Nokia recently showed off a handful of new phones that are powered by the new Microsoft’s mobile operating system. These are good looking devices but that won’t be enough as the company is facing a challenge that is much more cerebral.

Lumia feature

You might have heard – Nokia showed off a handful of new phones that are designed by Nokia and are powered by the new Microsoft mobile (Windows Phone 7.5 Mango) operating system. The phones, as expected, from Nokia are stunningly beautiful. Nokia has a long history of making well engineered devices that have solid design. But it’s at the software-based user experience layer where Nokia starts to sputter.

Nothing has really changed with the new devices – Lumia 800 and Lumia 710. These devices are based on Microsoft’s new OS platform that uses a new user interface/interaction methodology. Microsoft’s OS uses a concept of “tiles” and infinite scrolling to give us access to the services we like to use. In a perfect world, it’s an impressive new way of accessing information. However, it will be an uphill battle for the two companies to get traction with their combination.

Why? Because we are living in a post iPhone and post-Android OS world and as consumers we have become used to interacting with mobile devices in a specific manner. During the desktop computing era  — regardless of the flavor you preferred (Windows or MacOS) — we all got used to GUI-keyboard-and-mouse based interactions with computers and more importantly, with information. Software was written to leverage this interaction method.

In the mobile world – whether you use iOS based devices or Android – a new interaction has already been adopted by software writers and consumers. The interaction involves a combination of touch, gestures and apps. Introduction of Siri is another new way of interacting with information but Apple has been very careful in presenting it as an app instead of a radical new interface.

Microsoft and Nokia want us to learn a brand new interaction on their devices but I find it hard to imagine that consumers at large will try and learn yet another interface. I think from my perspective, that is the real challenge for Nokia and Microsoft.

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  1. You are correct, there is room for concern and both companies have to make the effort to re-tell their story to consumers in a compelling way. That said, I think you should consider a few other important factors moving forward:

    1. Not everyone has a smartphone. There are still many around the world moving up the socio-economic ladder who are increasingly capable of purchasing more expensive devices. Those in developing markets where Nokia has historically had a huge brand preference may continue that trust into the smartphone arena. It may not garner the Wall Street hype they need for their stock, but it will drive revenue up. It wasn’t too long ago that Nokia was still holding its own with Symbian, despite clearly superior offering in the marketplace.

    2. While Android is getting better, there does seem to be many still frustrated with its usability. If the UI paradigm that MSFT can be introduced properly, it might be enough to prompt people over to the new experience. I would say that people with older Android devices about to get caught up in a replacement cycle through their operator could be extremely vulnerable here. Expect Nokia to be aware of this and fight extremely hard at POS.

    1. @Jeremy. I am not sure how Nokia is going to fight extremely hard when they have absolutely no date for a US release. Nor they have gotten any US carrier to sleep with. I remember, Nokia used to get this killer hardware on it’s Symbian devices, but couldn’t get any single US carrier to sign up for a subsidized devices. Do you remember Nokia N97? The price tag at Nokia.com/us was 650$!
      I agree with Om here, that the users even with the short comings of Android and for that matter the stale design of iPhone and iOS, prefer that then having another learning curve throws at them.
      Microsoft with all it’s money thrown at BING, still can’t make a dent in Google’s search, even when the results are the same.

      1. Good point, but Nokia was relevant globally without having a significant U.S. presence. It wasn’t that long ago that they were on the verge of having 2 out of 5 phones sold globally go to them. This was with LOW double-digit share in the U.S. Despite a lot of recent OS development coming from the States, it’s not as if the rest of the world was following them as a role model.

        Nokia has a carrier problem in the States, i.e. they pissed them off in the past and some like Verizon seem to still enjoy watching them pay. Nokia refused to make concessions to U.S. carriers on custom UI’s, services, etc. Whether right or wrong, they held their ground and now are paying the consequences. If Nokia can rebuild that relationship, the rest is gravy. iPhone-mania aside, the majority of U.S. consumers are more driven by what their operator tells them at POS. If the big guys finally decide they like Win Phone over iPhone, trust me, they will start pushing it hard. There are chances here for Nokia.

        Oh, and MSFT Bing…now has 30% of U.S. searches if this article is to be trusted. It’s a bit more than a dent. :D

      2. Mac OS X has lower market share than Bing. A healthy alternative should be welcome in every arena. The mobile space has room for three major players.

      3. You obviously haven’t seen this interview with Elop yet. http://thisismynext.com/2011/10/27/stephen-elop-android-criticism-us-launch-windows-phone/

        He answers almost all your points, especially the US market situation.

