Nokia’s new chairman says the company has an alternative strategy prepared, in case Microsoft’s new version of Windows Phone doesn’t live up to expectations. Except he won’t say what it is.
Risto Siilasmaa made the comments last week to Finnish broadcaster YLE. Analysts have been getting nervous for some time, and Microsoft has given them a new reason to be anxious.
In February, following months of rumours, we confirmed that Microsoft Apollo, aka Windows 8, would use the Windows NT kernel, sharing the same code as Windows 8 desktop. Silverlight and the Compact .NET framework were also being dumped along with the Windows CE Kernel. The new phone OS would have steeper hardware requirements, but because it shared common code with the desktop Windows, would have access to a much wider and richer range of device drivers. Base ports to new hardware would be easier. But as transitions go, it’s a very Big Bang indeed, and risky.
“What third-party developers are supposed to do is not clear. Will all today's applications break? Will there be a legacy runtime? What source-conversion tools will be available? Even key Nokia sources don't know the answer to these questions yet,” we noted here.
Of course the Big Bang also rendered today’s Windows 7/7.5 Phone obsolete - although it took the tech blogosphere (which lags some months behind El Reg and the developer community) until last month, and the official Windows Phone 8 announcement, to notice. Nokia’s comeback Lumia phones are based on Windows 7.5, and the company had made no promise that its Lumias would support Win 8 Phone. Cue rather predictable howls of outrage.
Fevered speculation has followed Siilasmaa’s resolutely opaque statement - particularly since his CEO is found of using the ‘No Plan B’ figure of speech. The blogs who didn’t realise for months that Nokia’s phones would be incompatible with Windows 8 immediately began a new round of unfounded speculation.
Given that Elop has mothballed Meego, cancelled Meltemi, folded the Smarterphone acquisition into Series 40 and spun out Symbian, there are really very few things a Plan B may be. Android isn’t an option, as it cuts Nokia away from its Microsoft life support system. The most likely - and only serious - Plan B is for an interim, Windows Phone Classic (aka 7.99999) to take advantage of multicore processors and (perhaps) higher resolution screens.
Far more worrying than the Big Bang is that Nokia’s comeback has had everything: lots of press, good reviews, everything except sales. Which makes the idea that there may not be room for differentation at the platform level at all: the only two 'ecosystems' may be Android and iOS. This means Nokia and RIM are playing a game of musical chairs in which they won't get a seat. It's too early to say, but customer indifference to a competent but not compelling platform must be a profound worry. ®