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Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced a long-rumored partnership with Microsoft this morning that would make Windows Phone 7 Nokia’s primary mobile platform.
The announcement means the end is near for Nokia’s aging Symbian platform, which many (myself included) have criticized as being too archaic to compete with modern platforms like the iPhone OS or Android. And Nokia’s homegrown next-generation OS, MeeGo, will no longer be the mythical savior for the Finnish company, as it’s now being positioned more as an experiment.
We’ve argued for some time that a move to Windows Phone 7 would make the most sense for Nokia, and after Elop’s dramatic “burning platform” memo last weekend, it was all but certain that the company would link up with Microsoft.
Nokia won’t just be another Windows Phone 7 adopter like Samsung or HTC. It will “drive and define the future of Windows Phone,” according to an open letter penned by Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Nokia’s hardware expertise will be put to good use for Windows Phone 7, especially when it comes to its experience with powerful cellphone cameras, and it will also help Microsoft deliver the platform to a wider range of price points and international markets.
Nokia says that it will continue shipping millions of Symbian devices this year, but it’s clear that there’s not much growth left in the platform. By 2012, Symbian will likely be wiped out by Windows Phone entirely, at least when it comes to new devices.
Ballmer joined Elop on stage in London at Nokia’s Capital Markets event to introduce the partnership. You can view the entire announcement video at the bottom of this post.
The partnership extends beyond Windows Phone 7. Microsoft’s Bing search engine and adCenter display ads will be implemented across Nokia devices (we’re assuming even those not running Windows Phone), while Nokia’s Ovi Maps mobile app will be integrated into Microsoft’s mapping services. Nokia’s Ovi app store will also be “integrated” into Microsoft’s app Marketplace — which, frankly, won’t be missed. And since Windows Phone 7 includes Xbox Live and Microsoft Office support, Nokia’s new devices will feature those too.
Contrary to previous rumors, Elop isn’t sacking much of Nokia’s executive staff. MeeGo head Alberto Torres, not surprisingly, has quit the company, while other executives’ roles are being reshuffled. Still, Elop said there will be “substantial reductions in employment” inside Nokia, which was to be expected.
Elop also mentioned that he discussed adopting Android with Google but that it would be difficult for Nokia to differentiate itself from the slew of other Android devices. “Commoditization risk was very high — prices, profits, everything being pushed down, value being moved out to Google which was concerning to us,” he said. European cellular carriers were reportedly worried about a potential Nokia/Google partnership because it would have created an iPhone/Android duopoly.
As for MeeGo, Elop clarified that he’s not giving up on the platform, but it’s no longer a significant part of Nokia’s future. The company will ship a single MeeGo device later this year “as an opportunity to learn.” After that, the MeeGo team will focus on different platforms, devices and user experiences. Basically, since the company was too slow in delivering MeeGo, Elop wants Nokia to look for the next major mobile OS innovation.
Qt, the developer platform that Nokia has been pushing for some time, which would have allowed applications to work across Symbian and MeeGo devices, is effectively dead as well. It won’t be supported in Windows Phone 7. Microsoft will instead provide its free developer tools and offer assistance to developers who need help porting their apps to Windows Phone.
When it comes to tablets, Elop said Nokia may adopt something from Microsoft or pursue something it’s been developing internally. With the company currently trying to get its grips on the smartphone market again, I don’t expect to see it announcing a tablet this year.
It’s also unclear when we’ll actually see a Nokia Windows Phone. Ballmer said the engineering teams from both companies have spent a lot of time together, but for this partnership to mean anything, Nokia will have to deliver a Windows Phone device by the end of the year. And honestly, the sooner the better.
Overall, the news is a big shift for Nokia, which has thus far struggled to innovate in a post-iPhone era. While some Nokia fans may see this as a weakening of the brand, I would argue that partnering with Microsoft was really the company’s last hope. It will help Nokia get back on its feet and deliver devices that consumers actually want. And for once, Nokia may finally be able to sell phones to Americans.