Nokia has begun its campaign to re-imagine itself at Mobile World Congress and is looking to become the most operator-friendly smartphone vendor

The news of Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft seems to be sinking in at Mobile World Congress. Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop continues to appear throughout the event to again tell people why this move makes sense. He’s confident in his messaging and delivering it clearly but his enthusiastic explanations don’t do the scope of the announcement justice.

Elop declared at Monday’s keynote presentation: "A battle of devices is shifting to a war of ecosystems.”

This signals a move in the market that has been coming into focus in 2010 with the emergence of Android as a true force in the smartphone market. Throughout Mobile World Congress, Elop has been banging the “three-horse race” messaging hard and Windows Phone 7 with Nokia’s reach will create a third combatant in the smartphone market. This will be a definite but distant third player and one that will have to make a pretty drastic statement when they finally bring a device to market.

Jo Harlow, senior vice president marketing at Nokia Mobile Phones, has hinted that this will be within 2011 but her statement was definitely not a guarantee.

Operator Friendly

What has been interesting since the initial announcement Friday night, where Elop said he’d been on the phone with European operators reassuring them, is the operator-friendly message that Elop has been emphasizing. Elop seems to be carving the smartphone market up and putting Nokia on the side of the operator and its business model.

Operators are in a unique position and need all of the help they can get to retain revenue and take some control back in the market they brought to life. If you are an operator you see Apple taking market share in areas you’d like to excel in while Google has seen Android explode in 2010 and at the same time a revenue hog on the web. In the smartphone market these two players are in a luxurious position as operators grasp at different ways to answer the “dumb pipe” question.

Nokia and Microsoft have the opportunity to be the shoulder to cry for operators that have seen opportunities squander elsewhere. iPhone is established and Android is a force in the market as we have seen throughout Mobile World Congress with this additional platform creating, what Nokia says, will be more competition and choice for operators.

Elop explicitly addressed the operator community during the Microsoft keynote on Monday and let them know that Nokia’s new partnership will create the most operator-friendly smartphone platform in the market. He added that Nokia and Microsoft would help operators to retain and drive revenue, which aren’t likely goals for Apple.

Elop said: “We understand what it means to be friendly to operators."

This kind of messaging plays into Nokia’s history of strong partnerships with its operator partners and broadly makes sense but looking at another aspectof Nokia’s business you wonder if Nokia needs to focus on the smartphone market. The company has shown its strength around the world with feature phones and is still a force in the market even though it may not appear to be an innovator any longer.

Peters Suh, CEO of Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) noted in an application-focused keynote panel that Nokia has between 30%-40% global market share in handsets, which he then followed up by saying, “but I’m not sure that the smartphone market is a global phenomenon”. This is a fair statement as emerging markets with limited mobile coverage may struggle to take advantage of advanced features.

Feature Phones Not Its Future?

Suh was highlighting that perhaps this doesn’t play to Nokia’s overall position or strengths in the mobile market. It may not want to play the role of emerging market or feature phone vendor but that may be what it is good at. Nokia has been looking for an identity for some time and this move has not brought anymore clarity into play.

What is clear is Elop may be playing to operators now but eventually Nokia will need to attract consumers and prove to them that its Windows Phone 7 devices are not just operator friendly but customer friendly as well.

Matthew_Whalley

Edel_Telecom

What Fisticuffs?

Having gone to an all boys school this story is starting to have the ring of a playground fight. If you ever remember the inane chant ‘Fight, fight, fight!’ and rush of morbid onlookers as the contenders lined up against each other. In the Internet content wars it looks as though we’ve got to the “hold my coat” stage.

Ok, so Google hasn’t been doing a lot in the recent past to make friends. For example, the well publicised spat with the Association of American Publishers (http://bit.ly/3dQIdx). Now it appears that Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch are both entering the fray (http://bit.ly/mCPqi)

Entertaining for us bystanders, but what does it actually mean? And should we be worried?

As with everything in technology Microsoft’s involvement appears to boil down to a seemingly inconsequential acronym – ACAP…which as everyone knows means Automated Content Access Protocol (a little light reading can be found here: http://bit.ly/2NLbJm). The protocol is being backed by a powerful alliance of some “1,600 traditional publishers” and is proposing a more sophisticated approach to giving access to content. Rather than the all or nothing model of Google, ACAP would be designed to give the publisher greater control over things such as premium content. Something that Murdoch wants to do, but the Financial Times gave up on.

