Nokia & Microsoft – And what it means for QT and MeeGo.
It is widely believed that there can only be three mainstream smartphone platforms, in addition to niche platforms such as RIM, and with Android and Apple IOS occupying two of those positions the race to be the third depends massively on the perception of momentum. Consumers and developers will follow the perceived trend, and so creating a vision for where your platform will go is as much an art of political manoeuvre as it is a science of engineering prowess.
Nokia want to be (a part of) that third platform and they didn’t have confidence that MeeGo could take them there.
Nokia needed to do something, losing ten-percent market share in just a year is pretty horrific.
But even if adopting Win7 mobile for smartphones was a ‘necessary’ choice for Nokia, what does it mean for open platforms like Meego whose competitive advantage is enhanced by its cross-platform development environment?
On the surface it looks pretty bad:
1. MeeGo is no longer a smartphone platform, it has now become a smartphone ‘project’ which will limit itself a single 2011 release before morphing into R&D for future concepts. What this means is that stage 5 of 5 will probably not attract much commercial developer interest, nor see investment in services expected of a tier one device.
2. QT will not be offered as a development platform for Nokia Win7 phones, that will be in the hands of Microsoft, effectively killing Nokia’s ambition to see QT as the premier mobile development platform. What this means is that as far as Nokia is concerned QT has very little utility as a strategic asset and so investment will plummet.
3. Microsoft Marketplace will replace Ovi-Store as the store for applications on Nokia Win7 devices, and this is unlikely to be made available to MeeGo devices. This may not matter quite as much as it initially appears however as an entirely separate app-store ecosystem has grown up around Nokia/MeeGo in the form of Project Bretzn.
This is in no way a desirable outcome as far as this blog is concerned, for there is no dream of a mainstream open platform any longer, but perhaps it will survive as a niche platform?
Nokia currently spends nearly three times as much on R&D as its peers, so when we see that investment by Nokia will decline by a third, and investment in MeeGo will be squeezed to less than half of what it was, perhaps we need a little perspective.
MeeGo alone will probably see an annual investment of circa $200 million. If we likewise contrast that to the circa $800 million to be invested in “Windows Phone” then we can guess that “MeeGo” phones will attract at least one fifth of the investment that Nokia will put into “Mobile Phones – Platforms” as well as “Services” which amounts to circa $350 million per year.
So, in a like-for-like comparison with competitors a total investment of $550 million a year doesn’t appear too desperate, provided one understands that it is being kept as a niche platform and not promoted as a mainstream competitor to Android and Apples IOS.
It should also be noted that Nokia show Win7 as replacing the Symbian platform which occupies the mid-to-high end of the companies offering, a total that represents less than 60% of Nokia’s projected future sales.
So there is plenty of room for cheap smartphones for the developing world as well as niche smartphones for the developed world.
As for QT, this blog is willing to follow the advice of KDE project lead Aaron Siego:
"Open governance around Qt is moving forward briskly and from what I gather there are some interesting and useful announcements to come. R&D investment continues. However, we (KDE) won’t know the full shape of how this will impact our landscape in the mid- and long-terms until we speak more with people at Nokia as well as within the Qt team itself. That’s going to take weeks, not hours or days. Pretty much anything said before then is going to be premature and stand an awfully high chance of being wrong. Qt is a big ecosystem with many players right now, and as with any big company making a big announcement sorting out the practical implications is not something done in an hour or a day."
So in what manner will MeeGo survive as a niche platform? Well, as an open ‘platform’ of course (even if Nokia are unwilling to term it as such right now), just as RIM makes its money as business platform, and webOS will survive as a vertically integrated HP platform. Likewise will QT survive as a useful (if not strategic) part of Nokia’s future as it will remain the key enabler for development on its niche open platform.
Events have not turned out as this blogger would choose, and one is far from convinced that Win7 represents a sensible move for Nokia’s long-term future, but regardless, all is not lost on the open-platform front.