Nokia is wonderful at hardware. But like Motorola, another veteran of awesome industrial design, Nokia is not terribly strong on the software front — once upon a time it was, but it proved unable to shake itself loose from the now-outdated software of its glory days.
The E7 is a prime example. It really is a thing of beauty (I like a proper keyboard, me) but I don't want one because it runs Symbian. As it happens, I retain a lot of respect for Symbian as an operating system, but its user interface sucks. It's a tragedy that Nokia hasn't been able to quickly and effectively redesign that UI for the modern age, but there you go. Point proven. Stick something else in there, and the E7 would rock.
Now we know what that 'something else' is: Windows Phone 7. As I noted yesterday, it would have been great to see a Nokia Android phone, but I can fully understand Stephen Elop's decision not to go down that route (this is further explained here). So let's look at Microsoft's platform.
I actually like Windows Phone 7 — if that wording suggests surprise, it should, seeing how Windows Mobile made me want to break things — but, if it has a problem, it's the hardware. It's generic.
Look at the first wave of Windows Phones from HTC, Samsung and the others. Change the icons on their buttons and hey presto, you're pretty much looking at the same manufacturers' Android handsets.
There's not a lot of differentiation going on there — that's partly the fault of Microsoft and its strict launch spec guidelines, but it's also a clear indicator of the handset vendors not putting a lot of effort into their designs. Which is fair enough, as Windows Phone 7 was untested at the time (and arguably still is, relatively speaking), but it still made everything a bit dull.
Unfortunate, that, as Windows Phone 7 itself is refreshingly different from the iOS/Android UI standard.
So, unless Nokia and Microsoft screw it up — and let's face it, both companies are entirely capable of doing just that — we could be looking at some beautiful devices, inside and out, later this year. If nothing else, Google and Apple need a kick up the behind; the development paths of Android and iOS are getting uncomfortably synchronous. Someone else needs to come in with sufficient muscle and shake things up.
Over to you, Nokia and Microsoft.