Print 46 comment(s) - last by Mitch101.. on Sep 5 at 1:40 PM

  (Source: Bloomberg)
Let's examine two views on this controversial, provocative union

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) late Monday announced its intention to purchase Nokia Oyj. (HEX:NOK1V) sending shockwaves through the OEM space.  Whether this is a match made in heaven or hell remains to be seen, but one thing's for sure -- these two companies were already closely tied so this relationship is not exactly new.

With that in mind, I'd like to present two schools of thought on the merger.

I. Windows Phone, the Winner

Key points:

Devices Let's assume for a minute that Nokia continues its current Windows Phone sales growth.  That seems reasonable given that its Q2 bump was before its most impressive Windows Phone to date -- the Lumia 1020 -- even landed.  With a Nokia-crafted "Surface Phone", sales could leap even faster.

Nokia Lumia 1020

The Surface and Nokia's Lumia devices mesh well together -- both share similar bright, colorful style cues and some common elements in terms of hardware.  A single branding -- either "Surface" or "Lumia" -- could reduce confusion and sell consumers on an ecosystem/look similar to Apple's iOS products.

Currently the only OEMs growing faster than Nokia are Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992), Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930), and LG Electronics, Inc. (KSC:066570).  Samsung is predicting a Q3 sales slump, so Nokia could soon find itself in the top three in market growth.

Google Inc. (GOOG) and its subsidiary Motorola have shown that a platform provider can use a hardware-making subsidiary to lead by example and encourage other OEMs to step up their game.  Likewise Nokia, if properly managed could actually encourage other prospective Windows Phone makers like Acer Inc. (TPE:2357) to push out high-end Windows Phones.

Windows Phone marketplace
Windows Phone is the fastest growing mobile platform. [Image Source: WinSource]

In a way the Nokia-Microsoft union is superior to the Motorola-Google union as Nokia has already independently undergone its own restructuring, so Microsoft won't have to alter the unit as drastically as Google had to with Motorola.

Finally, Stephen Elop could play a key role in Microsoft's leadership team.  The former Microsoft Canada executive has had his share of ups an downs as Nokia's chief, but he has ultimately revamped his company into a leaner, growing competitor.  That kind of reimagination seems like it could be a boon to Microsoft amidst its "devices and services" push.  With CEO Steve Ballmer departing, Mr. Elop provides the kind of veteran leadership Microsoft is short on.

II. Losers Flock Together

Key points:

  • Microsoft's desktop companion to Windows Phone, Windows 8, has missed badly
  • Both companies have suffered recent declines in sales, relevance

  • Nokia has been slow to deliver on devices -- a major reason why Windows Phone failed to take off early
  • OEMs could run from the Windows Phone platform at the first hint of Nokia brand favoritism
  • What ifs -- Nokia could have done better sticking with Symbian or switching to being a premium Android OEM
A second perspective would be to look at this merger as a union of two failing firms.  While Nokia's Windows Phone sales are "growing", they still remain less than half of the Symbian smartphones it sold in 2011.  Likewise Microsoft is suffering the worst percentage drop in PC sales in history.

Ballmer fed up
Nokia and Microsoft have both struggled, seeing a net decline in sales from their peek levels.

The problem with Nokia, image-wise, from an investor's perspective is that it will never be able to lay to rest the "what ifs".  While 2011-era Symbian was losing sales and looked dated, if Nokia had opted to aggressively overall its own platform -- or opted to jump to a mature Android en masse, there's no telling how its sales might be different today.  BlackBerry Ltd. (TSE:BB) has certainly presented a cautionary tale regarding first party OS development by smaller firms, but perhaps Nokia could have found a way to deliver better with Symbian.

The Motorola-Google tieup, viewed in a different light, could offer some concerns for Microsoft-Nokia.  In the wake of its pairing with Motorola Mobility, Google has seen slow sales.  

Nokia Elop
Nokia might have suffered less of a fall, had it gone with Android.

Combine that with OEMs' vocal fears about Microsoft's Surface, and you could see Nokia's recovery slowing, while competitor OEMs to Nokia are driven away from the Windows Phone ship.

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By CosmoJoe on 9/3/2013 3:42:50 PM , Rating: 4
If you look at the iPhone, you have Apple who controls basically the entire ecosystem. They design the OS. They design the phone. They have been very successful with that degree of control over their phones and tablets.

It is pretty apparent that Microsoft has gotten tired of relying on the OEMs to 'get it right' with their devices. Add to that the fact that they are turning into a devices and services company and this isn't shocking at all. What remains to be seen is how they do all this without alienating the OEMs.

