In the past couple years we’ve all seen Nokia’s market share sliding down the charts. And we all know that last year they announced a full-on exclusive switch to Windows Phone as the single operating system of choice for their phones in the future. A number of people wondered why Nokia didn’t just switch to using the successful Android operating system that so many other manufacturers use these days.
1. Nokia Belle already feels like Android.
In using the new Nokia Belle operating system on an N8, one new reason became clear… They’ve already got it! Nokia Belle, the latest version of Symbian, looks a lot like a customized version of Android. It has the multiple horizontal-sliding desktop home screens. It has all sorts of different-sized, different-looking, throw-anywhere widgets. It has the same drop-down notifications bar. It has the app tray button at the bottom, and a pop-up menu button. It’s occasionally unresponsive, has ambiguous navigation buttons, and scrolling stutters sometimes. Heck, it even has the “open-source” mantra attached to it (at least until April of 2011)! Why would Nokia want to load Android on their phones when they can make an operating system just like it without much effort?
Well, okay… it’s not exactly like Android. Nokia’s Belle has much better battery life and a completely different app store which naturally only supports Symbian apps. Of course it lacks many of the Google apps, but many Android devices (such as those from Amazon) these days lack those as well. It doesn’t seem to have the same depth of community programming support nor app count either, so there’s that. Still, I think it’s safe to say that Nokia’s already been down that road.
2. Android isn’t much different from 10 year old Smartphone operating systems.
Windows Phone, on the other hand, implements a completely new type of interface design that not only works well on small-screened smartphones, but scales up to larger screens (as you’ll see in Windows 8/Xbox 360) and also leaves room for newer methods of user interaction such as 3D gesture recognition and voice controls that really won’t be possible with the conventional UI’s you see implemented by Apple and Google. Plus you’ve got the content-centric and task-centric structure. 3rd party apps show up within the content that they may be related to as opposed to just a “more programs” menu and “hubs” organize both content and apps from all sorts of different sources in a way that makes a lot of sense, but is also quite different from the “launch an app, then find your stuff” mentality.
3. There’s too many pizza places on this street.
You don’t succeed in business when you do exactly the same thing as everyone else. There’s really only one manufacturer using Android that has actually seen continued success with it and that’s Samsung. HTC, LG, Sony, etc, are struggling a bit while Samsung and Apple are at the top. Putting Android on a phone doesn’t automatically make you successful. It would be like opening a pizza place on a street next to 5 other pizza places and one store that sells apples. Sure, pizza is great and some say it tastes better than fruit, but if you want to stand out in the food business, you have to do something new. That’s why Nokia has gone all in with Windows Phone. It’s fresh, it’s different, and it’s tasty.
4. Implementing Android would be too expensive
I know what you’re thinking… Android is free and open source, how could it be more expensive? Well, for one, you still have to pay Microsoft licensing fees for intellectual property patents. Then you have to pay your own developers and spend a lot of time trying to make it something unique enough to be noticed. Then you have to spend a lot on lawyers when Apple sues you.
By concentrating on Windows Phone, Nokia is actually getting money from Microsoft instead of paying them to use Android. Nokia has absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of software litigation since Microsoft has already licensed any patents from Apple that they might have used and they’ve vowed to cover Windows Phone manufacturers in this regard. As for Nokia’s software developers, they’ve got a lot less work to do with Windows Phone. There’s no need to mess around with the UI and spend years learning how to master Android development. That leaves more time to develop applications that add and integrate with the operating system, thus increasing the value as opposed to wasting time changing things just for the sake of differentiation.
5. Android wouldn’t look good on Nokia
When I Photoshopped the header image to show an Android screen on the Nokia Lumia 920, I gagged a little. It looks so extremely out of place. The styling is all off. Yes, Nokia could put some developers to work and hire some designers to fix it, but no matter how much Android evolves, an inherit problem with the open-source nature of the operating system is that nothing will ever really be coherent. Even if you customize and skin the whole operating system and all of the apps you want to bundle in order to make it look unique and different from every other Android device out there… as soon as some one installs a 3rd party app, that’s going to break the cohesive design and cause the experience to fall apart a bit. On the other hand, Windows Phone follows a consistent design language (codenamed Metro) that maintains a cohesive look throughout both the operating system as well as third party apps. Plus, the Windows Phone design UI offers a more personal and effortless way of customizing the device. In many ways it customizes itself based on the stuff that you like and it just looks fantastic on Nokia’s brightly colored phones.
6. Being part of the Windows 8/Xbox Ecosystem has huge potential.
Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into competing as a full computing ecosystem. They’ve already been very successful with Windows on the desktop and laptop PC side of things, and they’re also very successful in the living room with the Xbox 360. Microsoft isn’t doing so great on the web search, music store, tablets, and smartphones side of things though. Apple and Google have been excelling in those areas. However, Microsoft’s plans to compete in those areas have been gaining steam. Bing has forced Google to start innovating with their web search results again and has been gaining market share itself. Microsoft’s Surface tablets have been able to generate a large amount of buzz in the tech world, and Xbox Music is slated to launch with as-yet-unknown new features. Nokia could tap into these other markets and has already since Microsoft has implemented Nokia Maps into Bing, Windows 8 Maps app, and even Facebook. If Nokia had partnered with Google, you know Google wouldn’t be bringing more customers to Nokia’s mapping services. Google has very little presence in the living room, too. The potential in Microsoft’s growing new ecosystem just seems greater.
Why not both Windows Phone and Android?
If you’ve gotten this far, you may be asking yourself, “Why shouldn’t Nokia build both Android and Windows Phones?” Samsung, HTC, etc., all do it. Sure, that seems like an option, but some could also see that as an identity crisis or lack of commitment. Nokia wants to build its brand around Windows Phone and bring some real competition to the table. Android is the one that has torn down Nokia’s mobile phone empire. Nokia doesn’t want to give in and help their enemies. They want to put up a fight and concentrate their efforts on making something better than Android.