What does Microsoft's Nokia move mean to Apple?

The $7.2 billion yawn

What does Microsoft's Nokia move mean to Apple?

Not a thing.

By buying Nokia’s smartphone units for $7.2 billion, Microsoft is starting up its mobile device business six years after the launch of the iPhone; and three years after releasing its smartphone firmware, initially using the same model that made it a PC powerhouse – systems software licensed to hardware makers.

Windows Phone had a promising start: The company re-prioritized software engineering and development resources, and hired (and listened to) outside design experts; the UI design had a strong, clear focus on the end user and the end user mobile experience; it courted software developers.

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Yet Microsoft has spectacularly squandered that promise. Changes and improvements to the OS have been piecemeal, half-hearted, and reactive. Infoworld’s Galen Gruman is only one of many who have pointed out Microsoft’s lazy “waiting for the Messiah” mindset – the idea or promise or excuse that the next release will be a breakthrough, a turning point, and make all things new.  

In his in-depth November 2012 review of Windows Phone 8, Gruman described the Microsoft UI as being “all about superficial impressions, not optimal user interactions.”

“For example, the tiles are often hard to tell apart, as almost all are the same color. … And live tiles -- those that display information such as the current time (the HTC weather app) or date (the Calendar app) -- typically have no identifiable icons, so you have to figure out what app is hiding behind that particular status. The more you have, the harder it is to keep them straight.”

The more apps you have, the worse the user interactions become. “As the number of your apps and tiles increases, the more tiresome the scrolling becomes. Endless scrolling is part and parcel of the Windows Phone experience (and now of the Windows 8 experience). Unlike iOS, Android, and Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 doesn't have a simple way to search your apps or tiles.”

His conclusion:  “A year ago, I compared Windows 7.5 to Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," which was significantly lagging iOS 5 at the time, and found that Windows Phone 7.5 wasn't even as good as Android 2.3,” he writes. “A year later, Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" is out and giving iOS 6 a run for its money, but Windows Phone 8 has barely moved.”

By contrast, Apple’s unveiling of iOS 7 in June 2013 represents a largely successful attempt to create a new foundation for improving and optimizing user interactions with the iPhone, and the iPad.

Simply buying Nokia’s smartphone business and expecting things to be different as a result, will not change the industry dynamics or the competitive challenges facing Windows Phone.

A set of statistics assembled in April 2013 by Harry McCracken demonstrates how completely Nokia and Microsoft are absent from the global mobile landscape. From November 2012 to February 2013, sales of smartphones running other than Android or iOS accounted for 5.3 percent of the U.S. market. The total of “other” subscribers – those without an Android phone or iPhone – was less than 10 percent.

In every chart, the numbers show a mobile landscape defined by iOS and Android (with Samsung being the biggest of the Android device makers): in terms of number of app downloads, of smartphone profits, of smartphone traffic on the Internet, of available apps, of app quality.

Microsoft has been successful in all of these areas…in the PC market, as a “platform provider.” Now, six years after Apple created a new embodiment for personal computing, Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s mobile device business is just its latest attempt to grasp that fundamental change.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwjohn_cox@nww.com

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