Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Microsoft just bought Nokia for $0

When I saw that burning platform memo last week, I thought “ohoh, this is setting the stage for Nokia development being halted, and Windows Mobile to be brought in as the rescuer.”

So, I’m not at all surprised at the announcement made today. After all, when you describe the situation as one in which desperate moves are to be expected, what is the most desperate move you could possibly come up with?

Microsoft played this very clever. Even though I’m assuming that all this is at the request of, and with the blessing of the Nokia board of directors, you have to wonder what the hell they were thinking. Microsoft has yet to make a serious dent in the mobile market, in spite of pumping serious money into it. And even though Nokia has not done the best they could, their brand is still strong enough to have a sizable following.

Nokia tried too hard to be another Apple, with an ecosystem that they themselves would own, including media offerings and so on. But Apple has all their ducks in a row, seamless integration, they have an awesome desktop OS, and they have - for now - an unmatched UI. Nokia can’t hope to gain parity with that in time for it to matter, they basically got moving (much) too late.

If Nokia had adopted the Android platform instead of this deal (possibly by forking it), I think they would have managed to turn this around, to quench the fires on their burning platform (their words, not mine), and to make a go of it again. In large parts of the world, mobile communications and Nokia were synonyms until not all that long ago.

Microsoft has a long history of botching their mobile devices. The only Windows phone I’ve ever owned was sent to me by accident, and I played with it (and one of its brothers in a store) long enough to conclude that they still don’t get it. Maybe if Ballmer started using an iPhone for a while, they’d eventually get it.

If Microsoft had outright bought Nokia, made this announcement and changed course accordingly, it would have been one thing. To see effectively the same happen without any risk to MS, and with immediate consequences for Nokia (Android on Nokia is now pretty much a thing that you can safely label ‘impossible’), is a bad development. Microsoft execs must be laughing themselves silly how they got this deal to happen without buying Nokia outright (at least, as far as I’m aware that did not happen). And Finland must be mourning for what was, not all that long ago, a source of immense national pride.

Look at SGI to see how partnering with Microsoft as a non-exclusive hardware vendor works out. When SGI started shipping their NT workstations, the writing was on the wall: SGI was all but dead. Now Nokia is still a good bit larger and more solid than SGI was at the time, but most of Nokia’s brand loyalty is because of the indestructible and unbelievably reliable phones they made in the 90’s. The phone I rely on is a direct descendant of those. Since then they’ve been steadily dropping on that front. If Nokia had kept its independence from MS, and instead had put its might behind the Android ecosystem, something positive might have come out of it. I believe Nokia cleaning up Android, making it rock-solid would be the best thing that could happen.

My money is on Nokia execs engineering this deal from a short-term perspective only. And probably another announcement that you can count on is the one where Nokia announces that it will sue all the makers of Android handsets for infringement of some patent. After all, if you go the Microsoft way, you might as well go it all the way.

My condolences to Finland and the Tampere region in particular, the lay-offs will likely be immediate and massive.

Remember the highpoint: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_2110, and thank you so much for that. If I could buy a new one today, I probably would.

And to those whose Nokia/Windows smartphones will give them the mobile variation on the MS ‘BSOD’ while calling 911, my condolences to you too.