Nokia Eyeing Windows Phone For US Comeback

Sep 24, 2010 (05:09 AM EDT)

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According to sources cited by VentureBeat as "familiar with these matters," Nokia is likely to add Windows Phone 7 to its list of supported platforms. Even more important than that, Nokia's new CEO, Stephen Elop, has been granted the authority to make sweeping changes by Nokia's board of directors, including decisions about its operating system strategy. Just how likely is this?

It is no secret that Nokia has struggled in the U.S. for years now. Despite solid hardware, its Symbian S60 platform has failed to score with U.S. carriers and consumers alike. If there's one thing Nokia needs, it is a clear, driven platform strategy to win back the dollars of U.S. buyers.

Earlier this month, I suggested that one of the top things Elop needs to do is pick a single smartphone platform and move forward with it -- quickly. Nokia invested billions in Symbian, open-sourced it, redesigned it, and has spent countless man-hours trying to put it on the same playing field with the iPhone and Android. Despite its efforts, the look and feel of Symbian^3, the company's latest variant of Symbian, feels as old and outdated as the OS did several years ago.

Nokia has also been toying with Linux forever. Its platform of choice was Maemo, which was used in its Internet tablet devices. Earlier this year, Nokia and Intel decided to join their mobile Linux platforms together and formed MeeGo. MeeGo was initially announced as a mobile computing platform, but not necessarily for smartphones. Later, Nokia and Intel said that a smartphone-specific version of MeeGo would be distributed.

Whether it is Symbian or MeeGo, Nokia needs to choose one and focus all efforts on making it as solid as possible. You don't see Apple, Google, RIM, Microsoft or any other smartphone maker actively developing two separate smartphone platforms. Each focuses on one. Nokia needs to choose one and make it easy to develop for, make it easy for end users to navigate, and for the love of god give it a modern user interface that offers the best of today's capacitive touch screens.

I don't think adding (or switching to) Windows Phone 7 is going to help Nokia in the long term.

First, Windows Phone 7 is an unproven platform. It hasn't launched, hasn't succeeded, and is a near-complete unknown. Microsoft's last effort at developing and selling a mobile operating system -- the KIN -- was a monumental flop. To me, that's a tough sell for any company eyeing to partner with Microsoft.

True enough that Microsoft has some heavy hitters lined up for Windows Phone 7's launch, the leaked smartphones appear to be desirable, and there seems to be genuine developer enthusiasm behind it, but grabbing another company's platform isn't the strategy Nokia needs to employ. I'd say the same thing if Nokia were to consider Android.

Nokia is still the world's largest maker of cell phones. For it to give up on internally-developed operating systems would be a major admission of defeat. Nokia needs to be able to make a comeback on its own. That means sticking with Symbian or MeeGo.