Late last Friday Nokia and Microsoft that they loved each other above all others, and that Nokia would be releasing phones running WP7 as its smartphone OS of choice. Reactions have been mixed, but here are seven reasons the partnership is full of win for consumers.
The Pieces Fit
The smartphone race has always been a bit of a challenge for Nokia, like some massive jigsaw that seemed to be missing one crucial piece. Nokia tried to squeeze pieces from other puzzles in there - Symbian, Meego - but neither were truly the right shape to complement the incredible hardware that was coming out of Finland.
Similarly, Windows Phone 7 is an operating system that's struggling to gain traction in the marketplace. While it's been critically well received, the fact that the handset guidelines are so rigid means that there isn't a lot to differentiate handsets from different manufacturers. The fact that Nokia and Microsoft are partnering in this deal means that Nokia has the potential to step outside the rather boring design box to create exciting new WP7 handsets that work well and appeal to users.
Symbian Is No Longer A Smartphone OS
Symbian has its place in the mobile phone ecosystem - it's a cheap, reliable software platform for entry level handsets. But as Nokia (and to a lesser extent Sony Ericsson and Samsung) have proven over recent years is that no matter how brightly you shine it, it's still a turd as a smartphone operating system. The Nokia N8, the first (and only) smartphone running the Symbian ^3 OS, was littered with frustrations and design flaws. While it improved on previous versions, it still wasn't up the task.
There were hopes for MeeGo as a smartphone platform, but it was hamstrung by a slooooowww rollout and the legacy of being a new platform in an already crowded marketplace.
The fact that Nokia is now using WP7 as its smartphone OS of choice means that Nokia smartphones will actually be able to perform as smartphones. Plus, Nokia will be able to take their hardware advancements (like the camera in the N8, the HDMI output functionality and USB interface) and, working with Microsoft, offer the same exciting features through an OS that works.
Nokia Phones Finally Get Gaming
N-Gage. I really shouldn't have to say any more. Nokia has long be lusting over a real dominance in the mobile gaming market, but to date all their attempts have been rudimentary at best. N-Gage was a disaster, both as a phone and as a platform. Even in a post- N-Gage world, gaming on Nokia phones has been a relatively awful experience, with lags, bugs and graphics that look like they're from the 90s.
Xbox Live integration finally offers Nokia the chance to succeed in a market they've long dreamed of owning. And given that Microsoft is partially batting for the Nokia team now, who wouldn't hope for a Nokia branded handset with Xbox Live integration to take on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play?
More languages for WP7
One of the highlights from the official Nokia/Microsoft announcement was that:
Nokia will help drive and define the future of Windows Phone. Nokia will contribute its expertise on hardware design, language support, and help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies.
Nokia phones are in more countries than any other manufacturer... There's a reason they were the world's biggest and most influential mobile phone company. By partnering with them, Microsoft have essentially given themselves a huge leg up in not only global distribution, but also in terms of language support. With Nokia's extensive support for different countries and languages, Windows Phone 7 will receive a huge shot in the arm to help it become a real smartphone competitor.
Better operator billing arrangements for WP7
This one may not be quite as relevant for Australians, but for Windows Phone 7 users around the world this will be extremely advantageous. Nokia has been in the mobile space for a long time, and as such has some pretty solid relationships with different carriers, allowing Nokia users to purchase apps, music or other entertainment through the Nokia device with the purchase charged to your mobile bill. While WP7 has a similar arrangement with Telstra here in Australia, adding that same functionality through carriers around the world will help drive Windows as one of the premiere smartphone platforms.
It may take a little while for this kind of integration to roll out, but when it does, it will give the Nokia/Microsoft partnership a distinct advantage over other platforms.
Ovi store not dead, integrated with marketplace
With the partnership, you might think that Nokia would take their oft-maligned Ovi store out the back and put it out of its misery. Not so! The Finns announced that:
Nokia’s content and application store will be integrated with Microsoft Marketplace for a more compelling consumer experience.
What that means isn't exactly clear yet. Will Ovi apps automatically appear in the Windows Phone Marketplace? Will Windows be given the ability to run Ovi apps natively? Will Ovi appear as a separate app store within the marketplace, to keep Nokia's developers happy?
There's no answer to these questions yet, but the fact it was mentioned at all is good news for the legions of Nokia smartphone users concerned about the Windows announcement.
Competition is Good
Take a quick look at the computer operating system market. While Windows runs the vast majority of PCs around the world, and OS X has a small slice of the pie on every Mac sold, it's the third OS where the most exciting innovations come from: Linux.
Now come back to the smartphone OS market. iOS and Android are clearly leading the charge, battling it out for supremacy. But the market needs a third player. I'm not suggesting for a second that Windows Phone 7 is the Linux of the smartphone world, but it is the smallest of the three and has introduced a number of pretty radical concepts to a market that's constantly evolving.
Ultimately, the market needs competition, and by partnering with Nokia, the WP7 camp has a much stronger chance of survival in a pretty cutthroat business. Ultimately, this choice is better for consumers.