May 04

iPhone theft consequences (Part 3): Is Microsoft about to kill off Nokia (plus HTC and itself)?

The Nokia Lumia has attracted positive reviews, with both tje phone and its Windows Phone 7.5 (WP7) software platform. While not drawing quite as much attention as the Lumia, HTC’s Titan, Radar and other WP devices also look good. One common reason is WP7, which may also provide the nail that seals Nokia’s and HTC’s coffins (both are currently enfeebled)– and even Microsoft’s own mobile fate as well.

WP7.5 makes extensive use of the Metro interface, with its tiles which contain information. Metro is going down well, and with cause.  It is both different and an advance beyond iOS, plus it has a ‘language environment’ behind it which makes it possible to push developments further and further.

Windows 8 will also use the Metro interface.  The Windows 8 Consumer Preview already demonstrates what can be done once you place it on a tablet and on a PC (Constellation Research has both running). They look good, as did the MWC announcement by Microsoft was the objective that apps that run on the Windows Phone 8 platform should run on Win8 on the tablet and PC — a powerful attraction.

That very attraction is what makes a WP7.5 device look very appealing as a replacement for the iPhone that stolen in Tel Aviv (see http://bit.ly/H94hrq and http://bit.ly/HtgnyV). The prospect of a consistent, from top (PCs) to bottom (phones) via the middle (tablets), Windows-approach has much to recommend it over Android (too bifurcated and not co-existing well with PCs) and iOS/OS X (coming closer together but still with the ‘Apple Knows What is Best For You, Not You’ approach that offends many, although not all).

Now consider what appears to be happening. Microsoft seems to be saying that current WP7.5 devices will not run WP8. Thus, if you bought a Nokia Lumia or HTC Titan II (or other WP7-equipped device) it will not be able to move up to WP8.  Yet the Lumia and Titan II are less than a year old; some other WP7.5 devices are even younger.  It seems Microsoft wishes to make buyers of WP7 phones very unhappy.

But it is worse than this. The attraction of buying WP devices now is that they will seamlessly coordinate with Win8 when Win8 arrives, not least because WP7.5 phones would move to Win8. Remove the latter capability and the case for Win8 on phones and tablets begins swiftly to evaporate.  For example, the ‘news’ that a WP7.5 device cannot move up to Win8 means that either I wait for a Win8 smartphone or I decide to buy from the competition or I acquire a second hand alternative (most probably a 2 year old stupid-smartphtphone, likely Android).  In effect, to remove smartphones from the list of devices for buying now and both Nokia and HTC will be is deep trouble, and potentially fatally wounded — through no real fault of their own.

Yet the longer term damage may be to Microsoft itself. If the combo of WP on phones and tablets and PCs is not to be until late 2011 or into 2012, then the attraction of Win8 for phones AND for tablets disappears, particularly in the enterprise where consistency is prized above almost everything else. That would leave Microsoft with the still valuable but fading Windows on a PC franchise, but the tablet market to iOS and Android.  That seems daft.

It may be a bitter pill for Microsoft, but swallow fast and re-assure both existing Nokia and HTC WP7 users about WP8, or ensure it loses the enterprise smart device game just as it looked to be on the verge of success.

Addedndum:  Microsoft ‘has form’ here.  WP7 did not have tethering. WP7.5 (Mango) added tethering, but only on some platforms. The excuse given was that some carriers do not want tethering available (nevermind enabled). So long as Microsoft (and to a lesser degree the smartphone manufacturers) seek to hobble functions in any way, potential smartphone buyers will vote with their wallets. Smartphones, being more like computers, are different to function phones. This is what Apple understood ab initio with the iPhone – when it rearranged the previous denial approaches of many carriers, recognizing that it was users who would decide. Learn, Microsoft; learn.

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