Four questions about the Microsoft-Nokia alliance

The Microsoft-Nokia alliance turned out to be a lot more interesting than the pre-announcement rumors made it out to be. Rather than just a bundling deal for mobile Office, the press release says they'll also be co-developing "a range of new user experiences" for Nokia phones, aimed at enterprises. Those will include mobile Office, enterprise IM and conferencing, access to portals built on SharePoint, and device management.

Of those items, the IM and conferencing ideas sound the most promising to me. Office, as I explained in my last post, is not much of a purchase-driver on mobile phones. And I think Microsoft would have needed to provide Nokia compatibility in its mobile portal and device management products anyway.

I understand the logic behind the alliance. Nokia has never been able to get much traction for its e-series business phones, and Microsoft hasn't been able to kick RIM out of enterprise. So if they get together, maybe they can make progress. But it's easy to make a sweeping corporate alliance announcement, and very hard to make it actually work, especially when the partners are as big and high-ego as Microsoft and Nokia. This alliance will live or die based on execution, and on a lot of details that we don't know about yet.

Here are four questions I'd love to see answered:

What specifically are those "new user experiences"?

If Nokia and Microsoft can come up with some truly useful functionality that RIM can't copy, they might be able to win share. But the emphasis in the press release on enterprise mobility worries me. The core users for RIM are communication-hungry professionals. If you want to eat away at RIM's base, you need to excite those communicator users, and I'm not sure if either company has the right ideas to do that. As Microsoft has already proven, pleasing IT managers won't drive a ton of mobile phone purchases.

Will Microsoft really follow through?

Microsoft has been hinting for the last decade that it was were willing to decouple mobile Office from the operating system, but they never had the courage to follow through. Now they have announced something that sounds pretty definitive, but the real test will be whether they put their best engineers on the Nokia products. If Microsoft assigns its C players to the alliance, or tries to make its Nokia products inferior to their Windows Mobile versions, the alliance won't go anywhere interesting.

What does this do to Microsoft's relationships with other handset companies?

Imagine for a moment that you are the CEO of Samsung. Actually, imagine that for several moments. You aren't exclusive with Microsoft, but you've done a lot of phones with Windows Mobile on them. Now all of a sudden Microsoft makes a deal with a company that you think of as the Antichrist.

How do you feel about that?

I can tell you that Samsung is not the most trusting and nurturing company to do business with even in the best of times. So I think you make two phone calls. The first is to Steve Ballmer, asking very pointedly if you can get the same software as Nokia, on the same terms, at the same time. If you don't like the answer to that question, your next call is to Google, regarding increasing your range of Android phones.

Maybe the reality is that Microsoft has given up on Windows Mobile and doesn't care what Samsung does. But that itself would be interesting news.

I would love to know how those phone calls went today.

What does RIM do about this?

It has been putting a lot of effort into Apple-competitive features like multimedia and a software store. Does it have enough bandwidth to also fight Nokia-Microsoft? What happens to its core business if Microsoft and Nokia do come up with some cool functions that RIM doesn't have? Are there any partners that could be a counterweight to Microsoft and Nokia? If I'm working at RIM, I start to think about alliances with companies like Oracle and SAP. And I wonder if Google is interested in doing some enterprise work together.


j said...

Just a small point, but I guess when you said e-series has not gotten much traction you meant what exactly?

Last quarter they outsold n-series.

Anonymous said...

I can promise you with certainty that Microsoft has not given up on Windows Mobile.

Manuel Simoni said...

On a less serious note, I wrote a post called Microsoft and Nokia Announce Copy & Paste.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comments!

J wrote:

>>when you said e-series has not gotten much traction you meant what exactly? Last quarter they outsold n-series.

Wow, I missed that press release. Thanks very much for pointing it out.

I based my comment on what friends at Nokia have said to me about the e-series.

And I should add the comment that All About Symbian made at the time: "This is the first time that Eseries has outsold Nseries devices and perhaps suggests lacklustre sales of the N79, N85 and N96, compared to earlier Nseries devices"

But I'm not trying to pick on Nokia. Congratulations to the e-series folks, and I apologize for my misinformation.

Anonymous wrote:

>>I can promise you with certainty that Microsoft has not given up on Windows Mobile.

Okay, so let's hear the scoop-- how did the call with Samsung go today?

Manuel wrote:

>>I wrote a post called Microsoft and Nokia Announce Copy & Paste

Hah, great headline! But I think you should make the font in that website a little bit smaller.

Anonymous said...

Why are you so sure anything will be done? Maybe this time it suits Microsoft and that's the difference.

What ever happened to Silverlight on S60? For that matter, Silverlight on Windows Mobile? So far Microsoft and Nokia don't exactly have a good record of delivery post their announcements.

You also have to feel a little sorry for Quickoffice if this does happen.

Anonymous said...

The mobile os market will be Blackberry, iphone, Symbian (open source) and Android (free). Microsoft thinks people will pay for it’s mobile office applications. Rim probably wasn’t interested or wanted too much, both iphone and Android are not possible, it only left Symbian.
Microsoft is starting to understand that it’s making stuff nobody wants.smul

Anonymous said...

But is there really anything major coming to Enterprise mobility? Maybe IM/Unified Comms but the infrastructure side needs to happen first and that seems to be taking longer than expected.

The focus is on trying to innovate for Consumer customers; social networking, application store, or on services that apply to Consumer and Business, e.g. navigation/mapping/friend finder. None of them are 'behind the firewall'.

How many Enterprise customers really want to vid conference etc. while mobile? Won't the quality of experience mean they will arrange to be in front of a broadband PC?

Sharepoint access? Just needs a good browser, and what mobile device has that...

And another critical business application that iPhone has shown everyone else up for is viewing email attachments. Reading a Word, Powerpoint, Excel or PDF document on an iPhone is a great experience - one that even RIM can't come close to. And as for being able to make edits on your phone like Win Mo has talked about for years? Forget it - who could ever be bothered and risk corrupting the document.


Chan said...

What Nokia?

If MS wants to compete RIM, I guess MS better marry Palm, specially now they've got Pre.

When was the last time Nokia did release a good phone which was not a 40 Series one?

This will yeild more rotten eggs to pollute the earth :-D

Anonymous said...

I didn't notice anything in the announcement that the Symbian versions of Microsoft's sofware were to be stricly Nokia only. Plus Nokia is really pushing the "open" aspect in their own corporate propaganda/PR for both Symbian and Maemo.

So, maybe Samsung phoned Microsoft and made a deal to include the upcoming Symbian version of Office (and other MS software) for their own Symbian models.

mensajes claro said...

Just a small point, but I guess when you said e-series has not gotten much traction you meant what exactly?

Last quarter they outsold n-series.