Does Apple have a serious competitor in Microsoft and Nokia?

I’ve been a loyal iPhone customer since its launch in 2007, with just one brief foray into Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 platform when it first came out. They redefined the cellphone industry and their focus on profits rather than handset sales has paid off.

RIM is all but dead and for my money at least, there is not – yet – an Android device that competes in quality and battery life for what Apple are offering. Whether you like Android or not is a separate point, and it does have a lot of things going for it and a loyal following, particularly amongst the technical community. Plus, of course the iPhone is expensive.

The thing is though, the cellphone market has a habit of reinventing itself every few years. Nokia, RIM and now Apple have at different times dominated the industry – for 5-10 years at a time. Apple has reached a dominant position and this means that everyone is gunning for their slot.

And enter Microsoft with a completely rewritten Windows Phone 7 platform. As I’ve written before, Microsoft have created an Phone which works like we think. It’s truly social and integrated with Facebook, Twitter and you move effortlessly from pane to pane – unlike the silos within which Apple’s iOS operates. What’s more its integration for email far surpasses what Apple, RIM and Google are doing.

There are essentially two problems with Windows Phone 7. The first is that it’s immature. Microsoft haven’t been agile in releasing new features and the over-the-air updates have been fraught with problems – which is all very reminiscent of early iPhone releases.

The second problem has been more endemic, which is the lack of a decent handset with decent battery life. Sorry HTC and Samsung, but your handsets suck. They’re too big and clunky and they don’t feel like a device that I’d like to hold. And at the price of some of the high-end handsets, you may as well have an iPhone.

Enter Nokia. Purveyor of quality handsets with great build quality and a reputation for excellent battery life. What then if Microsoft and Nokia co-innovate. What if Windows Phone 7 – with bugs fixed and better power consumption was available on a phone as nice as the new Nokia N8? I’ve held a N8 in my hand and it is a quality device – one I’d be happy to own. Shame the platform it is built on is obsolete at launch.

This combined with a decent number of apps (and the developers will come) and Microsoft’s reputation for integration and security may well woo the Enterprise IT community, if not the consumer alike. And from a technical perspective all is well.

The problem unfortunately is that Microsoft and Nokia have become political and social internal disasters – with many levels of management that throttle innovation and agility.

To Microsoft & Nokia: Create a skunk labs for this. Cut the crap out of your organisations and focus only on delivery. Prevent the management levels from stifling innovation or you won’t deliver. If you don’t deliver, remember what will happen. Nokia will become a dinosaur producing cheap mass-produced handsets. And Microsoft, your Windows Phone 7 platform will become another expensive product failure.

To Apple: Be worried. The iOS platform isn’t social and it’s already technologically behind what Microsoft is doing. Despite the fact that you have the advantage of creating beautiful products and a mature platform that works, you will lose this advantage when someone else innovates. And you’re not innovating fast enough with iOS. Use some of the $75bn and rewrite it from the ground up if you need to – it’s OK if it takes 5 years in the making. iOS will last that long, but it is on a meteoric rise, which will inevitably have a fall.


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3 Responses to Does Apple have a serious competitor in Microsoft and Nokia?

  1. Robert Whittaker says:

    Interesting – based upon my exeperience of windows phones, I thought the MS/Nokia partnership would have to make a cosmic leap to compete with both Apple and Android. After reading your blog and maybe they’ve managed it.

    The big question is have they missed the boat. Most Apple owners, would now have an iPhone whatever the opposition. I like my HTC, and for the money (yes I accept the battery life issue and the iPhone is just physically nicer), android is right for me. Could I be bothered to unpick all my intergration and start again.?

    I wonder if windows are now fighting over the “swing voters” and will end up being the lib dems of the smartphone market, for the next 5 years anyway.

  2. John Appleby says:

    Hey Rob,

    Well I’m not so much saying they have managed it, but rather that it is technically possible. Organisationally however, they might be pretty much screwed.

    I don’t think that anyone misses the boat in terms of long term market trends. These things take years to change and Apple will not be dominant forever. Just 12 years ago, Apple was in the toilet and Steve Jobs will not live forever. But I agree, that I am talking about a 5 year vision and not something that will change overnight.

    The key is that Apple are the champions of the consumerisation of IT, and Microsoft have been popular in the Enterprise IT world. Those things will converge, but Microsoft could get some big corporate wins in the meantime?


  3. I don’t know about differences in battery life, but the biggest problem I have with my Samsung Galaxy (an original one, not the Galaxy II) is people mistaking it for an iPhone…

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