Mobile Mastery: Nokia and Microsoft a Tale of Two Ecosystems

Users have their heads in the clouds.

When Nokia announced they were signing up with Microsoft in February 2011, the mobile world gasped. Could it be that the world’s number one handset manufacturer was signing on with Microsoft and dumping Symbian and the fresh air that was Moblin + Maemo > MeeGo? It happened. Wow!

The engineering teams inside Nokia no doubt went through some serious soul-searching trying to find a way to make the Microsoft OS “fit” into their development culture let alone their emerging devices and ecosystem, which was not a simple undertaking. They announced product today and ecosystem updates – good stuff!

The question is: will it be good enough? The world has moved on and a few months is a long time in this fast-paced market. Can Nokia regain lost market share with previous users? What about new users? Will they come? Why will this be so difficult? Apple has great devices with more to come, a killer feature set in iOS 5, an amazing marketing machine and the leading mobile media ecosystem. Android is making big strides and has locked-in the number two position with a strong ecosystem and many hardware suppliers. The proverbial user-expectation “bar” is set high.

When I first saw MeeGo on a Nokia N9 handset, I was impressed. The performance, feel and UI was intuitive and refreshing. When I first saw WP7, I liked the tiled UI and the way the phone worked. It was fresh, different and good, but not great, and I liked MeeGo better.

WP7 also had a limited ecosystem behind it, not that MeeGo’s was any better. Where was the rest of the ecosystem? There were many missing pieces. The iOS ecosystem is cloud-based and has music, movies, books, magazines, podcasts, nearly 500,000 active apps, and over 80,000 games as of today.

Along with the Lumia announcement today, Nokia announced ecosystem enhancements and big marketing campaigns – Apps, MixRadio, Gigfinder, Navigation, Nokia Pulse, support for office docs and Xbox branded games, and more. This is great to see, and essential, but is it enough to complete with Apple’s and Google’s equivalent infrastructure? Will they ramp market share faster in Europe? Probably.

The lessons here are that in order for smartphones to achieve and hold a near-leadership position in today’s market, they need more than great design, fast networks, super-fast CPUs, social integration and a ton of features. They need to be backed by a cloud-based media and app ecosystem that people love to use and make a part of their lives. Including apps and media of all kinds and an over-the-air delivery mechanism not controlled by network providers. User expectations are what they are. And they are high.

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