that is Google Android. That is a powerful combination.
Admittedly, the numbers at present are not terribly good, as this recent Kantar market survey reveals.
Despite its current meager share, the Windows Phone platform is growing. Moreover, the smartphone market itself is only in its early days. Analysts who suggest otherwise are dead wrong. The vast majority of the world does not have a smartphone yet — though almost certainly will within the next few years. In addition, smartphones are becoming more used and more useful for all users with every passing day — for work, school, play, home, life. “Free” and ad-driven business models like Android may ultimately fail to satisfy the requirements users demand for these truly critical devices. What is critical in your life that you don’t expect to pay for?
I Sense Something. A Presence I’ve Not Felt Since…
When Microsoft effectively acquired Nokia, the company made no secret of their intent:
To accelerate its share and profits in phones. To create a first-rate Microsoft phone experience for its users. To prevent Google and Apple from foreclosing app innovation, integration, distribution and economics.
I am hoping they succeed. It is within them to do so. Their fatal flaw, it seems to me, is do they have enough faith in themselves to do what is right, to achieve what I contend is possible, and build for the future, not the present? After all, the reason Ballmer was so successful and yet ultimately failed is that he chased the easy money, valued Windows profits above all else, and refused to acknowledge the potential for complete market disruption.
Nokia is likewise guilty of this. In a recent interview, Frank Nuovo — once the Jony Ive of Nokia — told the Australian Financial Review that Apple, not Nokia, re-invented the mobile market despite Nokia’s massive head start, because “all of our user testing pointed to the fact that no-one wanted touch phones.”
And yet now all of us have one.
The world can change, and quickly.
As can you. It’s time to let go of your anger. All has been burned clean. Begun the Smartphone War has. Microsoft is now on our side. May the force be with them.