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Burning Platforms And A Hot Tale

india Updated: May 21, 2012 12:17 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Very few stories in the world of technology can be termed stranger than fiction – but this one goes above and beyond. The reason I am telling you this story is because it affects almost every person who uses a mobile phone. I have very little space, the tale I tell is important, the characters are all interesting and the ripple effect will be big – so pay attention.

Prologue
It all started with Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop (wrested away from Microsoft’s business division which he headed) writing a (brilliantly worded) memo which was (conveniently) leaked. In this memo he equated Nokia’s situation with standing on a ‘burning platform’, where on one side was a huge ‘fire’ (their current situation with Symbian and Meego) and on the other side ‘dark, cold foreboding’ water (a unknown new OS that they needed to plunge into). He also correctly analysed that ‘the battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems’ and Nokia needed to decide whether ‘to build, catalyse or join an ecosystem’ and in the meantime, they had ‘lost market share, lost mind share and lost time’.

Cell phoneA Brutal Start

A few days after that well positioned memo came the announcement that literally shook the world. That Nokia would partner with Microsoft Windows Phone 7 for their Smartphones. The reaction was swift and brutal. ‘Two losers don’t make a winner’, ‘No No No-Kia’, ‘Make or break for both’, ‘It’s all over for both Redmond and Finland’, ‘The greatest blunder ever made by a mobile phone company’... were most of the headlines.

Game Over Chapters
The sledgehammer onslaught was mostly due to obvious negatives. Microsoft’s Mobile OS and strategy has mostly been a disaster, they have almost no market share, they are slow with updates, their previous hardware partnerships were terrible, their current vendors weren’t giving them priority (most also make Android phones) and their own phone (the Kin) set a record for the fastest suicide of a mobile phone brand ever. On Nokia’s side they would have huge hassles supporting three platforms (they are apparently committed to taking out a Meego phone plus continue to support Symbian), their product development guys would need to unlearn and relearn on the Windows platform, they would now be the only big phone manufacturers with no OS of their own, they move from an open source OS to a closed one, other companies will also manufacture Windows Phone 7s and this OS jump may still not help them with their primary goal – better carrier relationships in North America. So is it game over for Microkia?

Fairy Tale Ending?
Maybe not. First, Nokia still dominates in most countries, it has sales numbers that can make other companies look blue in the face, it’s the largest vendor in the world and it has formidable manufacturing, marketing and distribution networks. Second, Windows Phone 7 is a surprisingly good OS and Nokia may be able to distinguish itself from the others who are all going into cookie cutter mode with Android phones. Third, Nokia has called Windows Phone its primary Smartphone OS – not an exclusive one; thus leaving scope for other developments. And fourth – and may I say most important – for Microsoft, this really is do or die. With the world moving to mobile computing, they need to get this right or they are forever out of this game. With their muscle, money, back to the wall situation and also a pretty good handbook on fighting dirty, they can’t afford to let this slip. If Nokia and Microsoft transform Windows Phone 7 into a fantastic OS, get in brilliant hardware and software features and make sure that price points are extraordinary, those negative headlines may be forgotten.

Burning Epilogue
Today, there isn’t a market more important than the mobile phone category. When a deal as big and as controversial as this rears up, it affects us all. It’s critical that there be as much competition from as many companies as possible. Having competing ecosystems and multiple companies working to entice us with their products is the way forward. The worst thing would be only one product line, one OS, one app store, one mighty company monopolising everything. If that happened, we, the consumers, would be standing on that ‘burning platform’ with nowhere to go.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3.
Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni

- From HT Brunch, March 6

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