The Microsoft & Nokia love-in starts here.

I am not surprised at all the snarky comments on the Microsoft and Nokia alliance but I cannot understand why there are only a handful of people that seem to be seeing the massive potential here.

Nokia had close to 40% market share in 2007 when the iPhone was released,  this was still the case in January last year. They were King of the World for several good reasons:

Evolution of Nokia handsets, 1982-2007

Evolution of Nokia handsets, 1982-2007. Newlaunches.com

Design:
The above chart  shows Nokia designs from the early days of the cellular phone up to 2007.  We saw the handset evolve from black plastic bricks, to shiny, multicoloured fashion accessories.  Whilst I never went for the bling excesses of some of the designs, there was always something to suit different people.

The functions on Nokia phones always outperformed other manufacturers, whether it be the FM radio, rudimentary music playing capability, or the camera,  And they managed to churn these out cheap enough that anyone could have them without a crippling contract.

They also played about with a variety of different physical formats, such as the flipout keyboard of the 6820 or the swivel of the 7370 (my wife had both of these), not always successful but still they led the way.  And look at the comments on the above chart – many models remembered fondly or seen as futuristic at the time.  I recall the excitement (yes, sad I know) in 1996 of seeing someone telnet into a server in the middle of the street using a 9210 Communicator.

Compare that chart, with all it’s colourful, zany designs, to the current offerings.  What do you see?  Pretty much identical plastic smartphones, all black, same size, with a rudimentary camera on the back.

Interface:
I got my first phone (a Nokia 3110) in 1999, and despite higher resolution, screen sizes, and more features, the menu system remained pretty consistent even to my last Nokia, the xPress music 5310 in 2008.  It was simple and it worked well, even on a small screen.  In later models I could also choose a icon based navigation which suited the way I used the phone, but my wife had the same model with traditional menus.

Other manufacturers never seemed to get the interface right, always having some counter-intuitive location for fairly obvious settings, or features that didn’t quite connect.  For example one year I went for a Panasonic clamshell which had one of the best cameras at the time, but unfortunately there wasn’t an easy way to get the photos off.

There are also plenty of people for whom that simple interface is fine: my Gran uses her phone to call and text.  Touchscreens, cameras or ability to run Spotify and Angry Birds are not really important to her, and I bet there are millions out there who feel the same.

So what do Microsoft bring?

Microsoft have 85% of the desktop market.

Forget the snide comments, this is how it is.  For ordinary people, who don’t have the expertise to manage Linux, or the money to throw at Apple, Windows works for them.

With almost ubiquitous 3G/WiFi, there may not be much need to physically connect the phone to the desktop like the old days, when you needed a special cable to back up your photos or install an application.  But reducing the barrier between them may make the smartphone even more useful to a wider market.

Windows Phone 7 has had a generally positive reception and there are potentially a huge number of developers, as Conor points out,  so the workload can’t be massive to get this on Nokia’s existing hardware.  Microsoft also bring lots of cash to speed this process along, and the potential to push Blackberry out if they tie in with Exchange.

In short, the design, interface and production pedigree of Nokia, combined with the desktop share and developer community of Microsoft, has the potential to be massive.  So why is everyone so quick to dismiss it as two old dinosaurs reacting far too late?

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About loidon

Technical support in an IT-centric academic department. Jack of all trades, master of none. Able to bluff on most subjects!

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