Editorials, Featured, Nokia, Symbian, Windows Phone

Editorial: My Concerns with Microsoft-buying-Nokia

I don’t think I’ve ever woken up as quickly as I did yesterday. Around 8:45 am IST my WhatsApp started buzzing and I got an email, which all ended up waking me up because of the sudden barrage of notification sounds echoed from my Phone, to my iPad, to my Surface.

The first thing I did was check out what the new email was about. A quick glance at the subject and I made out the works ‘Microsoft… acquisition… Nokia phone division’ and BAM! It’s like I got a shot of RedBull straight into my brain.

Nokia Logo

Nokia is a company, possibly the only company out there, which I’ve been very emotionally attached to. Everyone who remotely knows me, knows how proud I’ve been of their accomplishments, and how pissed off I get when they make silly mistakes.

It might be because my first smartphone was a Nokia, and every single phone until I got an iPhone 3GS secondhand three years ago (since then I switched to an HTC One X and PureView 808, and now use an HTC One and Lumia 925). I bought the 7650 a couple weeks before I moved from Kuwait to Udupi, a small town in South India, that not many folks have heard of. It was a really small town, I was a 17 year old hard-rock-fan-skateboarder-wannabe-computer-nerd and I had a hard time fitting in. As such I ended up spending a lot of time, researching what my phone could do, what you could squeeze into 4MB of internal memory (no MMC card), the .sis apps you could install, how they extended what your phone was, how you could push that VGA camera. Eventually, people were very impressed with my ‘phone that has a camera built-in’ and after earning the reputation of ‘phone guy’ I ended up having a ton of friends circles.

Or maybe it’s because if they hadn’t been cool enough to lend me a phone to review for two weeks every so often 6 years ago, this blog (and many others clearly inspired by us) wouldn’t have even existed. I mean, who’d lend a skinny brown kid noone’s heard about, living in the middle of nowhere in India, an expensive phone to play with for a couple days? (Clearly a lot has changed since then. I’ve moved to Delhi and gotten fat. Possibly browner.)

Or it might be because this time last year, they literally saved yours truly from being trapped in another country.

Or it might just be that Nokia has by far, been the most approachable and open company to talk to. Over the years, I’ve met and hung out with product managers, various heads of various divisions, the CEO, PR people, agency people, heck I even had a really fun conversation with a janitor at Nokia UK’s head office (or atleast I think he was a janitor). I’ve been brutally honest with all of them (especially Nokia India), but it has always been noted and/or appreciated. Even the Nokia Conversations blog has been hugely revealing about everything from the thoughts that go into a phone’s design, to the reason why they chose a shade of color. No other company, not even Apple, reveals that much information about their product creation, nevermind the people behind it. And as a result of all of this, Nokia has the best community of people around it. And the possibly the fiercest fans.

But then there’s Microsoft.

Microsoft is not a company I’ll even pretend to know remotely well, but it is a company I honestly really liked. I defended Windows, even after Vista, ridiculed ‘Mactards‘ and blindly approved everything they did, even Zune.

Then, 3 years ago, I got a MacBook and couldn’t believe how wrong I was about everything related to Windows. The last time I felt that silly, was when I got the aforementioned iPhone 3GS “just to try it out” and realized just how much better iOS was than Symbian at the time, and ended up using it as my main phone. Since then, Microsoft hasn’t really done anything to win me over on the personal computer front, though I did invest in an Xbox 360, which kinda restored my faith in the company a tiny bit.

Microsoft also happened to be the company, that desperately tried to compete with Symbian with Windows Mobile. I *hated* Windows Mobile. I thought it was the ugliest, most user unfriendly UX out there. Heck it was so bad, it made Symbian look good. But I remember the Microsoft fanboys and their forum debates and arguments about how much better Windows Mobile was, compared to Symbian. Eventually WM bit the bucket and was killed off. But as a mobile nerd, this was my impression of the company, cemented in my brain.

Then the infamous February 2011 announcement came along, and Nokia announced that they were going to use Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, called Windows Phone, as their primary smartphone OS henceforth.

Windows Phone 7 was *not* an operating system I approved of. It couldn’t multi-task, you could not copy-paste, I thought it was a nice feature phone OS at best, because the UI sure was pretty. Thankfully Nokia convinced Microsoft to bring some of that functionality in before they released the first Lumias, and I had just a glimmer of hope. After Windows Phone 8 bought in some much needed funtionality, and the addition of PureView, Nokia Music, Nokia’s HERE Maps and their buttload of exclusive apps, coupled with the gorgeous designs the new Lumias released this year were starting to look more and more tempting.

