Nokia Partners With Microsoft, Adopts Windows Phone 7

Nokia will adopt Microsoft's Windows Phone as its primary smartphone strategy, the company said on Friday, after days of speculation on what it would do to compete with Apple's iPhone and Google's Android.

The companies will also partner on mobile ads -- where Nokia will use Microsoft adCenter in mobile devices -- and on mapping, where Nokia Maps will become part of Microsoft's Bing search engine.

Before today's announcement, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop had stated that Nokia needed to "decide how we either build, catalyze or join an ecosystem" to change its fortunes. In the end it decided to partner with Microsoft and join the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem.

Nokia will contribute its hardware design and language support to the partnership, and help bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies, the companies said in an open letter from Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Nokia won't abandon its own platforms, Symbian and MeeGo, yet. The company still plans to put out a "MeeGo-related" product later this year, it said.

With the new strategy, Nokia is hoping to put an end to a downward spiral that started in 2007, the year in which the first version of Apple's iPhone arrived and Google announced Android.

At the time, Nokia's smartphone market share was almost 50 percent for the full year, compared to Apple's 2.7 percent, according to Gartner. The first Android-based phone still hadn't arrived. But by the fourth quarter of 2010, Nokia's market share had dropped to 30.8 percent, Android had caught up and Apple had increased its market share to 16 percent.

With Windows Phone 7, Nokia will have access to an operating system that can compete with Apple's iPhone and Android -- something the company hasn't been able to produce itself, Pete Cunningham, principal analyst at Canalys, said in an interview earlier this week.

Windows Phone 7 is far from a safe bet, however, as it, together with Microsoft's older Windows Mobile OS, only managed to grab 3.4 percent of the smartphone market during the fourth quarter, according to Gartner.

That Windows Phone hasn't seen a spectacular take-up is partly due to the fact that it isn't the priority for any vendor at the moment. Samsung, LG and HTC are all focused on Android ahead of Windows Phone 7.

That may change as Nokia brings to bear its channel network and production capacity. Microsoft is also partnering with a company seemingly willing to put all its might behind Windows Phone 7 in the high-end smartphone segment.

There is no silver bullet for either company, given the strength of iPhone and Android, CCS Insight said in a research note.

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