  2. Lemuel Chin Cantos Thursday, October 27, 2011

    @Jeremy, good argument there.
    But for your first point, the developing countries that has Nokia as a huge brand preference are slowly turning to Samsung. I live in the Philippines and I’m seeing more Samsung phones now compared to Nokia. Also, these countries still prefer cheap phones as opposed to top-of-the line smart phones. Samsung and China have unlocked Android phones for less than 150 USD. If Nokia can beat this price with its Windows phones, it may have a chance to steal some market share. If not then it’s going to be one uphill battle for them.

    1. Hi Lemuel,

      You’re absolutely right, Nokia used to dominate down in the Philippines to the point it was embarrassing. They used to have similar shares in Indonesia that was eaten into by RIM (surprisingly) and India by Chinese domestics. And you’re absolutely right about the low-end, which I think Nokia will continue to play in, but I’ll leave out of this particular discussion.

      Nokia (I believe) will find way to push down the $150 price point soon with MSFT’s help of course. I would argue though that some of those that shifted to Samsung/Android have done so based on the lack of any good offer from Nokia. As they re-arrive to the market with a modern OS, you could see them win people back purely based on their marketing strength and some left-over brand loyalty.

      For the record though, I do not believe they are going to get back to the good ol’ days of close to 40% market share globally. They playing field has changed too much to allow that, but I do think they can carve out a nice, hopefully profitable piece.

  3. Have you even tried a windows phone? The interface is intuitive, there is nothing to learn really. It just works.

  4. I think that this article misses the most important point of all, desktop OS. Windows dominates the desktop market and that’s not going to change any time in the foreseeable future. When Windows 8 releases, sporting the Metro interface, a lot of people are going to become accustomed to the interface. That familiarity is going to be very attractive down the line when considering mobile choices, whether it be tablets or phones. Also, don’t forget that Xbox will also be sporting Metro and that will just expand the exposure. Anyone who can’t see what’s coming for WinPhone better open up their eyes.

    Where Nokia will fit in remains to be seen, but considering their experience, aesthetics and build quality, I’d expect them to be just fine.

    1. Stu makes an important point here. Once win8 is out, most of the world will be used to the new UI concepts. On top of that the smooth integration with live gaming is a huge thing for most young people. There is definitely a challenge for Nokia and microsoft here, but I willl be surprised if they will fail. Their competition doesn’t look too good these days: google is doing too many things and hasn’t been successfull in resolving basic UI issues in android, apple’s last iOS5 update is the worst SW release they have done in the last 5 years.

    2. “When Windows 8 releases” – How was the adoption rate on Vista already? Don’t count your chicks before they’re hatched. People are replacing their home computers by tablets and smartphones, so there’s a good chance that people will delay replacing their computer and instead purchase a tablet. Businesses might go for Win8, but chances are they’ll pre-load it with Metro disabled, but even that will only be months after Win8 has launched, as companies carry over all their legacy applications and programs.

      Another thing is that Metro is very, very awkward to use without a touchscreen. How do you “swipe” with a trackpad? How do you “pinch-to-resize” with a mouse? How do you avoid scrolling like crazy (up-down mouse scroll is left-right screen scroll for some reason) when you’re looking for a file/photo/program when the screen only takes about 20 icons in a go? Chances are, when Win8 comes out, it’ll come in two “flavours” : Metro-inspired for things with touchscreens, and classic for ones without. The only hitch is that right now there aren’t that many touchscreen desktops/laptops, and I can’t see them suddenly booming come Dec2012. Gorilla arm and all that.

    3. So far the tile interface brings more frustration than appreciation of the new interface. Those same people want to use Windows as they know how to use it.

  5. Om, I am sure you have used a Windows phone -powered smartphone, right? Your post makes it sound like WP7 would be something totally different (and with “totally” I mean so different that user would need to invest own resources to learn it).

    Anyone who has used WP7 knows that the interaction model in WP7 consists of same elements as iOS and Android (touch, gestures and apps). Sure – the overall concept of tiles in WP7 is different from the “grid of icons + standalone apps”, but I would be willing to claim that it does NOT force a learning curve for the user.

    WP appears fluid and continuous which is quite different from iPhone,Android and their apps, where the connecting factor is merely the transition animations.

    I think you are right in speculation weather WP concept forces software writers to adopt something totally different (I don’t know since I am not a coder / sw designer for mobile phones). But if there is big difference – that might have huge implication to software makers’ willingness to write for WP – AND it might have implication to quality of WP apps (a secondary platform will always get less attention; and corners will be cut). It’ll be a bit like running apps designed for iPhone – or small screen – in an iPad. Yes, they work, but the experience is just wrong.

    But for consumers – I am pretty sure the WP UI will not be a big threshold to cross.

