A Nokia exit strategy already?

Is Nokia already seeing the signs of a troubled future with Microsoft?

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We all have regrets, of course. There's the time I opened my big mouth and embarrassed my tenth-grade English teacher in front of the entire class. Then there's the time I flubbed a cross-wind landing and drove my Cessna into the grass in front of my entire flight school. And then there was the time with the duck and--well, you get the idea.

Regrets are part of life and we deal with them as we can. Sure we learn from them, if we're smart, but there's no denying that sick little flip in your gut when you recall the stupid incidents in your life.

I kind of wonder if the folks at Nokia aren't feeling a little bit of that stomach flip lately regarding their recent course changes with Microsoft, Symbian, and MeeGo.

I'm not the only one. Last night, attorney Christian Einfeldt tweeted the heck out of an article he found on The Inquirer. The Inquirer article, published last month, noted the US smartphone figures from Comscore's 2010 4Q report. I am sorry I missed this report until now, because if the reporting is accurate, Microsoft has a real problem on its hands. And maybe so does Nokia.

The article reported Comscore's findings that has Android at the top of the market, followed by Research in Motion in second place, and Apple in third. I had heard this back in February, since all the headlines touted Android's surpassing RIM. What I hadn't heard, though, was what Inquirer reporter Lawrence Latif noticed:

"Perhaps the most shocking performance was that of Microsoft. Comscore's October 2010 to January 2011 figures take into account Microsoft's WP7 launch, so naturally you would expect an increase in market share as punters got caught up in the $400 million marketing blitz. Instead of an increase, however, Microsoft's US smartphone market share slumped 1.7 percentage points to just 8 per cent, a daunting loss of over 17.5 per cent of its previous quarterly market share."

So, despite the massive hype that goes along with nearly every Windows product launch (I saw WinPhone 7 on Chuck, for Pete's sake, but product placement on NBC is stupidly rampant anyway), Microsoft still saw a drop in market sales.

Guess we may have a reason for Microsoft's acceleration of Android-related lawsuits, huh?

I share Latif's concern that Nokia's recent $1 billion partnership deal with Microsoft may not be looking all that great to the Finnish company right now.

If both Samsung and LG, cited by Comscore as the first and second most popular handset makers during the same period, couldn't help Microsoft increase its smartphone market share, then Nokia's chances are not looking especially good."

Latif makes a good point, and it's got to be bugging Nokia that they will need to carry WinPhone 7 into this kind of market.

But let's play devil's advocate for a bit: what else could they have done? MeeGo wasn't exactly ready to go yet, and carriers in Europe and North America were pressuring the company for anything other than another Android phone. Faced with that, where else could they have turned?

This may be little comfort to Nokia, because placing all their bets on Microsoft's mobile OS may not have been the best plan. I also suspect they realize that, having opted to close source the Symbian operating system, after making such a hullabaloo about getting it opened under the Eclipse Public License. Though most practitioners of open source know this is not how open source works, Nokia may be thinking that they need to protect what IP they have, while they still can. Closing Symbian, in some bizarre way, may be Nokia packing its parachute when they have to bail from WinPhone 7.

Meanwhile, MeeGo is still open, thanks to Nokia and Intel's joint decision to put the project's stewardship under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. And MeeGo is seeing some new interest in the mobile sector after Nokia opted to tone down its participation in the project.

A Reuters article today cited Valtteri Halla, one of MeeGo's steering group members, stating that technology firms like LG Electronics were taking a sharper interest in MeeGo "after Nokia abandoned it," the article said. It's unclear if it was Halla or the article's author who used the term "abandoned," and in either case, the characterization is wrong: Nokia is still an active member of the MeeGo development community, though Nokia sold the commercial licensing arm for Qt, the library upon which much of MeeGo and Symbian are built, to Digia in March.

No matter what you think of the Nokia-Digia deal, it doesn't constitute abandonment.

If Halla is correct, though, renewed interest in MeeGo, whatever the reason, would certainly be welcome. MeeGo, as I and others have continually said, needs an influx of new blood to keep it on track for a release.

A stronger MeeGo, even without a strong Nokia involvement, might ultimately be just what Nokia needs. If they do decide to pull the Symbian parachute, extra lift from an improved MeeGo would be very nice indeed.

Something to ponder.

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