Nokia Microsoft is like Yahoo Bing – Nokia's days as innovator are over

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As I was plugging in to power my iPhone to live stream today’s Nokia press conference, I overheard someone lean over and say “This is the most important day of your life”. It was whispered into the ear of Nokia’s PR spokesman as he took the stage today to introduce Nokia CEO Steven Elop. It certainly was important – but not in a great way. Today his boss effectively ended Nokia’s history as an ecosystem of its own, laid down its guns, and gave in to a Windows Phone future.

To me the direct comparison is Microsoft taking over as the search engine behind Yahoo. Under Carol Bartz, Yahoo surrendered in the search war to Google and decided to let someone else try: Bing. From that day on Yahoo gave up it’s long tradition of innovation.

Exactly the same thing has happened today. Everything about this event screamed that. Elop is Nokia’s Bartz. He’s looks at this entirely as a business transaction. Sure, he recognised the problems. But he took the decision not to fight.

Although Symbian will be around for a while longer as a legacy product, eventually Nokia will allow Windows to insert its phone OS into every Nokia product line, and even right down to the simplest, cheapest phones for the emerging markets.

Everything about this is fantastic for Microsoft. And in that regard I would even postulate that Nokia will now willingly sell itself to Microsoft, at a reduced price, within the next 18 months.

The thing is, Nokia simply could not transform from a hardware-centric company to software and services one. Steve Jobs always said: to do good software you have to know hardware. But in the new world of mobile ecosystems and apps, the reverse also applies.

It’s hard to say if this is a good or a bad day for the European startup eco-system, though I would argue that it is probably more good than bad.

One the one hand we may have lost the kind of company that would normally have acquired startups to give it an edge on it’s competitors. However, Nokia was not known as a great acquirer. It bought Plazes in 2008, but despite having a Foursquare/Facebook places check-in model years and years before those companies even appeared, Nokia did nothing with it.

Nokia acquired Dopplr in 2009. Again, did Nokia do anything with it? No, it was merely an “acqhire” for the CEO.

In addition, much was made of the Nokia ‘ecosystem’ of companies around the mobile giant in Helsinki and Espoo in the 1990s. Again, not much came of that in the scheme of things.

Lots of jobs will go from Nokia. That may lead to more startups, who knows. I doubt it. Nokia employees were generally corporate drones, with a few exceptions.

It also means that the innovation centre in Berlin has the Sword of Damocoles hanging over it.

Sure, Nokia is retaining the right to work on it’s own tablets and work with other operating systems. Perhaps Meego will come to the fore here. But frankly what is the point? Without an ecosystem of apps developers who can actually benefit from access to a lot of users, a separate Nokia platform is deader than a dead duck on a dead still pond.

The good aspect is that – dare I say it – there is now going to be a big Windows Phone champion, and that means apps and startups can now have a viable option that, at least in the next 18 months, will mean lots of new Windows Phone apps.

That’s good for apps people and startups. But in the end Nokia as a company has been relegated to an OEM.

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