March 2011 Archives

WP7 Struggle for Relevance

Image representing Nokia as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I'm sure that you've had enough talk about the M$ and Nokia agreement and subsequent WP7 propagation across all future Nokia handsets. Well, I figured that since I recently purchased a Nokia N900, I am uniquely qualified to weigh on this recent merger. While I am befuddled with the abandonment of Maemo and MeeGo. The uber cool QT development platform was also scuttled. I do agree that Symbian platform had outlived its usefulness. Nokia waited far too long to release the software into the community and it really smelled like a desperation move.  Now that I think about it, befuddled is probably disingenuous.

The new CEO is a Redmond cast off, so it does make perfect sense that Nokia would adopt WP7. However, I really do not see the so-called competitive advantage that is now afforded to Nokia. Ballmer seems to believe that WP7 will suddenly stop the hemorrhaging M$ effort and narrow the gap between its chief competitors iOs and Android. Though Symbian probably has a much larger install base than iOS and Android (and certainly any Windows Mobile play), Symbian is quite long in the tooth. The UI is quite ugly and rivals RIM for the most stagnant development platform. It would appear that the proprietary Symbian C++ has made people run away in horror. I compare the Symbian Open Source move to that of the wayward Netscape and it last ditch effort to save its browser.  Netscape left behind a heaping pile of code that took a community of hackers several years to forge into a cohesive project named Mozilla. Fast forward to Nokia's February 2010 announcement of Symbian3 and its Open Source strategy. How much time do you think it will take for Symbian3 to get the appropriate uptake in the developer community?  Obviously, Nokia brain trust did not plan well and really had no confidence in Open Source Symbian.

Ditto for Maemo and MeeGo. Many have chronicled the promise of Maemo and its first to market potential. For whatever reason Nokia hedged some initial bets on MeeGo via partnership with Intel.  However, Nokia leadership understood that Symbian could not stop them from rapidly losing market share.  Using F/OSS to help stave off Android and iOS takes guts and patience.  At this point no one will ever know if Maemo/ MeeGO could compete with Android and iOS.

So, Nokia decides to outsource its software development to another mobile laggard. M$ is betting on the distribution channel. Despite what Scoble and other M$ proponents believe. The uphill climb will be substantial.

Several challenges for WP7

The list above is not exhaustive, just a few observations. Additionally, I did not list these in any particular order. If I can depart from my usual point by point analysis. Let me just highlight the most important of the group.

Obviously, Windows CE has been around for quite awhile. It powered many of M$ mobile phones over the years. It's performance was mostly abysmal. I don't think there is much debate here. WP7 advocates will need spend time convincing people that its predecessor is far inferior to WP7.

Perhaps the most compelling question is why should you care about WP7? It would seem that the most difficult aspect of the WP7 adoption would be to simply get people to try it. Clearly this point resonates in the United States. Perhaps the alliance with Nokia will be a resounding success in Europe, but adoption in the US will take a herculean marketing effort.

Differentiation of the handset is not enough to propel WP7 past Android and iOS.  As both have a head start in terms of street credibility and developer mindshare. While we're talking about developers, Scoble and other M$ advocates would suggest that success is predicated on the apps or the glorious app store.  People who have used Free and Open Source software have used repositories or ftp sites to obtain their software for at least a decade. I would argue this is analogous to the glorified app store. Though the software was free, the ability to update your device firmware or install new software over the network is nothing new. I would agree that if nobody is writing software for your platform your platform will eventually disappear. However, I'm not clear that an app store drives the hardware platform.

Lastly, admittedly I do not know much about the XNA effort. Suffice to say that it is fairly new and developers in the M$ camp probably understand it well. If this XNA strategy is going to be the bedrock for WP7 it had better become a household name for developers outside of the M$ community.  Let's talk about M$ partnerships for a moment. We can look at Novell, Xandros, Palm, Erickson, Sony, Samsung and several others. The common thread here is that these partnerships never ended well for the other companies involved. If I get a moment I'll update this post with some examples of these failed partnerships. History suggest that this one will be no different.  I suppose time will tell. More later. 

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