Sometimes you have a feeling that grows on you so gradually that it’s hard to pinpoint just when you finally became acutely aware of it; you have the dim sense that your clothes aren’t fitting as well as they used to, and then one day it finally clicks – you got fat. I’ve been writing about Windows Phone for years now, and while it’s sure felt like a lot of what I’ve been sharing with you has been about Nokia, it’s only recently started to register with me just to what extent Nokia’s been dominating the platform.
That’s been especially clear in 2013, as while we got a single new Huawei and Samsung Windows Phone model back in January, since then it’s been Nokia, Nokia, Nokia. When it comes to devices on the horizon, the story is largely similar. Sure, there’s this HTC Tiara that seems real enough, and Huawei could still drop another WP8 model (that will likely be received as warmly as the Ascend W1 – which is to say, not at all), but again, Nokia is the company with multiple rumored WP8 models under its belt.
Is this a trend we can read out into the future? As we start thinking about Windows Phone 9, will we be seeing HTC and Samsung return with a few stabs at the platform? While it’s probably still too soon to say with any certainty, I’m starting to think that it wouldn’t be so far-fetched for Windows Phone to turn into a Nokia-only affair.
Don’t get me wrong – these other companies have made some really nice phones. Samsung’s ATIV S is one of the best models of its generation, and the HTC 8X and 8S show some design chops that I’d love to see the company embrace for its Android lineup. But with all of these, there’s almost a sense that they’re resigned to playing second-fiddle to Nokia.
The ATIV S, especially, feels like a phone that Samsung just abandoned rather than spend the time promoting and finding a home for it with carriers – like it knew that Nokia was destined to become king of Windows Phone (thanks in no small part to its special relationship with Microsoft) so it didn’t want to waste the resources.
Now, it gets tricky if we start counting all the carrier variants of Nokia Windows Phone models (something that creates its own share of problems), but at this point Nokia easily makes up half of the WP8 roster (if not more) and the rumors we’ve heard make it seem like its share of things is only going to grow. For a company that got started on the platform a full year late, that’s saying something.
We’ve already seen manufacturers who were involved with Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 drop out of the running with Windows Phone 8. LG and Dell had their fill, ZTE hasn’t returned, and even Samsung and HTC have seriously scaled things back; remember back in the early days when HTC had the kind of Windows Phone variety that only Nokia offers now?
So, what would happen if Nokia did actually become the sole manufacturer of future Windows Phone models? Would the other OEMs feel the impact on their bottom lines? I doubt it. The most popular non-Nokia phones at the moment are the HTC 8X and 8S, and each accounts for a mere 4% of the global WP market. When we factor-in older WP7 models and all, HTC has about 14% of the market, compared to Nokia with 80%, and Samsung only 5%.
Samsung is so successful with Android, that it can lose that 5% without thinking twice. HTC might be trickier, as its finances aren’t quite so stable, but I think it’s clear just from the number of different models it’s now producing that its investment has waned since it got started with Windows Phone. It really might not be in the company’s continued interest to maintain support for a platform for which it develops so few models, and only sees modest sales.
Would consumers suffer from a loss of options in a Nokia-only world? I don’t think so. More than any other Windows Phone OEM, Nokia hits a wide variety of spec- and price-points. Sure, that would limit what kinds of designs were available to consumers, but if the rumors and leaks about all these metal handsets are accurate, Nokia could already be planning to differentiate its offerings a little.
But what about Android? Isn’t that just like Windows Phone, except instead of Nokia, it’s Samsung dominating the market? It’s not like anyone thinks Samsung should be the only Android-maker, right? There are three big differences. For one, that’s a matter of Samsung’s 45% share versus Nokia’s 80%. Then there’s the presence of far more competition between all those runners-up on Android. Finally, with the sheer numbers Android commands, even a 5% interest is a huge deal – that’s just not the case with Windows Phone.
I suppose what I’m suggesting is that Nokia and Microsoft become a bit like BlackBerry. Embrace that you’re a niche platform and stop trying to mirror an Android model with a whole rainbow of phones from a large number of companies. Instead, focus on your strengths, and continue giving your base what it wants. The numbers don’t lie, and for Windows Phone, what those users want is pretty unambiguous: Nokia-made smartphones.