Update, Dec 30: Thanks to various outlets linking to this with “Nokia employee says WP7 rumor is loony!” I’d better reiterate that this is not an official Nokia blog, I am not a spokesman (I am not actually a Nokia employee after the most recent layoffs), and I’m somewhat chagrined about any impression otherwise. This is personal opinion, and based on publicly-available information—not an inside scoop. I apologize to anyone at Nokia twitching over this, and will edit it appropriately if necessary.
While I’m late to the party commenting on this (holidays, what can you do), you may have seen numerous news reports about Nokia considering Windows Phone 7 as an OS instead of (or in addition to) Symbian and MeeGo.
Before writing anything on this: I’d previously mentioned that I work for Nokia. As of their most recent round of layoffs, I won’t. (As they say, come January I’ll be “looking for other opportunities.”)
In addition to all the other blessings the Internet brings us, it provides a previously unparalleled way to make one person’s theory look like a well-supported argument. Take an ounce of fact, add a tanker truck of extrapolation, and within days it’s repeated, embellished and editorialized on, and now it looks much more solid than it ever was.
Despite this rumored Microsoft/Nokia deal being reported in hundreds of tech news outlets, all of the reports trace back to one guy. Everybody’s quoting Eldar Murtazin of Mobile-Review.com, or quoting somebody else who was referring to somebody else who got it from Murtazin. He’s being given some credence because he has “inside” people at Nokia who got him an N8 before it was released, and that’s well and good, but people are editorializing as if it were a done deal: “Nokia and Microsoft Looks Like a Desperate Hook Up,” opines GigaOM, although their article concedes “there’s no guarantee” Nokia would go such a route.
No. No, Ryan Kim of GigaOM, there is no guarantee of that at all, because it is stark raving loony. A lot of the reporting on Nokia I’ve seen seems to miss a fundamental fact: they are, in their fashion, just as insistent on control over their ecosystem as Apple is.
Symbian and MeeGo are both open source, but Nokia is by far the most important corporate developer of both (let’s face it, Symbian never really had anyone else working on it). The API for both of them is Qt, developed by Nokia-owned Trolltech. Nokia’s mapping and navigation is supplied by Nokia-owned Navteq. Their search tools are being developed with pieces (and people) they kept from MetaCarta. They don’t have a closed “app ecosystem” like Apple, but if you are supplying software components in Nokia’s ecosystem that they come to rely on, it’s a good bet they’re going to buy you or write a homegrown replacement for what you do.
Nokia announced a “sole focus” on Qt just in October; if you’re a older-school Apple follower, think of this as the (very rough) equivalent of Apple’s Carbon strategy: a “classic” MacOS developer could ensure that their application was written to the Carbon API (a subset of the original MacOS API), and then they could port it to OS X with little more than a recompile. This is what the point of focusing on Qt is: you don’t write Symbian apps or MeeGo apps, you write Qt apps, and compile them for the target platform. Neither the CPU nor the underlying OS matter.
So what’s the advantage that Windows Phone 7 gives Nokia over MeeGo in this picture? Nokia isn’t going to be abandoning Qt, and while they could port it to WP7, it’s hard to see what the point would be. It’s hard to see what advantage it gives over Symbian, for that matter: Symbian has real multitasking, more applications, and right now, even more enterprise support. Some have theorized that they’re looking at it as a “stopgap” until the MeeGo strategy is ready, but again, give me a reason that it’s a better stopgap for Nokia than a Symbian^3 phone with Qt 4.7 (i.e., the N8 and friends).
Nokia really does have their OS strategy figured out, and it’s a good one. What they don’t have figured out is user experience design, a way to compete with the “$85 smartphone” Horace Dediu envisions, and, oh yes, the whole damn North American market. The good news for them is that over the last year they’ve started to take all those problem seriously. The bad news is that they needed to have been taking them seriously in 2007.