Microsoft and Nokia announced plans for a strategic partnership earlier today. As part of the deal, Nokia will begin phasing out Symbian in favor of Windows Phone 7. The transition is estimated to take roughly a year or two, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the two companies have been working on this for a while. In fact, concept art for Nokia’s first Windows Phone has already hit the internet (previous concept art). If the rumors are to be believed, the first devices should arrive on the market sometime in 2012.
Unlike Microsoft’s other Windows Phone partners, Nokia has been given special permission to customize the Windows Phone 7 OS beyond OEM-specific hubs and apps. This is surprising when you consider Microsoft’s insistence on maintaining a consistent, unified user experience. In fact, it’s one of the selling points of Windows Phone 7, since it provides users receive the same great experience across a wide range of devices. My fear is that Nokia could potentially fragment the Windows Phone market. Thankfully, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has gone on record saying that “[Nokia] will resist the temptation to customize simply for the sake of customizing.” Some people have speculated that Nokia’s position will allow them to customize Windows Phone for use on smaller devices. But could this special treatment anger Microsoft’s other partners like HTC, a company that is notorious for heavily customizing the operating system on their devices?
In addition to making Windows Phone their primary smartphone strategy, Nokia will work with Microsoft on future versions of the OS and provide their applications in the Microsoft Marketplace. The two companies also announced a mapping partnership. While they didn’t specifically mention Navteq, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nokia, they did reveal that Nokia Maps would play a large part in the Bing Maps experience. For those interested in the full details of the partnership, check out Microsoft and Nokia’s open letter.
Nokia isn’t the mobile giant it once was in the U.S., but they still dominate the international market. Today’s announcement could be advantageous for both companies. Nokia gets to put a high quality operating system on their phones, and Microsoft gets to benefit from Nokia’s influence in the international market. That sounds like a win-win situation to me.