    1. Aki

      Thanks for your comment. I think the point I am making is that we as a group tend to cluster around certain user interfaces and it is a challenge for nsoft for those precise reasons. I am not saying that Microsoft phone is difficult. I am saying it is different.

      As for software developers, they will be dealing with very unique user experience as well and that is a challenge.

      1. One somewhat overlooked point is that sometime later next year (probably) there will be coming the first of some 300+ million PCs with a very similar user interface.

  6. The core premise of this article — Nokia/Microsoft phones’ interface is foreign and unacceptable to users because they are too different from the iphone interface and therefore present too steep a learning curve — does not hold water. 1) They are not that different: The UI of winphone and iphone are variations on the same basic concept of touch, animation, and app-centric icons, just like windows and mac are. 2) Vast majority of the people in the market for a smartphone either do not have one now, or had their device for just a few years. Learning a new interface with basically the same concepts would not be nearly as hard.

    Om, you did a fine job explaining why Winphone fail to attract you, but you are projecting your own experience far too wide.

    1. Gb,

      Hopefully we shall discuss this in a few months with a few more devices in the market. Up until then, let’s agree to disagree.

      1. Om, per Gb, its ok to agree to disagree but your premise is:

        “we are living in a post iPhone and post-Android OS world and as consumers we have become used to interacting with mobile devices in a specific manner.”

        However, keep in mind that at the iPhone 4S rollout, Tim Cook had a slide showing that the iPhone has just 5% worldwide share of mobile phone “handsets”. Recall Cook said something like “I could have shown the bigger smartphone numbers, but we believe over time all handsets become smartphones”. Also Om, remember when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, there was banner their web site (or maybe it was on stage when he delivered the keynote) and it showed an Apple rising with the words “The next 30 years”. So, I think you are being too presumptuous in your prediction. However, this isn’t to say that Microsoft-Nokia will be successful. btw, have you seen Ed Tufte’s assessment of the Microsoft windows phone 7 UI? He rightfully whales on it (for example it wastes valuable screen space on the right side with many pixels being black just to show a stupid arrow pointing to the right to get you to swipe). If would not be surprising if the crappy UI put out by Microsoft dooms the MSFT-Nokia venture and so let’s see Apple continue to whale on them!

        1. Eddie

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Excellent points and counterpoints to my argument. Let’s just wait and see how it rolls out. I am not going anywhere and in six months we should have a clear sense of how it is all working out.


    2. @gb I agree. When a user first comes to Windows Phone they think that the tiles are just icons like they are used to on other systems. I’d be very surprised if anyone was put off by windows phone because they thought it was too different. At the end of the day it’s salesmen in phone shops that sell phones to customers and it has been well documented that they have been pushing android.

  7. Microsoft’s approach would be flawed except for one important point: It’s simply easier to use. I haven’t read one tech reviewer who felt Windows Phone was more difficult to use or learn than iOS or Android. Shouldn’t that be the point of OS evolution…ease of use?? In any case, Google’s ICS is moving closer to Microsoft’s Metro design.

    1. Bob

      Did I use the phrase difficult in my post? Point I am making is that it is different from what we are getting accustomed to every day.

  8. Might be as simple as Microsoft is not sexy anymore, so sales will wane.

    When MS were the only kid in town (realistically speaking) we would wait eagerly for a new OS to play with. Now, not so much. There are lots of cooler things out there.

    MS got their Mojo through many questionable practices, so what remains to be seen is if they can get it back despite no longer having the positioning whereby they can strong-arm the world into doing things the MS way.

    I think they have lost their relevance and won’t get it back. They will churn out business-class stuff that will sell in that market and the XBox will hold on for a long time, but that’s about it.

  9. Ricardo Dawkins Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Looks like the Wii and PS3 will sell more than the Xbox 360 in the next months thanks to the new iteration of the Metro based UI that will arrive in Nov. And since the populace is not ready for this type of iteraction, Xbox is done.

    Stupid analyst. Looks like I can do this job, too. :-D

  10. i switched from the iphone to a windows phone and do not regret the switch. first, my aging eyes can simply read things on the screen much better. second, i love the email and text apps (especially the fact that receiving a text while in the car causes the app to read the text and accept a voice reply) along with search.
    it took about an hour to get accustomed to the new UI. since then, i havent missed the Apple UI at all. With mango the phone is even better and my teenager has switched to the windows phone as well because he likes the facebook integration much better. (we have every variety of iphone in the house so are quite familiar with every OS and hardware variant).
    to be honest, i have played with various flavors of android and not liked them. i would choose iphone or windows phone over android.
    for now, i am sticking with my windows phone. i am very happy with it.

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