Who would have predicted a consumer electronics manufacturer flogging cheap cell phones, a search engine company and a fading computer maker with a new lease on life would end up leapfrogging and dominating existing mobile giants the way Samsung (SSNLF), Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) have?
We all know what has happened since Apple released the iPhone in 2007. The question is whether a Microsoft-owned Nokia can do something neither company has managed to do on its own in the past half-decade: produce a smartphone that consumers want.
Last quarter was a big one for Microsoft’s Windows 8 Mobile. It took the coveted third place in world smartphone operating system market share from a seemingly doomed BlackBerry (BBRY). Nokia’s Lumia line of smartphones also showed signs of life. Practically joined at the hip (Nokia ditched its own Symbian mobile OS for Windows and represents virtually all of that platform’s smartphone sales), the two have still largely failed to click with the consumers.
That third place for Windows 8 Mobile represents just 3.3% of worldwide sales. Nokia’s 7.4 million Lumia sales in Q2 are insignificant enough to get lumped in the “Other” category, trailing Sony (SNE), barely edging out BlackBerry and representing just one-tenth of Samsung’s smartphone volume.
If you use the argument that pairing the operating system to the hardware produces a better end product, then Microsoft-designed Lumia smartphones make sense. After all, that’s a big part of the appeal of Apple’s iPhone and iOS mobile operating system.
But what if Apple is the exception, not the rule? Look at Android. Android smartphones are churned out by dozens of manufacturers worldwide. Many have their own custom user interface layered on top of a usually outdated Android version. This results in a fractured mess of devices, OS versions and customized UIs that’s about the furthest thing imaginable from a coordinated end product.
Yet consumers have voted with their wallets and they overwhelmingly prefer this approach. Apple is losing marketshare (iOS dropped 24% year-over-year in Q2 and now stands at 14.2% of the smartphone market), and BlackBerry — the other company that pairs operating system and hardware — is in dire straits.
So what does the Microsoft-Nokia marriage hold for consumers?
The odds of third-party manufacturers continuing to make Windows smartphones (not that there were many), dropped to pretty much zero with this acquisition. Google can get away with owning Motorola and still have every smartphone manufacturer on the planet — except Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry — line up to release Android devices because the platform has a 79% market share.