Microsoft-Nokia mobile alliance still misses the mark

As long as the same leaders are in place, this partnership is unlikely to end the companies' string of mobile failures

Dear Bob ...

I'm not looking for advice, just commentary. Sometimes you bend a bit and comment on industry matters in ways that don't translate to advice. How about a comment on the just-announced alliance between Microsoft and Nokia?

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- Just Curious

Dear Curious ...

So long as you understand that I know nothing specific about the situation beyond what I read in the same trade pubs and blogs as you, what the heck -- here's my take.

On the positive side of the ledger, this is probably the best move either company could make. With its failure to include cut-and-paste in the initial version of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft lost whatever credibility it had hoped to re-establish in the smartphone marketplace. It needed to leapfrog its competitors, not land a few jumps behind.

This was stupid enough when Apple neglected to include it in the early iPhones. It's even stupider now, and unlike Apple, the people who buy Microsoft products are customers, not fans, and they're far less forgiving. Meanwhile, Nokia has spent so many years failing to even understand that smartphones are a marketplace that its reputation is thoroughly shredded as well.

It's the best either company could do. Microsoft needed a hardware manufacturer willing to stick its neck out, and no other candidate is likely to invest much time and effort to make their Windows Phone 7 smartphones particularly interesting. Nokia needed something to make its smartphones more interesting than ... whatever it's been up to that nobody has cared about because it really didn't matter.

The best, though, doesn't make it good. The exact same people will be setting direction, developing strategies, and providing overall leadership following the Microsoft/Nokia alliance as did before. There's no reason to think any of them have figured out any more leapfrog possibilities than the folks who came up with HP's WebOS devices (which perfectly characterize what you get when you combine who-cares and me-too features into one uninteresting product).

Here's what, sadly, will probably not occur to anyone involved in the Microsoft/Nokia alliance: With the exception of Kinect, Microsoft's best innovation is going into IT infrastructure products, where it has genuinely interesting stuff to sell. In particular, the Office/Outlook/OneNote/SharePoint constellation of products has a lot of potential for making employees far more effective, especially when the subject is collaboration. Lync has intriguing possibilities as well.

With RIM on the downslope, the field is open for a smartphone manufacturer to offer great things to the enterprise marketplace. If Microsoft and Nokia can somehow figure out how to fit their smartphones into this suite of products in a way that creates an intuitive but feature-rich environment, they could possibly pull off a miracle.

As for the odds: They're low. If either company was capable of this, we should've seen some inklings of it before.

- Bob

This story, "Microsoft-Nokia mobile alliance still misses the mark," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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