Why this innoxious protocol shot to fame was revealed by Techcrunch on Friday (should we read anything into it that it was Friday 13th?). It was leaked to the site that a senior figure from MSN had a closed door meeting with the heads of some of the world’s major print publishing organisations including the Financial Times, News International and Axel Springer. Apparently Microsoft’s revamped search capability, Bing, is going to put £100,000 of financial investment into the development of the protocol.

So what!? In his article Mike Butcher asks some extremely valid questions:

“…will ACAP – the development of which is so far being controlled by newspapers – be used by Microsoft Bing simply as an indicator of how to treat a publisher’s site? Or would Microsoft help the publishers engineer ACAP into a kind of a rights management engine – with Bing becoming the central clearing house for content from traditional publishers?…And who gets to decide who is a favoured traditional publisher and who isn’t? Bing, or a newspaper-heavy body like the European Publishers Council?”

And this comes as Jonathan Miller, News Corp’s chief digital officer, announced at the Monaco Media Forum (http://bit.ly/468wqg) that it would be “months and quarters – not weeks” before Murdoch’s empire took the step to block Google. Miller’s comments rightly underline the panic spreading in the traditional media about the ‘free vs. paid-for’ content argument and the mere fact that News International is considering this move underlines the depth of concern at the one of the biggest media companies in the world.

And yet is this just the death throes of a industry that has been caught completely on the hop by the Internet? Is it merely lashing out aggressively, because it has run out of ideas on how to monetise the Internet?

However it plays out it will be fascinating watching…much better than the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing combined!

@CairbreSugrue

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Pic courtesy of robokow on Flickr

It’s a big day for Microsoft today. If memory serves, Thursdays are cheesecake day in the canteen at Thames Valley Park. Always exciting.

Oh, yes, it’s also launch day for Windows 7, Microsoft’s latest PC operating system. It’s already kicked off over in Australia and will be following the sun around the planet as the day goes on…no doubt culminating in a big bash over at MS HQ in Redmond.

Launches aren’t quite what they used to be. When Microsoft launches Windows 95, it bought every copy of The Times on launch day so people could get their daily newspaper for nothing (not that it was appreciated by everyone). And this when newspaper circulations were still healthy and newspapers weren’t given away each and every day.

They also paid the Rolling Stones millions of dollars to use the band’s song ‘Start Me Up’ in the launch advertisement and at events around the world. The Stones must’ve been delighted because, let’s face it, Start Me Up is a ropey old tune. I recently tried to make similar money by releasing a song called Snow Leopard to the tune of Moon River. Didn’t work.

But back in 1995, for most people (including the press) launch day was the first time they’d seen or got to use the new operating system. These days the media has been using and reviewing Windows 7 for months and months. By most accounts, it’s pretty decent. It needs to be. Despite denials from Microsoft and its evidence to the contrary, most people regarded Windows Vista as a flop, commercially and functionally. So 7 just needs to work. But it seems to have lots of the functions you’d expect, though I’m not sure there are that many surprises.

But maybe operating systems have lost the ability to surprise and delight? Windows 95 was a significant step forward in how most people interacted with their computer. Most developments since have seemed a bit incremental (save stuff like touchscreens). And that, I reckon, is the way it should be. It’s about what you can do with the applications that sit on top of an operating system, not the OS itself. Unless you’re a real geek that is. After all, not many (normal) people worry about the OS that sits on their mobile phone.

And as Steve Ballmer pointed out in recent interviews in the UK, Microsoft’s market share is overwhelming…something like 96% of PCs run on Windows…so where’s the competition? As he also pointed out in the same interviews, Apple has effectively priced itself out of the mainstream PC market. So if you’re spending less than a grand on a laptop, who else are you going to go with?

In commercial terms, therefore, I reckon Windows 7 will be a huge success (as long as anyone expecting a copy through the post actually receives it at some point). Plenty of people and business that didn’t bother with Vista will upgrade from XP pretty much immediately, and for those that did move to Vista, the new OS looks like a decent step forward and they’ll likely move eventually. And of course, pretty much any new PC bought from today will be installed with 7…and if there’s a version that’ll work on a netbook it should be job done.

But I also think that this’ll be the last ‘big launch’ for a Microsoft OS that we’ll see. End of an era.