Who Would Benefit Most From A Tie-Up With Nokia? Microsoft

If you could cut anticipation with a knife, you would need the most high-end, sharpest Global in the block to go at Nokia at the moment: no one has confirmed anything concrete and on the record yet, but today brings us one more “trusted source” report that the Finnish handset maker is close to announcing a partnership with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) during its Capital Markets Day presentation tomorrow. Such a tie-up could be a huge boost to Microsoft.

The alliance, says the report from Bloomberg, would be aimed at trying to take marketshare away from Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Android and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iOS.

It’s worth noting that Bloomberg is very careful with its wording in this story. There have been discussions between Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop, but the partnership is not yet “clinched”. Elop has also spoken with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, says the report, but those conversations are “unlikely” to lead to a partnership. That means that one, both, or neither, could come to fruition tomorrow.

The report comes after a day with yet more inferences about what platform Nokia (NYSE: NOK) may choose for its future device development.

There was the “burning platform” memo — allegedly written by Stephen Elop but never confirmed by himself or Nokia — in which he characterized the handset maker as facing a critical point in its strategy.

And there were cryptic Twitter messages, such as the item from Google executive Vic Gundotra, tagged #feb11 (the date of Nokia’s presentation) that said “‘Two turkeys do not make an Eagle'” (sic), a pseudo-adage that then got re-tweeted hundreds times, and, now calls up millions of references in a Google search.

Nokia has lost a lot of marketshare in the last couple of years, particularly in the smartphone segment, which has seen a veritable revolution since Apple and Google’s Android entered the fray.

But Nokia is still on top. According to figures from Gartner, Nokia’s Symbian platform (currently its mainstay for smartphones) has a 37.6 percent share of the market — nearly 15 percent more than its next-closes competitor, Android, but falling more than 10 percent in the last year, while Apple and Google have gained.

And that is where it is clear that a partnership with Microsoft — if it is indeed in the cards — would be a major boost for the Redmond, Washington-based software giant. In Gartner’s rankings, Microsoft’s share of the smartphone market is only at 4.2 percent, the second-biggest decline after Nokia’s. For all its issues, particularly in markets like the U.S., Nokia still has a huge embedded user base, and a massive following. Microsoft could really use some of that dust to rub off on itself to get more momentum for its platform.

For the same reason, an Android alliance seems less clear. The platform is already on the rise; Google doesn’t need Nokia, and does Nokia really need the headache of trying to compete on an even less differentiated basis against the likes of Samsung and HTC?