Nokia’s operating system problem

So Nokia has decided to make an Android phone? After the Microsoft acquisition announcement and just weeks before MSFT takes full control? Was MSFT on board with this? Is this Stephen Elop’s revenge for being denied the Microsoft CEO job? What is going on at Nokia anyway?

Nokia XL

(Forgive the potato-cam shot of the phone, it is from Nokia’s press website)

This is the second time Nokia is doing this in recent years. When Elop became Nokia CEO a couple of years ago, he threw out their smartphone platform (Maemo) and went with Windows Phone. Back in 2009, Nokia finally had a “smart” idea, combine their tablet operating system with phone hardware to come up with the N900. This was a fantastic piece of equipment, the first truly multi-tasking phone. No other phone OS does that. You could play a video, browse a website on firefox, go into a thumbnail view and see a little window with your video still playing in the background. Not paused. When Elop (ex-Microsoft) came on board in 2011, Nokia was suffering from a lack of smartphones. Maemo development had stalled since the N900 and Android was fast climbing. This was the best window for a catch-up. Windows & Blackberry were imploding and Android was not the 75% marketshare monster it is today. and what did Elop do? He ditched Maemo in favour of Windows phone saying that the existing operating platform was a “burning platform.”

Well if you are going to jump off a burning platform you better have someplace to jump to. Windows Phone was not a viable platform. Maemo was, if they had gone ahead with it. It had developers. It had the Qt framework which made porting apps from other platforms easier. Maemo incidentally lives on. After a brief spell as Meego (Nokia and Intel partnership), it is now renamed Tizen (Intel and Samsung mostly). While Nokia abandoned this (promising) platform, Samsung now looks ready to shift in a big way to Tizen with the launch of TVs and the new Gear smartwatches based on this platform. It is only a matter of time before they have smart phones too on Tizen.

Now Elop is doing it again. Going to Android. But not the whole way. Only the base AOSP – the open source bits, with the Googley bits replaced with Nokia/Microsoft equivalents: Here Maps, Outlook, Bing, etc. No Play store, but Nokia will create its own store. The whole thing is like what Amazon has done with the Kindle Fire range of tablets. The new range is supposed to be cheap and entry levels with users migrating to higher end Lumias running Windows as they upgrade.

But what happens when a user upgrades and finds that his/her apps don’t exist on the new upgraded phone? Nokia may be able to convince developers to bring their apps to Nokia’s store (apparently requires some changes, thus more work), but creating another version for Windows? Good luck with that.

Still Nokia makes great hardware. The swansong of Maemo was the N9 a fantastic piece of equipment which foresaw a lot of things Nokia has since done with Lumias. Perhaps a Nokia Android phone may just be the right blend of good hardware and operating platform. If only they had gone for a top end phone then. An entry level “cheap” phone is just not going to cut it.

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