While Verizon Wireless is expected to carry devices in its lineup this spring running the Windows Phone 7 operating system on hardware from HTC and others, the carrier is unwelcoming to the platform and doesn’t appear to think that Nokia and Microsoft will make an impact with their new alliance. The carrier’s Chief Technology Officer Tony Melone sat down with CNET in an interview at Mobile World Congress and says rather bluntly, “I don’t think Verizon needs the Nokia and Microsoft relationship. Right now the three OS players we see for our network are Android, Apple, and RIM.”
Though candid, Melone admits that it needs a third strong operating system to compete and spur innovation in addition to the dominant players–Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS. However, for Melone, that third-leg in a three-horse race may not come from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform, but from Research in Motion in the BlackBerry OS–which will soon be available for both tablets and smartphones.
Melone’s comments are both surprising and not surprising at the same time. Before iOS and Android were release, Verizon Wireless was focused on Research in Motion’s BlackBerry platform and featured the devices prominently in ad campaigns. However, since the Storm was released–and garnered mixed reviews–the carrier turned away from RIM and focused its attention on its new Droid brand and Android. Add a couple years to the mix and now that the iPhone has joined Verizon’s network, it appears that RIM may be the biggest loser in the race as more marketing dollars spent by the carrier are now being diverted to iOS and Android. Given that RIM and Verizon’s recent relationship being strained, it is surprising to see the carrier back a platform that it has been neglecting.
Verizon’s remarks aside, Nokia and Microsoft have not publicly stated that the duo would pursue a 3G CDMA Windows Phone 7 device, though Nokia isn’t ruling out the possibility.
Nokia’s recent partnership with Microsoft to bring the Windows Phone 7 platform was formed in part to attain stronger relationship with carriers, especially in the U.S. where Nokia’s Symbian presence has been weaked. As the smartphone wars begin in the Pocket PC v. Palm days, Symbian was shut out in the U.S. and now Nokia is hoping that a Microsoft-backed Nokia phone will help it gain traction in the U.S. With CDMA support coming to Windows Phone 7 devices come this Spring, it seems that Nokia’s uphill battle is just beginning. According to Verizon, the carrier already has established and strong relationships with partners such as LG, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and now Apple: “I think it would take a really compelling device from Nokia or any new vendor to break in. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, but it would have to be really good.”
Can Nokia be compelling and great? I think the manufacturer has the innovation to spur growth in Windows Phone 7. In using the Symbian^3-powered Nokia N8 smartphone, I’ve become really impressed with the device’s strong build quality, use of premium materials, affordability, and compatibility with T-Mobile USA’s and AT&T’s network in the same device as a penta-band 3G phone–a rarity in the smartphone market, and superior camera performance. Nokia has really innovated on the hardware side, and there’s a good chance that the phone-maker can push the boundaries with Windows Phone 7.
The problem with Nokia and Microsoft may not be one of innovation, but rather how to prevent fragmentation. In announcing its partnership with Microsoft, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec, had stated that Steve Ballmer and team gave the phone-maker broad powers to innovate on Windows Phone 7. The concern here is if Microsoft can deliver on its promise to deliver a tight customer experience, avoid fragmentation, and deliver timely updates to end-users over the air. If Nokia goes out and modifies too much of the OS or creates hardware that the native OS code doesn’t support and has to patch Windows Phone 7 to support its high quality, megapixel-rich cameras, will there be fragmentation in different builds of Windows Phone 7? Only time will tell, but innovation and compelling hardware from the Nokia and Microsoft camp shouldn’t be a concern, and hopefully Verizon will realize that so Americans can finally experience what Europeans have been using for years now.
The better question that is raised through Verizon’s comment should be where does that leave HP’s new webOS platform? It appears that the carrier appears to be even less confident about webOS than it is about Windows Phone 7.