Ecosystems

Things happen. And when they’re less than favourable, you either work hard and fast to ensure you’re competitive, or you fall back, exhibiting your inability to prevent the fact that you’re the market leader has got to your head. Every leader is susceptible to the latter, but good leaders work hard and maintain their lead. It’s one thing to become a leader, another to retain your leadership.

Smartphones excite me. Not as much as they used to, once, but I still get excited at the sight of a phone I haven’t got my hands on to. And so, I’ve followed the market closely (not as much as an analyst would, but it’s my hobby), and I have my favourite companies. Nokia, Apple, Google, Microsoft, HTC and Samsung. I’m more of a Nokia fan than I’m a, say, Samsung fan. But that’s because I’ve grown up using Nokias, and Nokias only. It is only now that my primary smartphone is a Samsung-made Google Galaxy Nexus. Sure, I’ve used other manufacturers’ phones, too, but my primary phones have always been Nokias. So I guess it’s understandable why I like them more.

Nokia Stephen Elop

They used to be market leaders, and at the time, Symbian was where Android now is – leading the market by a whopping 50-70% share. Today, they don’t have <5% share in the world. Just shows how the mighty have fallen, eh.

Humpty Dumpty Sat On A Wall, Humpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall

Fast-forward, Nokia fell back, still churning out clunky candybars with stone-age’ish software. No, the features were there just fine, it was the senseless, stupid, clunky UI/UX which was the deal breaker. People moved on, but Nokia was still stuck in its past – it took its market lead for granted, was too slow to bring new stuff to the market. There was the complex-but-loved-by-geeks-and-enthusiasts Maemo running on the N900 – and it still is lusted after by many a fans. Heck, by noob’ish friend has it and loves it, although I can’t get around using it as my daily driver. Maemo/MeeGo-Harmattan was supposed to be something Nokia would transition to, from Symbian. MeeGo-Harmattan deserves a special mention, for the Nokia N9 that runs it, is stellar. It’s beautiful, powerful and innovative. It’s an absolutely beautiful culmination of sheer hard work, determination and innovation – the software looks stunning, and the hardware was something which was never thought about by any other mainstream companies. I got to use it for a month, and I can honestly say it was one of the best phones I’ve ever used. I loved it, and it’s one of those rare phones I truly miss.

Symbian is killed, Microsoft is the new BFF

So, Symbian to MeeGo-Harmattan – that was something many say would be Nokia’s transition step. But just when it was going to happen, Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, announced a partnership with Microsoft, saying that the Redmond’s OS, Windows Phone, would now be the Finnish giant’s primary OS, and that the 808 PureView would be the last Symbian smartphone. There would be no MeeGo-Harmattan based hardware anymore, effectively declaring the N9 DOA, much to the chagrin of its fans. Nokia tried as much as it could to kill the 808 PureView and the N9, which was quite understandable, yet disturbing. Disturbing to me as a fan. But as time passes by, I think the decision to jump ship was more wise than we have thought.

Why, you ask? There are a few reasons – Symbian’s code was becoming both cost and time-consuming, and there were not many encouraging signs. N9, and MeeGo-Harmattan, on the other hand, were beautiful, stunning, but lacking an overwhelming majority of apps. That was okay, considering it was a very young platform. Had it been nurtured, perhaps, would there have been more apps. It could have been Nokia’s Android, except I doubt it wouldn’t have been licensed like the latter.

But that aside, Nokia decided to partner with Microsoft, an American company (USA had been a market Nokia was struggling in, essentially leading to its downfall). They could have gone with Android, but that would have probably meant paying license fees to Microsoft, and the cut-throat competition in the Android ecosystem would have made it a much less profitable prospect for the company. As an example, only Samsung makes a considerable amount of money off of Android, in part because it manufactures most of the internals itself, and in part because of economies of scale, something Nokia wouldn’t have managed to accrue itself.

Then they got money from Microsoft for making the platform shift. Then Microsoft made sure it’d market Windows Phone and the Lumia brand of phones itself, too, apart from Nokia. And the fact that it had a lot of money it could throw at the OS to make sure it’d succeed only helped Nokia’s decision, one might argue.

Should they have gone with Android?

What many, the ones who say Nokia should have gone Android, only manage to see is that Android has succeeded when it comes to phones, but that’s the only thing about its success. It has failed, and insanely so, when it comes to the second fad – tablets. With Windows, that part of the puzzle is solved to an extent – Microsoft has the advantage of familiarity when it comes to Windows Phone’s and Windows 8′ (RT included) UI, what is known as Metro. The Live Tiles, they’re playful, and look fresh. I may not use it much (at all, in fact) on my desktop, but that’s not the point. It’s about familiarity, and the fact that Windows is the leader in the computer industry only helps this. Microsoft can potentially leverage this and transform Windows Phone to a competitive brand from the current also-running-in-the-fray-but-lagging-badly brand.

It can, though. “Can” is the keyword. Whether it does, or not, is a different question. There is potential, and now it’s up to Microsoft to make it happen.

20 seconds rewind of the block of text above.

To rewind – Nokia, Symbian, failing, stuck in the past glory days. Android, storming the kingdom of Symbian, winning. N9/MeeGo, killed for Windows Phone. Microsoft, Nokia partner up. Android failing on tablet side, low profits for OEMs except Samsung. Windows Phone, Windows 8, tablets, familiarity. Ecosystem, Microsoft pays Nokia. Nokia sees the potential, goes with WP/Microsoft instead of Google/Android.

I use Windows Phone 8 along-with Android now. It’s much more enjoyable than Android, but it’s still not up to the mark when it comes to some areas. I have been using Windows 8 since the first public beta release days, and I find it great. I haven’t used Windows 8 on a tablet, though, so I’m looking forward to gaining that experience. Android on tablets makes no sense to me, what with it still not being a full-blown computer (a full-blown computer is something with Windows-like functionality), and the apps being the ridiculous bunch as it is.

I’m no expert, and I am an Android lover more than I’m a Nokia/Windows Phone fan. I’m not even analyzing here, it’s just what I think. I think Nokia made a sound decision to go with Microsoft, and I can’t wait to see how the two now execute their strategies and accelerate. I hope they do and do well.

Apple, Google, Nokia, Microsoft.. these are all terrific companies, all of whose products I’ve enjoyed using. If Windows/Windows Phone 8 fails, one of those four companies will probably not be there anymore, and that would be quite a loss. Microsoft may continue to exist. But I don’t wish to see a Apple-Google duopoly. More competition is always better, and I hope Microsoft works faster to make Windows Phone competitive enough. It’s done quite a lot with Windows Phone 8, and I hope it attains greater speeds. If for nothing, for competition. That is what drives other companies to do better, and it’s all good for us, in the end.