Nokia + Microsoft: Can two wrongs make a right?

The two faded leaders may see a glorious past when they eye each other, but what they can accomplish is less clear

The latest rumors in the always rumor-filled tech industry are that Nokia and Microsoft will band together to combat Apple's iPhone and Google's Android OS. Both Microsoft and Nokia have foundered in recent years, and their desperate mobile straits could lead them to try a Hail Mary combination. The fact that Nokia's new CEO hails from Microsoft gives the rumors some sense of legitimacy.

But it's unclear why two failed mobile strategies would succeed when combined. Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 lacks many essential capabilities, which its nice UI can't cover up. In addition, sales have unsurprisingly been poor. Nokia has almost no presence in the United States, its several "iPhone killers" have shot blanks, and its home market (Europe) has been shifting quickly to iPhones and Android smartphones. How putting the Windows Phone 7 OS on a Nokia-branded smartphone would help either company is a real puzzler.

Nokia has confused everyone with its mixed messages on one of its two smartphone OSes, Symbian, saying at varying times it was a key platform for the future, as well as that it was being dropped and would be succeeded by the open source MeeGo. Microsoft has been unconvincingly acting as if Windows Phone 7's omissions are part of a larger strategy and has noted it will add one missing feature (copy and paste) in January, then fill in other gaps "later." Meanwhile, it's renamed its discontinued Windows Mobile to Windows Phone, suggesting a possible return to its old platform.

Those mixed messages come as every other mobile provider other than Hewlett-Packard (which has been all but silent about its Palm acquisition last spring) has moved forward with clear plans: Apple is continuing its regular updating of iOS and is expected to have a new iPhone and iPad model this spring; Google is doing the same with Android and preparing a tablet-ready version; and RIM is adding a tablet OS this spring to its portfolio and will migrate its smartphones to the Web-savvier BlackBerry OS 6.

Many pundits have suggested that Nokia adopt Android, given that OS's strong momentum. That surely can't appeal to Nokia, as it would put it in the same boat as HTC, Samsung, and Dell -- device makers who add little or no fundamental value of their own but instead create nice comtainers for other companies' technology. The once king of mobile, Motorola, threw in the towel and went Android in 2010 -- to strong success -- so maybe Nokia should try to do the same and be a smaller fish in a large pond.

Motorola took many years to realize it had lost its old glory. Nokia is still struggling with the fact it deluded itself as the market changed four years ago, and going Android may be too hard to swallow for a company as prideful as Nokia. Microsoft is in the same boat, and a tie-up with Nokia could make it feel like it is still special. Two has-been leaders seeing the glorious past when they look at each other and imagine that partnering will restore their former vigor.

It could happen. Right?

This article, "Nokia + Microsoft: Can two wrongs make a right?," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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