Nokia just made a big splash in the tablet space. Let’s be frank, Apple makes good tablets. Android powers good tablets made by various OEMs. Microsoft-powered tablets are — how can I say this nicely? — a little “confused”. Hold on, before you head straight to the comments and jump all over me for being an “Android fan boy” or a “Windows hater”, hear me out.
Microsoft’s flagship product is “Windows”. I doubt anyone will argue that. Where things get “confusing” is that Microsoft is pinning “Windows” on just about everything these days: Windows Phone 8 (for phones and now phablets), Windows 8 RT (for certain tablets), and Windows 8 Pro (for certain other tablets, laptops, and desktop PCs). Confused yet? You’re not alone.
Windows Phone and Windows RT are essentially the same OS. They don’t run legacy “programs”, just the newer “apps” available directly from the Store. Windows 8 Pro should run legacy programs, but other than a pretty face, the core operating system is still the “old” version of Windows with a fresh coat of paint. That’s where the confusion comes in — and it’s not Nokia’s fault.
What Nokia did right
Some are criticizing Nokia’s decision to release only the “mobile” versions of Windows on its latest hardware. That was probably the best decision Nokia could have made.
When Apple approached mobile devices, it handled them as an entirely different platform from the Macintosh desktop operating system. This was the logical and correct thing to do when Apple only had a smartphone, but was somewhat controversial when it released the original iPad (which was essentially just a big iPhone — minus the phone). Apple stayed the course and you can see how successful that decision was.
Google approached Android much the same way, taking it’s smartphone OS and adapting it for tablets. Again, the decision was the right one.
Microsoft, however, had built an empire around a desktop operating system. It had tried (and failed) to make a mobile version of its Windows operating system, and was left with no other choice than to scrap it and start over from scratch. When it came time to apply the new look and feel to both tablet and desktop computers, Microsoft had a hard decision to make: follow the same strategy that Apple and Google did by creating an entirely separate ecosystem, or create a quagmire of confusion by trying to make its desktop OS seem like its mobile one.
Nokia, as an OEM rather than a sub-unit of Microsoft, also made the right choice to standardize on the mobile version of Windows, rather than the “non-mobile OS that looks sort of like the mobile version”.
At some point in time, Microsoft’s operating systems will converge and everything will run everywhere. How long that will take remains to be seen, but I don’t suspect we’ll see that until at least Windows 10.
What can Nokia Learn from Android
Nokia now finds itself in a strange and confusing position. It’s a part of Microsoft, but it’s still somewhat of a separate entity. As such, Nokia is in a unique and powerful position. It can be the driver which pushes other OEMs toward the mobile version of Windows (Windows RT and Windows Phone) by delivering stunning hardware that others must compete against. Or, Nokia can cave to internal pressure, and continue down the winding road of confusion between Windows RT and Windows Pro.
When all is said and done, the best lessons Nokia can glean from Android are to be true to its roots, don’t try to be something it’s not, focus on core competencies, and above all, don’t compromise.