As a fan of the brand, I was very happy to see Nokia turning a profit, but ironically the Finnish manufacturer seemed to be innovating faster, even in terms of software, than Microsoft, the creators of the freakkin operating system. Which in turn was hurting Nokia. As a result, I grew even more cautious of the Windows maker, as many other tech enthusiasts out there.

But there was still that glimmer of hope that Nokia could keep the innovation going, plugging in whatever holes Windows Phone 8 had, while Microsoft rested on their laurels. I mean, come on, can anyone explain why Nokia could make an app that uploads video to YouTube, but Microsoft couldn’t build that right into the operating system from the start?

But then yesterday, Nokia announced that Microsoft would be acquiring Nokia’s mobile phones division, and that glimmer of hope faded to a very faint glow.

Because I have serious concerns about Microsoft.

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Hey Microsoft, the rest of the world exists.

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For one thing, I live in a developing country. Microsoft, is not a company that gives a shit about the developing world. There’s no Surface RT or Surface Pro here. There’s tons of Microsoft-made products that you simply cannot get here in India. If you use a Windows Phone, you wont see local scout or Bing vision if you have an Indian Microsoft account. Heck, the Windows Phone music player wont even change the freakkin background like it does if you have a US account (which happens just fine on Nokia Music), never mind even dreaming of Xbox Music or Xbox Video being available any time soon. India is not one of the launch countries for the Xbox One either.

The US-centric Microsoft view, sickens me. The rest of the world simply does not exist, though atleast the UK and Australia seem to swing into focus once in a while. It’s a very Apple philosophy of operating, but hey y’know what? If I wanted to get a phone that blatantly choses what services should work based on where I live, I’d get an iPhone.

Another thing that the Indian (and Asian) market has a lot of demand for, are Dual-SIM phones. Do you see any Dual-SIM Windows Phones out there? Does Windows Phone even have support for Dual-SIM cards? Does Microsoft even know what that is?

If Google can get Android to support Dual-SIM cards for years now, why cant Microsoft? Does Microsoft not think it is a priority, because there’s no demand for it in the US and Europe? So many questions.

Nokia learnt the hard way, and released Dual-SIM S40 phones, which have done pretty well here in India so far. But I feel like Microsoft is so arrogant a company, that they just simply refuse to entertain the idea at all.

Just today I had a conversation with a huge developer (who I will not name) about Android and Windows Phone, and he complained about how WP8 does not support operator billing yet. Arguably, one of the smartest things Nokia did for the developing world, was bring in operator billing to the Nokia Store. Not everybody has a credit card here, so billing a purchase to your operator and paying it with your phone bill, is a much easier thing to do. Which results in more people buying apps and games, which in the end, is great for developers.

So why doesn’t Microsoft think this is a priority, either?

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The Nokia Services

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Another worry about Microsoft’s US centric views, is that it’ll affect Nokia’s services. Nokia Music, is by far my favourite thing about a Lumia phone (apart from the camera in the 925 and 1020’s case). I *love* Nokia Music, and since my MacBook died a couple weeks ago, taking all my tunes with it, Nokia Music has been my only source of music on the go. It is freakkin brilliant.

Under Microsoft’s regime, what happens to it is still a mystery, but judging from the lack of Xbox services available here, I cant help but be a little concerned.

PureView aka Nokia’s imaging division, will also now belong to Microsoft. All of Nokia’s imaging heads will now be Microsoft employees. Hopefully they’re allowed to grow.

But in an alternate reality, if someone told the chiefs at Microsoft 4+ years ago (before the 808 existed) that they wanted to put a 41 Megapixel camera sensor in a phone, do you think they’d support that dream or laugh at it?

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The Microsoft Services. And a lack of choice.

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Microsoft has their own services. And they like to shove them down your throat.

I get that Microsoft has a feud with Google going on right now, I really do. I don’t think their ‘Scroggled’ campaign is helping things at all, but I really do get that they’re feuding.

But seriously, why the fudge cant I change what the Windows Phone search button does? It’s locked on to only opening Bing Search, which has never, ever, ever actually worked remotely as well as Google Search for me. And as I mentioned earlier, certain bing services arnt available here either.

