Microsoft and Nokia: A tale of two elephants

Nokia reabsorbs Symbian, and Microsoft ships Windows Phone 7 -- to big yawns. How they became mobile's elephants in the room

When Microsoft released Windows Phone 7 in the United States yesterday, very few people lined up at the AT&T and T-Mobile stores to get the HTC and Samsung debut models -- despite all the extensive Windows Phone 7 advertising by Microsoft to goose up demand. (Maybe they read the unenthusiasic reviews from publications that got early versions.)

When Nokia announced yesterday that it was reabsorbing the Symbian operating system it had spun out as an open source effort 18 months ago, I thought, "Why bother? I thought MeeGo was your mobile OS future anyhow?" -- especially given the lack of attention to the last major release of Symbian (Symbian 3) in September.

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Two giants in mobile computing have become the elephants in the room, taking up space but grabbing little attention. They continue to go through the motions, but to little effect. Maybe we're waiting for them to politely excuse themselves and go away, but I suspect they'll stay on the scene and wave their arms for some time to come, desperately hoping to be taken seriously again.

Elephant No. 1: Microsoft crashes first
Microsoft is easy to criticize: It killed Windows Mobile a year ago, after letting the once-important operating system wander aimlessly for years. It then backtracked and reinstated Windows Mobile for embedded devices and perhaps tablets -- though those could run Windows 7 as well.

Microsoft made a lot of noise last winter with Windows Phone 7, whose user interface is innovative. But then it crippled the OS by leaving out tons of basic capabilities easily found elsewhere: device encryption, HTML5, multitasking, copy and paste, devicewide search, and Flash support. It became evident quickly that Microsoft was producing a "dumb blonde" phone, followed by its "dumber blonde" phones this past spring, the silly Kin phones that lasted just weeks in the market, the last gasp of the Danger OS it acquired some years ago.

All this shows a flailing company that has distracted itself from building an advanced mobile OS while letting everything else in its mobile portfolio crumble. Does anyone really believe Microsoft is in the mobile game any more? To me, the incomplete operating system that is Windows Phone 7 is the car crash whose injuries will kill this elephant by 2012. I wonder how long it will take for all those Microsoft employees being given Windows Phone 7 devices to secretly go back to their iPhones and Droids. (See my full review of a Windows Phone 7 production unit.)

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