Microsoft and Nokia Fight Together — For Now

Carl Weinschenk

The fight for survival story of the year is BlackBerry. Will Research In Motion and its iconic device beat the odds and carve out a niche? Or has the world passed it by?

The same basic theme — minus, perhaps, the life-and-death stakes — exists for Nokia. Its partner in the mobile sector, Microsoft, also is running dangerously close to being tarred as a loser in the mobile game. That’s no small thing. Commentators never tire of saying that the lion’s share of the action is on the mobile side.

That makes the introduction of the Lumia 920 a big deal. GigaOm’s story on the introduction of the device, which features Windows Phone 8, starts with the life-and-death verbiage. I won’t go that far because Nokia still has strength in developing markets and doesn’t face as imminent a demise as Research In Motion, which is more of a one-trick pony, does. And Microsoft always will be Microsoft, of course.

The Lumia 920 sounds like a cool device, but the introduction was a bit of a downer, at least in CNET’s eyes. The story has some good pictures. The importance of the Lumia 920 to both Microsoft and Nokia is summed up in the second paragraph of the GigaOm story:

The device represents a pivotal moment for Nokia, which has seen its smartphone share dwindle in recent years in the face of increasing Android and iPhone sales. And it’s a critical launch for Microsoft, which needs to find some momentum for its two-year-old mobile platform.

So, it would seem, Nokia and Microsoft are buddies, dodging incoming Androids and iOS devices together, as they fight to see a better day. That sounds nice, but may not be accurate. In mid-August, The Verge’s Vlad Savov wrote an interesting commentary suggesting that Microsoft’s design of the Surface tablet is so exacting and top shelf that it will pose problems for Nokia, which would have excelled at the same kind of creation.

In other words, it is as if an engine manufacturer inked a deal with a car maker and the engine manufacturer proceeded to design its upcoming automobile despite the existence of the seemingly strong relationship with the car maker. Not quite a betrayal, but not a nice thing either. It’s a bit of an awkward analogy, but is enough to illustrate the point.

Savov’s point is that survival is one thing, but the strange bedfellows syndrome develops quickly:

The problem, however, is that Microsoft's great feat is Nokia's great disaster. Think about the things that would have made you love a Nokia tablet before the Surface was announced. Top of the list would have been uncompromising industrial design, high-grade materials, and some subtle innovation in interaction methods. In other words, precisely the things that make the Surface slates so desirable.


In preempting Nokia's tablet with its own effort, Microsoft has disarmed its most committed ally in the fight to build up the Windows ecosystem. If you're Nokia, how do you sell people on great design when they already have a reference point that's superlative? What sci-fi material can you introduce to make your hardware sound more appealing than VaporMg? And how do you hope to improve on a tablet cover that's only 3mm thick yet includes a full keyboard?

This is an era in which corporations shift from being friends to enemies and back again fluidly. Indeed, they can cooperate and compete at the same time. Cooperation between Nokia and Microsoft is a good example of this sort of tricky relationship. In this case, however, the fate of both companies depends on each playing their cards right.



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