This week in Mobile – Feb 11, 2011

What a week in mobile!

Nokia to use Microsoft Windows Phone 7 as smartphone OS

This was a big week for Nokia! On February 8th Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO and former Microsoft exec, sent a memo to the company saying Nokia is a “burning platform” and will require that choices be made that they wouldn’t ordinarily make. It is a remarkably frank letter to send to the company. Read it here. The key point is that devices don’t sell, ecosystems do and Nokia does not have an ecosystem that competes.

This came just a couple of days before Nokia’s “Capital Market Day” when Nokia historically announces corporate strategy. And boy did they! Elop officially announced what many had guessed for a while. Nokia is partnering with Microsoft to adopt Windows Phone 7 as Nokia’s smartphone platform. Symbian is going to be phased out and MeeGo will be kept as experimental, but not as a steady product. A timeline was given but speculation is that by the end of 2012 the transition should be complete.

Is this good for Nokia? A lot of Nokia employees do not think so. Over 1500 Nokia employees has a walkout this afternoon to protest the new strategy. Tomi Ahonen, a former Nokia exec who just yesterday blogged that Nokia would be crazy to switch to WP7, has quite the rant on his blog about why this is the death of Nokia.

This transition will be painful to Nokia. It is certain that thousands of people will lose their jobs.

My Take: At first glance this seems to be a great deal for Microsoft. Getting their fledgling mobile OS on all Nokia smartphones over the next couple years is a big win for Redmond. Besides the license fees, Bing will be the default search engine on the devices which will bring lots of advertising dollars to Redmond. To give an idea of how many dollars, an analyst estimated that in 2012 Android will bring $9.85 per phone in advertising to Google so those Bing bucks can add up quickly. This deal also legitimizes WP7 which has come pretty late to the party. Initial sales of WP7 devices were not great, but this should give it some needed momentum.

Is this as great a deal for Nokia? That’s not clear yet. Nokia clearly has to get off of Symbian as it just cannot compete with modern mobile OSes and MeeGo is not happening fast enough. Now that they are not developing their own OS they will save a huge amount of money on R&D costs. There are thousands of people working on Symbian and they will go, as will most of the MeeGo staff. Nokia is now has of a real mobile ecosystem to offer so they can compete with Apple and Google.

On the down side, Nokia is now just an OEM alongside HTC, Samsung, and LG. Differentiation will be hard. Unlike MeeGo there is no way to move Symbian apps to WP7, so they are forcing customers to change systems and are inviting them to look at the competition.

Time will tell if this works out. I hope so, as Nokia makes great hardware and more competition makes for better, less expensive products. Also, I like the idea of WP7 succeeding. More competition in the mobile OS space is good.

HP introduces new webOS devices

HP introduced three new webOS devices of different sizes. From smallest to largest, the Veer is a tiny phone, the Pre 3 is a full sized smartphone, and the TouchPad 9.7″ tablet.

The Veer is a very small, but usable, version of the Pre. I’m not sure what market they are shooting for with this device. Presumably inexpensive, low end smartphones. Veer should ship soon.

The Pre3 is an updated Pre with specs that modern smartphones should have. Hopefully the build quality is better than earlier Pres. No word on which carriers would have the phone yet. Pre3 should ship this summer.

The TouchPad is what everyone was waiting for from Palm. (Although using your chief competitor’s product names in your product name seems like a bad idea) webOS scales very well on a tablet. Release date is “this summer.” No pricing information was given, but the rumor is $699.

My Take: webOS is loved by reviewers, but will that sell devices? As Nokia’s Stephen Elop said, its about selling an ecosystem not devices. The HP devices look awfully nice but can they compete against Apple and Google? Like the introduction of the Pre at CES in 2009, they are introducing cool technology that won’t ship for months. They will have to compete with the new Android tablets and phones as well as new Apple tablets and phones. That’s rough. HP has the dollars that Palm did not to market and promote their products, but how much are they willing to spend here? Pushing webOS as a netbook alternative is interesting though. I’d rather have a webOS netbook than a ChromeOS one.

iPhone 4 released on Verizon

After selling out to Verizon owners in 2 hours, iPhone 4 went on sale to the general public this week. The massive lines outside of Apple stores that usually accompany the release of an iPhone were not there leading to speculation that the release was a flop. I doubt that but we’ll have to wait to see what Verizon says about numbers.

My Take: Verizon will sell a huge number of iPhones. iPhone 4 is not a new product so people do not need to line up to get it. I admit that I never understood waiting in line when you can have it delivered to your house on the same day. Let’s wait and see how many iPhones Verizon sells and how many subscribers AT&T loses.

Speculation of new iPads

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber started a firestorm on the web by speculating that Apple will release an iPad 3 in September. What exactly it is he did not say but guessed that April is a lousy time to release a new product each year, so an update will come in September and that will be the yearly refresh cycle. Others are speculating that an 7″ mini iPad will be introduced then.

My Take: The logic of a September release makes sense to me. They can update the iPad 2 (which won’t be a huge upgrade) with something like a retina display or LTE. I have a hard time believing that Apple needs a third tablet product.

iPhone Nano?

In addition to the mini-iPad rumors, Bloomberg is reporting that Apple is working on a smaller iPhone. The new device would be 1/3 the size of an iPhone 4. By reusing iPhone 4 components Apple is looking to sell it for $200 unsubsidized (i.e. without a contract). That would be a neat trick. Not sure how much the carriers will like it though as they like signing up users for 2 year contracts.

My Take: Interesting speculation but two things make me doubt this. First, Apple likes being a premium brand, and this would take Apple to the low end. Second how many form factors for iOS devices can Apple sustain? It would also make life more difficult for app developers to support all of these permutations. At that point you might as well write Android apps.

RIM PlayBook to run Android Apps?

Engadget ran a story saying that the RIM PlayBook will run Android apps. This is not confirmed. RIM is using a compatible Java VM so this is possible.

My Take: Mistake! When you run native apps from another OS (especially a popular one) you are removing incentive to developers to write for your platform. Why bother writing a PlayBook app? Also, if I want to run Android apps, I’m going to buy an Android tablet.

About Lee J.

Mobile Guy!
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