So why not let me freakking change what that button does.

If you’re not going to let me assign it to Google Search, atleast let me set it as a shortcut to open something more useful. I cant remember the last time I *intentionally* tapped the search button on my Windows Phone, and judging from my conversation with other users, few others ever intentionally hit that key.

And then there’s the fun fact that Internet Explorer is the only browser that’s available on Windows Phone. That isn’t really their fault, but Microsoft could have chosen to rename IE Mobile to anything else, or even just simply call it ‘Web’ but no, they had to go with the Internet Explorer branding. The one name that even Microsoft knows, everyone associates with the slowest, ugliest, resource-hungry, browser from the early days of the internet.

Heck even Google doesn’t pre-install Chrome in Android.

Don’t even get me started on how lacking in features IE mobile is, compared to Chrome for Android. I mean, come on, there isn’t even a forward button.

Atleast you can set Google Search as the default engine in IE mobile, eh?

I look forward to having SkyDrive, Outlook email and Bing pushed everywhere in the Asha phones. Ugh.

Also insert -> my worries about how slow Microsoft seems to be moving compared to Nokia in terms of software innovation.

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The Branding

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Which brings me to branding. Microsoft, for some strange reason, cannot freakkin decide on names. I cant believe a company, with that much money, cannot decide upon a name for anything or just hire someone to do a bit of research and come up with decent alternatives.

The Metro UI used on Windows Phone and Windows RT was infamously renamed to ‘Modern UI’ after a case with German Auto Company, Metro. Looks like SkyDrive might be renamed as well.

And then there’s the incredibly creative branding like ‘Xbox Music’ and ‘Xbox Video’ along with the failure that was the ‘Microsoft Kin’ phones. Then there’s ‘Live’, ‘Outlook (the email service formerly known as Hotmail, not the mail app), ‘Bing’. I thought it was hilarious how they couldn’t come up with anything to name their tablets and just used the ‘Surface’ branding that they had invented with a touchscreen product before.

I am petrified about what Microsoft might rename the Lumia windows phones to. According to the press release (and please do correct me if I’m wrong), Microsoft has the rights to use the Nokia branding on Asha phones, but not for smartphones. But on the other hand, Nokia, which is no longer a mobile phone company any longer, cannot use the ‘Nokia’ branding on any phones if it chooses to do so.

Which means Microsoft can either continue with the Lumia nomenclature, or come up with something else. How much do y’all wanna bet they go with ‘Surface 1020′ or something like that. Maybe the Asha phones will be renamed ‘Bing phones’ in the spirit of ‘Windows Phones’.

Microsoft is terrible at branding. I hope the people that move from Nokia to MS as a result of this deal, include Nokia’s branding team. Seriously.

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The Service Centers

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Nokia’s biggest advantage over any other brand in India, is their efficient and strong fleet of service centers. I know a ton of people who chose a Nokia, knowing that incase, by any chance, something goes wrong with their Nokia phone, chances are there will be a Nokia service center nearby. Which will not only be able to fix said device, but also manage to do it quickly, instead of taking days or months like other mobile brands might.

Under Microsoft ownership, what would happen to this? Will Microsoft adopt the service centers? Or will they shut them down and chose to use their own, antiquated service centers instead, thereby eradicating the main advantage to buying a Nokia phone here.

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And lastly, the people of Nokia.

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The Nokians.

The thing that sets Nokia apart, atleast for me, is that little bit of Finnish quirk. You can see it in their design choices, from the colors to the clean, minimalism. At the press conference yesterday, Microsoft made it a point to highlight that their phone division will remain in Finland, thereby not taking the ‘Finland’ out of the phone division formerly under the Nokia branding.

But alas, I know enough about Microsoft’s internal politics to know that it just wont be the same work environment as Nokia. As popular developer and former Microsoft *and* Nokia employee @JustinAngel put it:

 

I agree.

I worry about the eradication of Nokians and Finnish Design. And the ‘Designed in California‘ thing can only really work for one brand.

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But hey, maybe by this time next year, Microsoft will finally sort themselves out and none of this will be an issue. Maybe they’ll actually finally get their act together. Maybe I’ll actually buy a Microsoft Surface 2020 and get a Bing phone 210 for my mum.

