Opinion: Nokia buyout paints Stephen Elop as a smartphone superhero

Next stop Redmond?

Opinion: Nokia buyout paints Stephen Elop as a smartphone superhero

Microsoft received some rather positive news at the start of this week.

According to stats published by Kantar Worldpanel, Windows Phone has achieved its highest ever share of the smartphone pie in key European markets.

"Android and Apple take the lion’s share of the headlines and continue to dominate smartphone sales, so it’s easy to forget that there is a third operating system emerging as a real adversary," detailed the firm's strategic insight director Dominic Sunnebo .

"Windows Phone, driven largely by lower priced Nokia smartphones such as the Lumia 520, now represents around one in 10 smartphone sales in Britain, France, Germany and Mexico.

"For the first time the platform has claimed the number two spot in a major world market, taking 11.6 percent of sales in Mexico."

One day later, Microsoft's proposed buyout of Nokia – the very firm credited with spurring this steady surge in sales – was announced to the world.


Naturally, there's no direct link between the two events.

The Nokia deal will have been on the cards for some time (the mobile giant's Facebook account quickly began a #NextChapter campaign across social media after the news was announced), but the timing of the announcement undoubtedly suggests one thing.

Despite all the confident talk at the time of the two firms' 'strategic partnership' back in 2011, Microsoft wasn't at all sure Nokia could have a positive impact on the Windows Phone ecosystem.

The partnership with Nokia was big news and came at a time when speculation suggested a formal acquisition of the Finnish firm was highly likely, if not inevitable.

However, by going no further than aligning itself with Nokia, Microsoft was able to bring a big name to Windows Phone without committing itself to the company's future.

The last two years, then, have been something of an experiment. Microsoft has been able watch Elop slowly – and, at times, painfully – steer Nokia in a new direction without getting its hands dirty.

The upturn has been slower than many expected, but the last few months in particular have seen Windows Phone gain steady ground and edge ahead of BlackBerry.

More importantly, some stats suggest that as many as eight out of every 10 Windows Phones sold is a Nokia. While Samsung has shown almost complete disinterest in its Windows Phone range and HTC continues to struggle to gain ground, Nokia has made Windows Phone its own.

Different by design

Indeed, for many consumers, Windows Phone and Nokia are now one and the same, and the strong link fostered between the two entities shouldn't come as a surprise to Microsoft.

Despite Nokia's troubled last five years, there are two qualities consumers still associate with handsets from the Finnish giant: Nokia hardware is well built, and the handsets are well designed.

It was Nokia's continued reliance on Symbian software that saw it slip from its position as top dog. The hardware, however, never really suffered.

The MeeGo-powered N9 wasn't a commercial success, but it continued Nokia's long history of delivering well designed devices

Given one of Windows Phone's key selling points is the design of its UI, it's natural that the wider public quickly saw a strong correlation between Microsoft's platform and Nokia's Lumia range – coloured, polycarbonate devices that, just like the OS that runs on them and sometimes to their detriment, stand out a mile on the shop shelves.

Whether or not consumers have actually purchased Lumias is a different issue: for most, Lumia and Windows Phone are a perfect match.

In contrast, Samsung's Windows Phone-equipped ATIV S stands in the vast shadow of the Korean firm's Galaxy S range, while HTC has struggled to bring its own flavour to Microsoft's OS.

To put it simply, Nokia's business is just a far better fit.

The man who saved Nokia

More interesting than all of this, however, is what comes next.

If the buyout is approved, current CEO Stephen Elop will be able to tout himself as the man who saved Nokia from the abyss.

That's an accolade that will do Elop no harm whatsoever if he fancies putting himself forward as the natural successor to current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

For Microsoft, the deal also allows the company to pitch itself as 'the good guy'. Had the firm swooped in for Nokia when – in Elop's words – it was 'standing on a burning platform', it could have been accused of picking at the carcass of a once great giant, forcing it to adopt a Windows Phone platform that, at the time, was entirely unproven.

Now, in stark contrast, the buyout appears an entirely logical one.

Nokia's latest flagship, the 41MP Lumia 1020

Outwardly at least, Nokia adopted Windows Phone of its own volition, and despite early protestations that Android would have been a better fit by many, it's a move that few would deny is now paying off.

Instead of buying a company on the way down, Microsoft is now acquiring a steady ship and adding to its smartphone arsenal with a rising force, rather than a declining power.

The dirty work required to prise Nokia away from what was a dying ecosystem (and the awkward headlines aplenty that generated) is now over. The Finnish firm is now firmly at the wheel of the Windows Phone ecosystem, shifting through the gears and driving the OS forward.

The Microsoft buyout, therefore, won't change the rules of the game, but it will give Nokia the power to push its pedal to the metal.

Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on PG.biz, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.