Microsoft+Nokia -- Everyone wins in the user experience stakes

Microsoft+Nokia -- Everyone wins in the user experience stakes

Summary: The real advantage to everyone in the Microsoft/Nokia deal is that the user experience will be better. That benefits everyone...

TOPICS: Microsoft, Nokia
The outside of a walled garden. These are good.

Ecosystems are strange things. They're completely necessary for the user experience of post-PC computing (smartphones and tablets), but they're hard to define, relatively nebulous, and probably don't work in the way they think you do.

Start with Apple. They have the iTunes ecosystem that combines primarily music and video content (along with books), and of course apps. The basic assumption is that what Apple gets out of this is "lock-in" -- specifically that if someone has made a big enough investment in the Apple ecosystem they will never jump over to a competing one.

I think this assumption is wrong. If you go out there and look at the market, the number of people who care about what they actually have on a platform is actually a tiny number. Who has so many videos on iTunes, for example, that they wouldn't drop their iPhone for an Android smartphone? Note that I'm talking about smartphones in this instance -- someone with an investment in iTunes video may have an Apple TV, and/or an iPad to consume it in outside of the use case of watching movies on their phone.

It's the complexity of use cases around how people use devices that stops ecosystems from creating lock-in. Ecosystems are not about lock-in in that sense at all, although they do create scenarios where the user becomes disinclined to leave, which we'll come onto.

Walled gardens

If you think about Android -- or rather, if you think about Google Play, the ecosystem there is actually a little rough. The apps content is good, but the other types of content -- video, music, books, etc -- are always playing second fiddle to competitors. It's sufficiently weak that there can't be enough of a lock-in across their customer base.

On Microsoft's side the situation is even worse. App support on Windows Phone lags badly compared to iPhone and Android. The content side isn't really worth talking about compared to iTunes.

Nothing in any of these three ecosystems is going to stop most people from drifting to platform-to-platform as the whim arises. But there is significant value in what these ecosystems are doing, value that creates resistence -- we just need to look at them the other way up.

My preference is to think about ecosystems as "walled gardens". When you're inside, everything is happy, safe, and comfortable. Actual walled gardens were introduced in temperate climates to protect crops from wind and frost. They create little microclimates that's better for the crops, the gardeners, and ultimately the consumers.

Platform walled gardens do more or less the same thing. They create a safe, little, artificial universe that protects users from themselves.

That's not something I mean unkindly. The other way to look at that statement is that platform owners have a responsibility to help keep their users safe, from a combination of perspectives including safety (don't lose work), intimidation (don't get phished or attacked), or embarrassment. We only have to look back of the aggregated pain of twenty years of free-and-easy lovin' Windows to know that heavily locked down and curated systems are better in terms of the experience that they create.


Whatever was or is happening with Nokia, the primary reason why I welcome Microsoft buying them is that it gives more control over their walled garden and that has to be good for users.

Case in point -- I'm hesitating about buying an iPhone 5s. I've had my Nexus 4 since January and I'm very attached to it. But the reason why I'm hesitating is that because I live my whole life through Google's services, and because the tie between stock Android Jelly Bean and those services is so good, I don't want to go back to a less good experience on iOS.

This is nothing about content lock-in -- I have no third-party Google Play content at all, and I use a few apps daily that are well supported on iOS. My lock-in is all about experience. It's safer and easier in my little Google walled garden.

What I'm expecting with Windows Phone being more "owned" by Microsoft end-to-end is a refinement of the experience. I already see Windows Phone fans tweet how when they take a photo it's just synced through to their Windows 8 desktop with SkyDrive. Removing the need to futz around on simple things like this is very post-PC.

I suspect the reality where Nokia was concerned was that Microsoft were converging on this point anyway. They would have been such an important partnership, the connection between the two firms so strong, that it would have been like having a single business anyway. (The other partners would have been rather out in the cold, but I'd have to assume no third-party will bother building Windows Phone devices now.)

What I think will happen is that Microsoft now owning the walled garden totally will give their smartphone strategy a real shot in the arm, simply by being more sympathetic to the user experience that customers of smartphones are demanding.

