February 11, 2011 | by Michael Heller
Earlier Nokia announced that they would be dropping their own Symbian and Meego platforms in favor of Windows Phone 7. My colleague Andrew likened it to “[jumping] from a burning platform into oil-soaked waters,” but I’m not so sure it’s a bad decision for Nokia or for the smartphone ecosystem as a whole. As Andrew points out, Android has grown by leaps and bounds and offers an established ecosystem and mature software to complement Nokia’s known prowess for hardware design. The trouble is, if Nokia were to adopt Android, it would essentially create a duumverate with Apple and Google. With Nokia choosing Windows Phone 7, at least there is a chance for a triumverate and competition.
Android has plenty of internal competition. Currently, we have the big 3 Android manufacturers in Motorola, HTC and Samsung, plus the peripheral manufacturers in LG, Huawei, Dell, and Sony Ericsson. All of these companies have done an extraordinary job of pushing Android hardware with faster processors, better graphics, better screens, more storage, better software components, and now look to be moving into the peripheral game with the Atrix and its myriad docks. Bringing Nokia into that mix won’t change that culture, and it won’t accelerate the upgrades any faster. Even if it did accelerate the hardware iterations, is that a good thing? Do we really want our handsets becoming obsolete even faster?
And, what other external competition is there? Blackberry? Not a chance. Blackberry has done nothing but freefall since Android and iPhone came onto the market, and RIM has shown no indication that it can right the tailspin. The Playbook looks nice, but will it rescue an entire ecosystem? Probably not. All indications still point to Blackberry trying a few more times to plug the leaks, but eventually they will likely abandon their proprietary software in favor of Android or WP7 or maybe even WebOS, if WebOS is a viable option at that point.
What Android really needs is more external competition. This continuous ideology of “us vs Apple” isn’t helping anything. At this point, the benefits and pitfalls of Android and iOS are well documented and don’t seem to be changing much. Apple isn’t getting any more open, and Android isn’t getting any more closed or moderated. The best option to help push forward the entire industry is Windows Phone 7.
Windows Phone 7
Yes, Windows Phone 7 has had a sluggish start, but this Nokia partnership is just the thing it needs to really gain some traction. The little secret is that WP7 is actually quite a good OS, especially for a first gen product. And, Microsoft has very deep pockets, deeper than RIM, and will be able to weather this first gen troubles. Microsoft has the money for marketing, and Microsoft has the XBox brand name to help build the system as well.
Right now, we have Apple at one extreme and Android at the other, and Microsoft is trying to fill in that mid-range. They have certain hardware and software criteria to promote continuity across devices and software. And, there is a review process for apps, which isn’t as draconian as Apple, nor as wild west as Android.
If Nokia had chosen Android, the best we could have hoped for is that Android took a commanding lead, the tables flipped, and suddenly Android was controlling the army of white-headphoned drones. But, that wouldn’t help anything. If anything, it might make the Android developers more complacent, because there would effectively be no outside competition. At least with Nokia choosing WP7, we have a chance to have three truly viable options for our smartphone OS. This isn’t a zero-sum game. If there is only one winner, we all lose. So, I say, good luck to Nokia and Windows Phone 7. We’ll see you on the battlefield.