Nokia: From A Burning Platform To A Moving Platform

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Nokia developers don’t like the move to Windows Phone 7, says Nicholas Kolakoswki, but there are signs that WinPho is getting better

Windows Phone 7 will receive its first software update in early March, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told media during this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, tweaking applications and adding the copy-and-paste feature.

That update is long in the making, having been announced even before Ballmer’s keynote during January’s Consumer Electronics Show. However, the update’s exact push-through date has remained a point of speculation. In a 14 February posting on the Windows Phone blog, Any Lees, president of Microsoft’s mobile communications business, clarified that the timeframe is “the first two weeks of March.”

Microsoft is also using Mobile World Congress to announce further Windows Phone 7 updates scheduled to take place in the second half of 2011. Those include multitasking, Twitter integration with the platform’s “People” Hub, and Office document sharing and storage via Windows Live Skydrive. Microsoft will also add a “dramatically enhanced Internet Explorer 9 Web browser” to Windows Phone 7 during that period, according to Lees.

Windows Phone 7 integrates Web content and applications into subject-specific Hubs such as “Office,” “Games” and “People.” Microsoft claimed at the end of January that some 2 million devices had been sold by manufacturers to retailers, but the number of those reaching customers’ hands remains unclear. In any case, the company hopes the platform will revive its flagging market share in the smartphone arena, where it faces substantial competition from the likes of Google Android and the Apple iPhone.

Will the Microsoft deal bring in new developers?

For Microsoft’s engineers and managers, those updates may pale in comparison to the task of integrating Nokia’s software assets with the Windows Phone 7 platform. As announced in London on 11 Feb., Microsoft and Nokia have joined in an alliance that will see Windows Phone 7 ported onto Nokia devices. As part of that deal, Nokia Maps will become part of Microsoft’s mapping services, Bing will become the primary search engine on Nokia handsets, and Nokia’s Ovi applications store will be melded with Microsoft Marketplace.

For Microsoft, the Nokia agreement means an expanded pool of developers using its tools—including Visual Studio 2010, Expression 4, Silverlight and XNA Framework—to create apps and games. Nokia will apparently continue to support Qt, the development framework behind Symbian, at least according to an 11 February note posted on the Forum Nokia & Developer Community Website by Nokia vice president Purnima Kochikar. But with Windows Phone driving Nokia’s smartphone strategy, how long can the latter’s homegrown platform survive?

Emotions are running high

Based on developers’ angry responses to Kochikar’s note (“A sad day for Nokia, hindsight will show how bad this decision really is,” reads one posting), and reports of Nokia employees dismayed over the agreement, the fear is that Nokia will soon find itself reduced to a handset maker along the lines of HTC or Samsung.

“Every employee goes through an emotional journey, and the emotional journey is difficult, because this is such a big change,” Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told reporters during the Mobile World Congress, according to the Associated Press. “I’ve had four and a half months to go through my emotional journey, ending up in a very different position from what I had assumed when I first joined.”

Whether those developers and Nokia employees eventually make a peace with their devices running Windows Phone 7, the platform itself looks to be steadily updated throughout the balance of the year.

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