Adding System Centre support to Nokia business handsets as well as the Communicator client for Lync and SharePoint access makes Nokia a better business handset maker than just slapping QWERTY keyboards on their phones. And we've always respected Nokia for actually enforcing Exchange policies on phones; if your Exchange server says email has to be encrypted and you're using an N series device which doesn't have the horsepower to encrypt and decrypt messages rather than an E series which does then you just can't get your email - annoying for the user, just what the company that set the policy wants. Unlike say, iPhone until the 3GS came out; earlier iPhones would accept the policy and just ignore it…
We've always wondered why Microsoft chose to work so closely with Nokia when they want their own phone OS to succeed. It's not like supporting the Mac, which both came before Windows and needed to be kept alive to stop Microsoft being far too much of a desktop monopoly. I used to wonder if it was a bet against Symbian being a real smartphone OS; an assumption that it would stay in the 'featurephone-plus' category - but then Microsoft bought Danger to get into that market and while Kin failed, it was still a market Microsoft wanted to play in. Seeing Nokia as the budget business phone for the developing world makes a lot more sense of the alliance. Microsoft gets millions of handsets that will work with Lync when it's a voice service as well as instant messaging. A small business in India might never buy a PABX and if it can get email and voicemail and unified messaging and business calls all through Office 365 on the Nokia phones employees are already using, that's a great reason to choose Office 365.
And while I still think Nokia needs to prove itself with a modern version of Symbian and some modern smartphones that reach the level of iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7, working well with key business players is also important. Nokia's Ilari Nurmi name-checked Cisco as well so I asked him what the collaboration brings there.
"Today you're able to participate in WebEx conferences already, but we start from the low level things; Cisco Compatible Extensions (CCX) capabilities in devices. " CCX means a phone is certified to work with a Cisco network for things like wireless VoIP and Voice over WLAN - so you could use a Nokia phone as an IP phone at work and as a media player on your commute and a personal phone in the evening. Nurmi says Nokia handsets have dual-mode voice but not many companies are ready to use it.
"Today still it's one of those things that have been discussed for a long time and there no massive deployments - yet it's one of those items where the products are getting better and getting more simple to use. It's one step at a time. Companies are more aware and are starting to do wireless capabilities more for voice. But compared to mobilisation of email and mobilisation of presence and instant messaging it's a harder thing to do."
As you'd expect, Cisco is somewhat ahead of its customers and they're using Nokia handsets for wireless voice. "Their own IT department runs Nokia devices in massive scale for voice usage," Nurmi said.
He also pushed another advantage that only Nokia and Google have; their own maps. Microsoft has Bing Maps, but the maps are licenced from TeleAtlas (owned by TomTom) and Navteq (owned by Nokia); it's working with DigitalGlobe to do some of the highest resolution aerial image maps ever and it's working with OpenStreetMap, but it still buys in base maps. Google creates its own by scraping the Web and taking a lot of photographs - and Nokia, as we say, owns the base map provider, Navteq. The consumer play is that Nokia gives away Ovi maps to make you more likely to buy a Nokia handset (Google puts Google Maps on a lot of phones because it makes money from the searches you do in Google Maps and it uses you as a probe to find out how accurate its maps are and how the traffic is flowing - it's never something for nothing). But what is Nokia doing with this huge mapping asset for business?
Nurmi couldn't give us all the details we wanted but he let slip one tantalising piece of news. "Some companies are utilising our maps as a platform for running their delivery operations and building their apps on top of. There's a manufacturer in Mexico running their entire fleet delivery operations using Nokia smartphones and maps data. "
With the market share Nokia has it was never going to curl up and die. With these kinds of business services, Nokia handsets are going to make sense for companies; in the US and Europe they're going to have to be more attractive to users as well to compete with the usual suspects. But elsewhere in the world, it could be a winning combination. Mary Branscombe