In late September, Nokia’s captain of smartphones Anssi Vanjoki famously compared the idea of Nokia abandoning its Symbian smartphone platform in favor of Google Android to “pee[ing] in their pants for warmth” — a futile, desperate strategy. He’s gone, and today, Nokia did the once-unthinkable by announcing that it will leave behind its homegrown Symbian smartphone operating system (and the corresponding Ovi app store) and switch to Microsoft Windows Phone 7.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect to Nokia’s decision is that, in the space of about two years, industry giants Nokia and Microsoft became twin underdogs to Apple and Google, whose iOS and Android operating systems seized the smartphone market with their massive variety of user-installed apps.
Microsoft still commands about 90 percent of the computer operating system market, while Nokia sold more handsets than any other company last year. Nokia proudly cited three million customers of its Ovi/Symbian app store about three months ago.
What just happened?
By throwing its lot in with Microsoft, a suddenly desperate Nokia is plainly struggling to remain as relevant in the app age as it was during the reign of the candy bar phone. Something weird is going on: Cellphones are trying to be computers. And Microsoft knows computers.
Having played around with the Windows Phone 7, I can safely report that it’s at least a halfway-decent mobile operating system — smooth, fast, and capable of running all of the apps that aren’t built for it yet.
Nokia plus Microsoft equals market share. Despite all the naysaying in the above video, the resulting platform is going to matter — possible more than HP/Palm’s webOS. The rest will be determined by increasingly fickle consumers, and by app developers who now face a variety of compelling operating systems to develop for, and could eventually abandon the idea of developing for multiple platforms in favor of an open standard like HTML5, as rough as it still is. Or maybe HTML6.