Nokia Logo

Regardless, there is no doubt that the Nokia that you and I know of, is gone. For a company that started out making paper, to rubber boots to car phones to mobile phones. From putting the antenna *inside* a phone for the first time, to putting a camera in a phone. The Finnish mobile manufacturer will continue to live, but now only as a mapping and infrastructure company.

Truly the end of an era.

  • aatifsumar

    Your deep deep care for Nokia as a company and Nokians resonates throughout the article CJ. So sad that they were collateral in Microsoft’s Corporate Games to try and get a foothold in the smartphone market.

  • carman58

    Fantastic article CJ , can agree with almost all, but as a Nokian, and I believe I am entitled to claim that title, I really hope that Stephen Elops influence will allow the Nokia influence to show through and give a big enough kick to the OS development to get it to keep pace with the Nokians. At least that’s my hope, because if he doesn’t I don’t know what the hell I will use as a phone, maybe a landline :-(

  • sooraj tp

    nice article cj, even more ironical fact is that symbian, greatly contributed by nokia was evolved at a time when windows phone was prevailing to end its monopoly. with the burning memo they literally killed symbian with wp7 in 2011 and now i fear they are going to do the same to the company as well… (maybe microsoft and elop is taking revenge on full throttle ;) )

  • Sitaram Shastri

    CJ, a huge concern that outsiders don’t realize is the commitment to privacy that all Nokia users get implicitly.
    MS has already proven that they’ll throw us under the bus as soon as the US govt comes knocking.

  • Jed

    Wow, I feel exactly the same way. Nokia was my first phone and is what made me a tech geek. They have a warmth and quirkiness that draws me in, while other companies feel too businessy and “it’s all about the money.” I’m afraid Nokia’s spark might disappear under Microsoft’s rather cold rule.

    I’m also in a developing country(Philippines) and I am also extremely worried we might not get Lumias anymore, or if we do, it will be at a premium price like the Surface and Xbox.

    I really hope Microsoft would adapt some of Nokia’s work ethics instead of extinguishing them. I hope they won’t erase Lumia’s colors and produce generic black slabs like the Surface. I still have faith in Microsoft that they would change their ways and I could see them and Nokia doing great things in the future. Still, I can’t help but worry that Microsoft would stay the way they are.

  • David Elias Rodriguez Vargas

    True! snif, snif.

  • Sumantra Ray

    brilliantly written man. smells of truth and a demystified vision.

  • Karthikeyan

    CJ! One of your best writings man.

  • http://zerolinesofcode.wordpress.com Zero Lines of Code

    Quite agreed!

  • Andy H

    I think it’s sad we won’t see a Nokia smartphone after this goes through. Who knows what crappy name Microsoft will use instead. I dread them cocking up my favourite brand. I really hope they don’t. :^/

  • William Lee

    Thanks for your great article and reviews.

    Nokia is a shadow of its former self because it missed the boat when Apple and Samsung came along. It simply had poor strategy execution.

    The only thing going for Nokia is its camera technology and dual sim budget phones. Hopefully, Microsoft can put some sense into Nokia so Nokia can put its dual sim technology into its top end camera phones. It is obvious that Nokia knows there is huge demand for dual-sim, but it just cannot get its act together.

    If Samsung, Sony and HTC can put dual sim in their top end phones, why can’t Nokia? Yes, I love the budget Nokia dual sim phones but I also love my N8 camera :)

    It is great that Microsoft is coming along because they can save Nokia. Think of all the R&D innovation spend that can be leveraged. The latest nokia top end phones are bulky and heavy. Microsoft will take Nokia to the next level and we as consumers should rejoice at the possibilities available.

  • Yuvraj Dorage

    I am totally agree with you Clinton. Nice whip-lashing on Microsoft by the way.

    as I am very old (almost 12 years) user of Nokia Phones. I know that Microsoft is not only culprit or guilty for the present situation of the Nokia.

    Nokia had very good customer base and trustworthy network in India before 2-3 years. Now if we analyse we definitely come to know that, lack of innovative features, using very lame Symbian OS are the main grave diggers for the Nokia. I truly believe that after some months Nokia will loose measure portion of the market and I don’t no further !!!, whether they will make Phone accessories or what.
    As you see after getting such a setback, Microsoft won’t be a good solution provider. A famous email chain message said, ” If Microsoft is the solution, we want our problem back !!!’ ;-p’.