It’s become a trope in mobile tech: write an article about Nokia, and someone will leave a comment suggesting that all the beleaguered company needs to do to return to prominence is build an Android phone. Mark my words: it’ll even happen on this article, despite the contravening headline. And, fanboys being fanboys, a flame war (or at least a small brush fire) will erupt. As Emperor Palpatine might say, “it is unavoidable.” You don’t know the power of the (nonexistent) Nokia Android phone.
While I disagree with the premise that a Nokia-Droid would save the company, I understand its source. Platforms are polarizing things, and there are people out there who truly dislike Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8, for a variety of reasons. At the same time, many of these same folks appreciate and even covet Nokia-sourced hardware; say what you will about the former top phone-maker from Finland, it knows how to build solid smartphones. Thus, the demand for everyone’s favorite vaporware unicorn was spawned in some comment thread long ago, and the internet has never returned to sanity since.
But there’s also a smaller faction out there, a quieter,
more attractive more reserved group advocating an entirely different approach to bringing together the best of both worlds. This is a group that enjoys playing the what-if game, speculating on what utopia would await us if only these disparate platforms played nicely together. This wild coterie of quiet dreamers -myself among them- pines for a world in which Windows Phone sits at the same table as Google in the smartphone cafeteria.
The reason why is pretty simple, from a certain (contentious) perspective: as my colleague Adam Doud pointed out in an editorial earlier this week, Google’s products and services just do the job better than Microsoft’s. Gmail is better at spam filtering, Drive provides better collaborative tools, Hangouts offer more communication utility, Google Maps eats Bing Maps for lunch, and so on. Nine times out of ten, Google just does the job better.
For me, that is.
That’s the qualifier that often falls between the cracks, so get ready for a ton of italics. Google does the job better for my needs. I prefer it to Microsoft’s ecosystem because it better suits my use case. It’s a personal preference. This bit of subtlety often gets lost amid the tumult of online debates, but it’s so important. Because it’s not a crime to prefer one ecosystem over another. So why shouldn’t we be able to use a Microsoft product to access the full range of Google services?
The answer is, of course, because Mommy and Daddy are fighting. Ever since Google got serious about its smartphone-and-ecosystem play, it’s been taking more and more utility away from other companies who want mobile access to its services. Google and Apple used to be best buds; remember how much stage time Steve Jobs gave Google Maps at the first iPhone announcement? But that was before Android, before Google decided it wanted to own the mobile computing space. Since then, relations between the two behemoths have slowly but steadily chilled, the whole mess coming to a head with the Apple Maps fiasco. When two giant companies fight for dominance, the competition often results in markedly improved products – but when ecosystems get involved, the fight gets much dirtier. Usually, in such a contest, “a winnar is (not) you.”
Since Mapplegate, though, the ice between the superpowers has thawed somewhat. Google released an excellent Maps application for iOS devices in the wake of Apple’s monumental blunder, and followed that up with a beautiful new Gmail app that, in some ways, is better than the one on its own Android devices. The suite of Google apps available on the iPhone and iPad is rich and polished, enabling customers to mate the iOS UI and ecosystem with the powerful back-end provided by Google, should they so choose.
The reasons a similar mending of ways can’t happen between Microsoft and Google right now are complex, and deserve an entire editorial to themselves. But, in a break from the norm, it isn’t the “why” I’m focused on here, but the “what if.”
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what the perfect mobile device would be – my ideal Frankenstein phone, the communicator that would meet all my criteria for excellence. As listeners of the Pocketnow Weekly will attest, the core of this mythical device is little more than a Windows Phone running a suite of Google-sourced apps.
Why? Because although Windows Phone’s Modern UI hasn’t changed all that much since it was unveiled, it still speaks to me. Windows Phone is the best-looking platform I’ve ever used on the software side, and its struggle for visibility has led OEMs to bundle hardware innovations I’ve come to appreciate as well, like the Lumia 920′s PureView camera, or the 8X’s wide-angle front-facing shooter. And while I appreciate that Microsoft services like Skydrive, Bing, and Xbox Music are worthwhile to some folks, I’m just too invested in Google’s ecosystem to jump in with both feet. As much as I love my Lumia 920, there’s just no way my email address is going to end in “outlook.com” anytime soon.
Do I think we’ll spy the unicorn anytime soon? Not really. Microsoft is having enough trouble just keeping emails syncing between Windows Phones and Gmail accounts, and the latest round of antagonism regarding its home-built YouTube app is still playing out. Google is playing hardball, so it makes all the sense in the world that Microsoft would devote more energy to fleshing out its own competing ecosystem, rather than continuing its attempts to appease the folks in Mountain View.
But I’m holding out hope that someday, the hostilities between these giants will bubble down from a rolling boil to a low simmer. Because I really think the dream of Google services accessed through the lens of the Modern UI is a powerful proposition that could do wonders for Windows Phone adoption. After all, it’s a lot easier to sell a Lumia when you can answer a customer’s question of “can I still get all my Googles?” with a simple smile and a nod, instead of a ten-minute dissertation on third-party apps and mobile websites.