Nokia’s Folly: What other explanation for using Windows Phone 7?

First of all, yes, I am aware that Nokia announced that it would be using Windows Phone 7 nearer to the start of 2011 than this article. I’ve only just now been able to craft an intelligible response to this very perplexing news.

Secondly, what the hell was Nokia thinking? Actually, I know the answer to that question very well; they had dollar (euro?) signs in their eyes and saw Microsoft as a perfect source of money. What I don’t get, however, is why a company who has had difficulty with competing with high-end smartphones because of their outdated and difficult-to-program operating system would pick up a mobile OS which rivals the original iPhone OS for programming ineptitude.

As supportive as I’ve been of Symbian over the last few years, I can see why Nokia would want to distance itself from it. The potential that it had when it was by far the biggest smartphone OS in the world, as well as one of the few capable of fully comprehensive multitasking, was squandered by not responding adequately to the rise of mobile applications over feature-rich phones. Symbian, as far as I’m aware, is difficult to program for. As well as that, the segmentation of the platform rendered the applications of the past useless, leaving Symbian further behind when it came to mobile applications.

What I don’t see is why they went for Windows Phone 7, rather than something like their home-grown Maemo operating system. Reports indicate that Nokia still does have a team working on MeeGo, an Intel/Nokia collaboration based on Maemo, but hardly with enough vigour to compete with the very active developers at Google or Apple. Windows Phone 7 lacks features such as multitasking and copy-and-paste, both features which the technical community criticised iOS for lacking a couple of years ago (and, I’ll add, which have been present in Symbian when it was still called EPOC). It’s behind Android and iOS when it comes to applications. It’s coming off the back of a series of operating systems which did their job pretty well, but ended their life being heavily criticised.

Maemo, and by extension, MeeGo, is an operating system more akin to desktop Linux, with features to match. Maemo 5, demonstrated on the Nokia N900, had multitasking capability beyond that of any other mobile operating system. It had a variant of Firefox which demonstrated fully-fledged Flash, rather than the cut-down mobile version found in Symbian, Android 2.2+, BlackBerry OS and Windows Mobile 6.x. With a little bit of hacking, one could even operate OpenOffice.org on the N900, albeit slowly. The user interface was criticised by some, but that was hardly something inherent to the platform.

Where Android applications are programmed using Java, and iOS applications using Objective-C, MeeGo can be programmed directly with C++, allowing a certain amount of portability between MeeGo and desktop Linux applications. This capacity would be perhaps more useful for tablets and ARM-based netbooks than for smartphones, but with the smartphone gaming market supposed to have big potential over the next few years, wouldn’t it make sense to be able to program applications using the same programming language that is used for console, PC and portable gaming platforms, rather than having to recode everything?

I don’t see Windows Phone 7 being much of a benefit to Nokia when it comes to competing in the gaming market with the already game-heavy Android and iOS platforms. While Microsoft might have a reasonably good track record when it comes to games – a successful run of titles and PC gaming peripherals along with the outstanding success of the Xbox 360 do come to mind – they don’t have such a good reputation when it comes to mobile platforms. Perhaps Windows Phone 7 will defy my expectations and be successful – predictions in the technical field can so often turn out to be a mug’s game – but I won’t be investing in Nokia any time soon.

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