There's a reason why Windows Phone has better traction in the market than Surface and other Windows tablets -- it's this basic understanding of the experience users need to have which is present in Windows Phone, but not on the tablet side. Sidelining the other partners and Microsoft making Windows Phone entirely theirs end-to-end can only be a good thing.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Microsoft, Nokia

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  • Lock-in

    Part of re reason that lock-in isn't as effective as you might think is that the most important productivity applications are given away for free. I'm taking about Maps, Mail and Calendaring.

    I've been using Android for years and quite enjoy the devices I've had and the Google ecosystem. Still, not too long ago I got a Surface RT. The device comes with a Mail application, a Maps application and a Calendar application, and I didn't have to pay a dime extra for them.

    The sorts of apps you're likely going to have to buy again are games and such. But honestly, who cares if you've got to buy Angry Birds all over again. Chances are you're tired of the Angry Birds Seasons you're playing now and happy to move on to Angry Birds Star Wars.
  • I'm shocked

    Last two articles of yours that I have read were written surprisingly well. As someone that is making claims, but then saying, "I've heard from people", you do lose a bit of credibility. Sure, certain apps are currently lagging behind. Non-app content though, it seems like anything and everything mainstream and less popular is available movie/music-wise. Also, there are a shrinking number of services that don't have third-party app solutions on Windows Phone. You would know all this if you actually used the platform. Suggestion- buy a Lumia 520 and just use it on WiFi. In the US, you can get one for $79.99 with a coupon code. You'll sound smarter by knowing what you are writing about.

    Side note: Why is someone that makes a living by ragging on Microsoft, because you supposedly want them doing better, tied to Google services? Again, I think you lose a bit of credibility for that, too. If you are writing based on hearsay, go write for a tabloid.
  • I still have to wait to see how good it will be for consumers.

    Windows phone is not doing great, but Nokia is what it makes is alive with 85% of WP share. That is a good evidence that Nokia kept the WP alive and not the other way around - actually it can be said that Windows "killed" Nokia.

    I know Microsoft will be buying Nokia and with it, not just devices designs, brand name, ... but also and mainly people. But is still yet to be seen if current Nokia workers will work better being part of Microsoft or like they used to do till now.... I have my doubts about that.
    • Re: Microsoft will be buying Nokia people

      Yep, they will. But buying people is not enough. You need to buy the corporate culture as well, which is not happening.

      Those Nokia people will find themselves forced to work "the Microsoft way", which they most likely will not appreciate and that will in turn reduce their productivity and motivation.

      Also, I can see how the article makes comparisons between Apple and Microsoft/Nokia. But Microsoft is not Apple, neither is Nokia. It is always stupid to play the game to someone else' rules. Why everyone attempts to play Apple's game is something I am truly puzzled about. There is no way it can be successful.

      At the end, I believe this all will end just like any other Microsoft purchase. They will milk the cow they just purchased for as long as it gives milk.
  • Death Of The Windows Phone Ecosystem

    You knew the old desktop Windows platform was strong and thriving back in its day from the sheer number of hardware OEMs and software developers attracted to it. That was a consequence of its popularity with customers, of course.

    Look at Android today, and you see the same sort of thing: increasing numbers of hardware OEMs building thriving, successful businesses around it. (Though software developers still seem to prefer Apple.)

    Look at Windows now, particularly Windows Phone and Windows RT, and you see the opposite: almost nobody embracing the latter, and the last major hope for the former collapsing and being absorbed into Microsoft.

    This acquisition of Nokia's phone-making operation is a step backward for Microsoft's mobile efforts. It shows that there is simply no hope for a thriving, independent ecosystem around Windows Phone. Microsoft going it alone is a path to ultimate oblivion.
    • Huh Android OEM's thriving?

      Other than Samsung, which looks to be building an alternative OS to Android, everyone else is struggling to make a go of it with Android, including Motorola, Google's own hardware arm.

      The one to watch is Samsung. They are basically synonymous with Android...but they are quickly and aggressively developing Tizen OS as a possible replacement to Android.
      • Re: Huh Android OEM's thriving?

        Yup. Acer, Asus, Lenovo, LG--all making money from Android. Even Sony, in the doldrums for so many years, is now profitable again, thanks to Android. Xiaomi, a company which didn't exist three years ago, is now bigger than Nokia, thanks to Android.