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September 4, 2013

Microsoft and Nokia merger: What it means for developers


ballmerelopAfter yesterday’s big news that Microsoft is acquiring Nokia’s devices business in a $7+ billion merger, speculation has run rampant on what this will mean to the newly formed company as well as those seemingly left out in the cold, namely other Windows Phone OEMs. Although Microsoft has tried to assure partners and stockholders that this merger will create a much needed stronger ecosystem for Windows-based devices, reactions are mixed.  HTC publicly supports the merger while stockholders chose to dump stock, leading to a 4.5 percent decrease in its value. But while opinions are flying as fast as Twitter can launch them into cyberspace, there’s a growing feeling of uncertainty about the road ahead for Windows Phone Developers.

Stronger device platform

Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s Lumia and Asha device lines should ensure the longevity of both the hardware itself as well as a platform for Windows Phone development.  It’s no secret that Nokia’s smartphone sales have been less than stellar while still providing about 80 percent of the market for Windows Phone.  If Nokia went under, it would mean certain failure for the Windows Phone OS and ecosystem which Microsoft simply wasn’t going to let happen.  It’s also been said that by buying Nokia, Microsoft may have ensured that its biggest device manufacturer won’t give up on them and start building Android phones.  No matter what the motivation, Microsoft’s huge investment in Nokia’s devices means that it’s reasonable to assume that there will be a solid Windows Phone platform around for years to come even if its under a different, shorter, name.

Probably fewer device options

By acquiring its own device manufacturing, Microsoft will probably alienate other manufacturers like HTC and Samsung.  HTC has come out publicly with mild support for the merger and a “wait and see” attitude.  Samsung has been silent thus far but will probably make some announcement soon.  What impact a slowing of non-Nokia devices or an outright stoppage will have on the ecosystem is hard to say given that these manufacturers only represent about 13 percent of the overall Windows Phone market.  But don’t be surprised if Nokia starts to become your only real choice for hardware to develop for.

Here on Android/iOS

One part of Nokia that wasn’t acquired is the Here mapping and location services, which are arguably some of the best apps available on the Windows Phone.  Nokia recently made the apps available on any Windows Phone, but with the new separation of the devices unit, the Here team may be open to distributing their apps on Android and iOS.  This would take away one of the biggest app-based advantages the Windows Phone operating system has to lure in new users, i.e. new app customers.

Brand recognition – in a bad way

Nokia is known around the world as the maker of quality devices with good design and excellent fit and finish.  Whether warranted or not, Microsoft doesn’t have a good reputation in mobile devices, with past failures such as the Kin, Zune and Surface RT still weighing on its reputation.  Given this acquisition, Microsoft is going to have to work very hard to establish its credibility based on the talents at Nokia.  If, however, this acquisition leads to a large scale exodus of key Nokia employees, Microsoft could find itself without the real assets their $7 billion was actually looking to buy.

No matter what the future holds, this is clearly a do-or-die move by Microsoft to start to take charge of the hardware side of the software+services equation.  Will it stop at mobile phones or should we buy stock in Dell or HP?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

About the Author

is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.