Why Nokia, Microsoft Tie-Up is Good For Developers

What a year for Microsoft! Only a year ago, we were speculating about whether the software giant’s infamous for its muddled strategy for Windows Mobile would really be successful in catching-up with Apple and Android. And while Microsoft is not there yet, you would have to admit that convincing the world’s largest handset manufacturer to drop its own OS efforts in favor of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, would and should go down as a major success.

In signing up Nokia, Microsoft now has access to a range of hardware designs. Consumers want devices with QWERTY, without QWERTY, and small, medium, and large touch screens. They want flips, folds and swivels. They are now in a position to deliver in conjunction with a very slick OS, thanks to this one partnership with Nokia.

Mapped For Success

Related to this, the ability to add Nokia Maps to Windows Phone 7 is also a really significant for Microsoft. In Nokia Maps, Microsoft is getting a well-designed Maps application with a fantastic user interface. Smartphone maps are often unsung heroes. While they are good at preventing you from getting lost, a good maps application can also prevent you from getting a poor deal, or having to endure a meal at a substandard restaurant. This is a pillar of the future of mobility and Nokia will control it.

The Microsoft-Nokia deal has major implications for the developer ecosystem too. Microsoft and Nokia have between them solved one of the most pesky questions for developers in recent times – the third platform question.

This question goes something like this. ‘If you’ve developed your Android app, you’ve developed your IOS app – what exactly do you do next?’  What do you do? Where do you focus? There’s too much market share at stake to simply ignore the other platforms, but there too many other app ecosystems to have the time and resource to cover them all.

That question is now settled in favor of is Windows Phone 7.  Developers will start to gravitate towards this platform, and see it as part of their development roadmap alongside Android and Apple. The question ‘What are we doing about Windows Phone?’ will start to be asked.

Innovation Blooms

This is a big step and will lead to two kinds of innovation — the market is now organizing into a three player game. In a duopoly, companies focus on competing solely with each other, sometimes at the expense of their own philosophies. It is a zero sum game of reaction and counter-reaction. With a third viable player, you always tend to get more space for differences of approach and interplay between them. This, ultimately, has to be good for innovation.

Secondly, the Windows Phone 7 UX metaphor is so substantially different from the Android and Apple metaphors that it will give developers permission to try something different. For one, developers have the room with Windows Phone 7 to explore what a hub-centric metaphor rather than an app-centric metaphor means for development. More importantly though, users have no expectation that a Windows Phone 7 device is going to behave in the same way as an Apple or an Android device. If they open up Flickr or Foursquare on a Windows Phone 7 device, they don’t expect it to behave in the same way as it behaves on an Apple or Android device.

Don’t write Windows Phone 7 off as a perpetual third player here either. As services become the differentiator, this partnership could prove pivotal in establishing Microsoft (and Nokia) as very real competitors to Android and Apple.

Although Google has created a strong platform which can be rolled out across any number of devices, with an emphasis on rich customization of the OS, this customization will inevitably mean fragmentation and differences in performance on different OS’s. Apple has decided to control the whole user experience through from the handset to the application ecosystem as much as possible for a consistent user experience, but this ultimately means a limited number of devices.

As the ecosystem evolves, you could see an interesting phenomenon start to emerge. As the most popular applications become available on all three devices, the focus will shift back to form factor.

Think of a future scenario – the Apple community could grow tired of the lack of variation in form factor, and start to seek this variation out with other manufacturers. Google customers will be frustrated by being unable to run the application or service they want on their handset because their version of the firmware does not support it. On the other hand, Windows Phone 7 will offer a wide range of form factors with a controlled and strong user experience. Nokia, for its part, will have swapped tending to an ecosystem on life support to satisfying the growing demand for form factors around the expanding Windows Phone 7 ecosystem. Suddenly this deal starts to make sense. .

Christian Lindholm is a managing partner at Fjord, a London-based convergence design agency. He worked at Yahoo and also spent ten years at Nokia in various roles. He invented the Nokia Navi-key user-interface and is regarded as the father the Series 60 user-interface. He also created Nokia Lifeblog – a multimedia diary. He was a speaker at our Mobilize 2010 conference.