Ovi-Shadowing the Competition

Mobile Feb 08, 2011 No Comments

Next Monday, Mobile World Congress kicks off, providing a platform for the biggest names and players in mobile.  We already know that HTC and Samsung purposely held back upcoming products at CES, hoping to use MWC as their primary stage for introducing their next generation of smartphones.  HTC will likely introduce rather iterative upgrades to their Desire, Desire HD, and Wildfire lines.  They might even have a tablet to show off.  Samsung is expected to introduce their Galaxy S successors with Super AMOLED Plus screens, Tegra 2 or Orion chipsets, and all the TouchWiz you can handle.  What won’t be too surprising, though, is the possibility that any news coming out of the conference will be overshadowed by announcements taking place in the next two days.

At 1:00 PM EST tomorrow, HP will hold its long-awaited WebOS event where everyone will be holding their breath, hoping that the fruits of their purchase of Palm hasn’t gone rotten.  They will certainly introduce a WebOS tablet, at least one phone, and will also outline where they plan on taking the WebOS platform. With all of HP’s money and technical services, there is major potential for them to take WebOS and truly make it the cloud-centric mobile OS that it was designed to be.  While Google appears to be stumbling while trying to articulate why anyone should buy an Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet, HP may introduce the first viable iPad competitor with a compelling story and use case.  In such an unsure market, they may fail to capture the public’s interest, but this may be one case where they don’t fail to deliver a promising consumer product.  Also note that I’m referring to HP, and only HP, as I expect the Palm name to be flicked away like a WebOS card that’s served its purpose.

If HP fails to make a lot of noise tomorrow, then Nokia can have the mic to themselves on Friday.  So many rumors have been swirling about what direction Nokia will go and it seems as if everyone will finally have an answer soon.  Today’s leak of an internal memo from new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is the final nail in the coffin for any idea that Nokia would stay the course with Symbian and Meego as their primary smartphone platforms.   I’ve expressed my confidence that Meego could still become a success, though that success is predicated on the sheer market presence of Nokia.  Whether or not they maintain support for Meego, it’s clear that Nokia is poised to make some big changes that include adopting existing platforms. Because Elop was previously the head of Microsoft Office at Microsoft, many people are insisting that Nokia will adopt Windows Phone 7.  I find that line of reasoning simplistic because it doesn’t address how Windows Phone 7 is more advantageous for Nokia than Android.  WP7 is also an embarassingly unfinished operating system at this point.  While it might be technically superior to Android at its core, there’s no question it lags behind in features.

I genuinely have no idea what Nokia will do at this point.  They’ve seemed so resistant to Android in the past, but Windows Phone 7 has little to offer as an alternative.  If Nokia has any desire to maintain its status as a premium company that provides services on top of hardware, they may choose to adopt Android, but in a different way than the HTC’s and Samsung’s of the world.  They have the option of forking the open-source Android OS and turning it into a uniquely Nokia platform.  Their phones could run standard Android apps, but core services from search, to location, to the market itself could be stripped out and replaced with their own Ovi services.  Admittedly, this could be unlikely given the increasing rumors that there will be a partnership with Microsoft announced Friday.  For all we know, they could have plans to adopt Windows Phone, work on their own Android variant, and wait for Intel to deliver a chip that can run Meego.

Whatever they do, it’s likely to have a dramatic impact on the industry.  Nokia may not be the industry leader that they once were, but any shift of power towards either Windows Phone or Android could have implications for everyone, even Apple.  And while everyone is busy sorting out what Nokia’s announcement means, will they have time to care that HTC updated the specs in their year-old hardware design?

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