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

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Elephant No. 2: Nokia is gunning for the cliff
Nokia is a more interesting elephant, because its slow-motion car crash is still in progress, and we can see it heading to the cliff.

The Nokia story is similar to Microsoft's: It hasn't advanced the Symbian OS very much since the iPhone changed the mobile game nearly four years ago. Worse, it became less competitive when it open-sourced the Symbian OS 18 months ago, putting its fate in the hands of technical committees, which take years to come to decisions, as anyone watching the painfully slow progress of Wi-Fi, WiMax, HTML5, and other key standards can attest. Nokia then proclaimed Maemo as its next-gen OS, only to stop that effort after about a year and team up in early 2010 with Intel to produce MeeGo as an open source effort (yikes! not again!). Its first working version (1.2) for smartphones is due in April 2011.

No one really believes that MeeGo will advance the state of the art in mobile, and coming up to par with the iOS or Android OS won't cut it. Just look at Research in Motion; it too was slow to respond but finally came up with a plausible platform, as seen in BlackBerry OS 6 and the BlackBerry Torch this summer. RIM is losing market share despite having finally entered the game. When Nokia finally tries to join in, it'll be lucky to find a bench to sit on.

Nokia is also confusing matters with its takeback of Symbian. Why continue to invest in Symbian if MeeGo is the future? Perhaps Nokia is as untrusting of its new platform as Microsoft has proved to be with Windows Phone 7. It could be keeping Symbian alive as a backstop, as Microsoft seems to be doing with Windows Mobile (aka Windows Compact Embedded).

The truth may be more practical: MeeGo is for smartphones and other next-gen mobile devices, and Symbian is for plain old cell phones that make up the vast majority of Nokia's sales. Nokia has said that in the past, but for a long time it's been murky as to its strategy. I'm not sure Nokia knows any more, and its new CEO has very little time to figure it out.

The way things are going, I suspect April 2011 will roll around and we'll see a replay of yesterday's Windows Phone 7 debut: no lines of eager customers awaiting Nokia's first MeeGo devices.

I guess the good news is that whatever happens with Microsoft and Nokia, there are compelling devices running Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and even RIM's BlackBerry.

This article, "Microsoft and Nokia: A tale of two elephants," was originally published at Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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