Last week Nokia announced that it had operating losses of $1 billion dollars in Q2 of this year. Even more worryingly is that in the US only 600,000 Lumia phones were shipped during this same period. Indeed if the problems for Nokia were not already extremely worrisome they definitely are now. By choosing to partner with Microsoft Nokia clearly hoped that it would not only reinvigorate its ailing profits but also lead Windows Phone into a dominant position in the mobile space. Unfortunately Nokia’s failings highlight the problem for both Nokia and the Windows Phone platform that is not down to their hardware or software but rather consumer’s views on technology.
Are Two Operating Systems Enough
The computer market has shown that while a choice of operating systems is a good thing there is only so much choice that consumers really care about. Indeed this seems the way that the mobile market may be going. There are two main operating systems on computers, OSX and Windows. There is, of course also Linux, but this has a much much smaller market share compared to the other two. The reason that two operating systems suit consumers is because most people do not use their computers because they are avid about technology but rather because they have to for work and to stay connected. Thus once people have become accustomed to how these OS’s work and have invested time and money into them they are very unwilling to change. While Microsoft and Nokia are undoubtedly huge names in the technology industry their entrance into the smartphone market was treated with reservation by the general public as they had already found mobile phones and operating systems that worked just fine for them. At the end of the day the public do not care about the inner workings of an OS as long as it works and they can use it easily. Indeed that is exactly the experience that Android and iOS were able to provide by the time Windows Phone 7 came to market.
In fact the reluctance to change both phones and operating systems is heightened by the length of most mobile contracts. These two year contracts have been crucial in allowing both Android and iOS to capture their respective markets. Even the most layman of smartphone users will have discovered the wonder of apps over this two year period and likely will have invested in them. Therefore when the end of the contract comes around they are unwilling to move to a different platform if it means rebuying all of their previous apps and even learning the ins and outs of a new OS. These two year contracts have proven extremely costly for both Windows Phone and Nokia as due to their tardiness in entering the market most people had already committed to either Android or iOS.
Being late to market could have been an advantage
Sometimes being late to market is an advantage as it allows you assess what consumers want and bring out a product that is much better than the first efforts of other companies. In many respects this is Apple’s approach to some of its hardware. Take the Macbook Air and its wedge design for example. Sony had in 2004 already produced a laptop like this but it had dreadful battery life and wasn’t made of such premium materials. Unfortunately in the software space this is much harder to do as there are so many different aspects that go into making successful software let alone an entire OS.
While the title of this article might suggest that we think the market can never handle any more than two successful OS’s this isn’t case. What we are arguing for however, is that consumers are not as willing to adopt different operating systems, even when they are made by big brands, as Nokia and Microsoft would like to believe. For most people technology is not a hobby nor an interest. Instead it is a tool to make our lives easier and therefore while Windows Phone may offer up a sublime user experience (it doesn’t quite yet), people will never leave either Android or iOS unless one of these two causes problems for that user. It seems that Nokia should have seen that this was the case before careering headlong into its partnership with Microsoft. While Windows Phone and Nokia may yet recover their market share there is no doubt that for Nokia especially the gamble of Windows Phone is yet to pay off even a little let alone at all.
Top photo credit bobfamiliar
Bottom photo credit keith.bellvay