Relations between Nokia and its former BFF Microsoft are evidently not as cosy as once they were. While the Finnish mobile maker has reiterated it’s “immediately focused” on Windows Phone for smartphones it has also indicated it is keeping an open mind about using alternatives to Microsoft’s mobile OS in future — potentially even considering a move to Android. Yet when Nokia and Microsoft first announced their Windows Phone coalition, back in 2011, and Nokia committed to Windows Phone as its “primary smartphone strategy”, it dismissed Android on the grounds that it would be too difficult for it to stand out from the crowd using Google’s OS.
Since then Nokia has paid a very high price for committing so completely to Windows Phone. Swinging to an operating loss of €1.073 billion in 2011 and reporting a string of quarterly losses in 2012 — with a full-year 2012 loss of more than €3 billion looking likely. And Android has consolidated its position as the dominant global OS — helping Nokia rival Samsung to steal its top mobile maker crown, a title Nokia had held for 14 years.
During an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais last month, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop was asked whether the company has entirely ruled out launching an Android smartphone in 2013. He gave an answer that was yesterday widely reported to indicate Nokia was considering a move to Android — with many publications quoting a Google Translation of his answer as:
In the present war of ecosystems, struggle with Windows Phone. But always think what next, what role does HTML 5, Android … HTML 5 could make the platform is Android, Windows Phone or other, less important in the future, but it is too early.Today we are engaged and satisfied with Microsoft, but any rotation is possible.
Nokia has now provided TechCrunch with its official transcription of Elop’s words — noting that the interview took place in English and was translated into Spanish by El Pais. According to Nokia Elop said:
So, the way I think about it is, in the current war on ecosystems, we are fighting with Windows Phone. That’s what we’re doing. Now, what we’re always doing is asking, how does that evolve? What’s next? What role does HTML5 play? What role does Android or other things play in the future? We’re looking further into the future, but it terms of what we’re bringing to market, and what we’re immediately focused on, we’re focused on Windows Phone.
There is a slight difference of emphasis in the wording of the Nokia transcript — especially the removal of the line “any rotation is possible”, which does make it sound like Nokia’s game of OSes is about to turn into a free-for-all — which is clearly not the case. But although Nokia’s official response is far more measured than the El Pais translation, it’s also interesting to note the company is not slamming the door on Android.
Elop’s wording makes a distinction between Nokia’s current smartphone strategy, of being focused on Windows Phone, and the changeable immediate future (“what’s next?”) — and then deliberately inserts a question mark over where Nokia might go in that evolving tomorrow. His answer is certainly not a commitment to a platform switch, but if I were Microsoft I would be inclined to read between the lines and interpret this as a passive aggressive missive/warning not to take Nokia’s commitment for granted. And a sign that relations aren’t quite what they used to be.
Rumours of cooling ardour between the pair have been circulating for months — with tech watchers noting how Microsoft chose to show off HTC hardware at the launch of Windows Phone 8 in the fall, rather than Nokia handsets. Speculation about what might lie behind a possible rift includes Microsoft getting into building its own mobile hardware, with the launch of its Surface tablet, when Nokia had also been rumoured to be building a tablet. Microsoft has also been rumoured to be testing or building its own smartphone hardware.
Whatever the truth of these rumours, Redmond has certainly shown it’s not averse to treading on OEM toes — which can’t be too reassuring if you are, like Nokia, a manufacturer with almost all your eggs in a Windows-flavoured basket.
At the time of publication Nokia had not responded to a question about the state of relations with Microsoft.