By nafhan on 9/3/2013 4:08:51 PM , Rating: 4
What remains to be seen is how they do all this without alienating the OEMs.
Huawei, HTC, and Samsung have released one WP8 device each this year. The HTC device was a Sprint rehash of last years 8X, the Samsung device was a WP8 rehash of the S3 (released after the S4), the Huawei device was targeted at poor people in China. That's it for third party devices. I really don't see alienation of the existing OEM base being much of a concern. It's barely there as is.

On top of that, from the consumer side, getting into WP and NOT buying a Nokia device seems like a bad idea - at any price point.

By Mitch101 on 9/3/2013 10:16:51 PM , Rating: 3
Well said and I think OEM's are close to death anyhow they just dont know it yet and it doesnt matter if they went Windows or Android. Windows Phone was never thier cash cow and Google owns Motorola which is the same thing as Microsoft owning Nokia. Even in Android world I think Samsung is the only one making money so Android isnt even a cash cow for HTC or Huawei its just life support until Google pulls the plug and decides it wants to make money with Motorola only.

The question is should Samsung worry about this? Samsungs strong point is they manufacture a lot of high end parts used in todays phones and thier own so they in a way control the smaller smartphone makers for now. Look how Samsung caused problems for Apple, Nokia, and HTC its no wonder that Samsung rose to the top especially for Android and was able to take Apple down a few notches. Samsung could have done the same for Windows Phone Instead Samsung kind of forced the hand of Microsoft to purchase Nokia so Microsoft can continue Nokia's return to growth. Obivously this solves all of Nokia's cash issues and it also allows Microsoft to focus on Nokia specifically just like they focus and optimize and X-Box and exactly like Apple can focus all its efforts on iPhone. This is the right choice for Microsoft. Nokia is almost firing on all cylinders again and Microsoft is able to grab them at the right time.

Nokia just became a monster and Stephen Elop is much better than Ballmer so watch out all he needs is the cash and now he has it.
Stephen Elop as head of Microsoft will be huge.

This also might explain why Samsung is looking at making its own OS - Tizen.
Samsung co-CEO pushes Tizen OS as more than a simple alternative for Android

All I can say is grab a bucket of popcorn because this just got real on so many levels. Dont be surprised if Intel plays a major role very soon in all of this as Im sure Intel has a few cards to play and do something about Samsung and ARM.

By poi2 on 9/3/2013 11:00:41 PM , Rating: 3
My bet is on Intel, AMD is onboard Nokia devices
at least that way more fun

By w8gaming on 9/4/2013 12:09:42 AM , Rating: 3
Well, Microsoft starts to get real serious on the hardware end. But they have to work on the software end as well and find ways to improve their Windows Store. Despite what many Microsoft supporters think, Windows Store is still way far behind iOS and Android. To prove it, just do this using Bing, search for "best video player in Google Play" vs "best video player in Windows Store". While Android market search results shows several good candidates, there is hardly any useful result from the Windows Store. And the built-in video player in Windows 8 is utter junk which lack support for several popular formats. If Microsoft cannot end up deliver the basic functionality for today's mobile usage, they will not be making much progress even if they have solid hardware.

By JPForums on 9/4/2013 1:17:04 PM , Rating: 3
Windows Store is still way far behind iOS and Android. To prove it, just do this using Bing, search for "best video player in Google Play" vs "best video player in Windows Store". While Android market search results shows several good candidates, there is hardly any useful result from the Windows Store. And the built-in video player in Windows 8 is utter junk which lack support for several popular formats.
It is Windows 8. You could, you know, just use the media players that have been there for ages. You've got WinAmp, Media Player Classic, VLC Player, and even iTunes just to name a few. Kind of a nice thing about Windows 8 is the fact that the existing library of software is massively larger, more relevant, and higher quality than the selection available in any app store. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think Windows 8 is behind because their app store is small when the software selection is so huge and much more fully featured than what you find in an app store. Who came up with the idea that software doesn't count if it isn't sold in an app store anyways?

Now, the app selection does present a major problem for Windows RT and to a lesser extent Windows Phone. Microsoft in general presents Windows RT as a function(productivity) oriented tablet OS. So it is a bit alarming that such a function oriented tablet has such a small selection of applications in windows store when the windows store represents the bulk of software available to it. It is less of a concern with phones as they don't lend themselves particularly well to more productive use. While Windows Phone is still notably behind, many of the big hitters are available so they work well for most use cases.

By Mint on 9/4/2013 6:08:57 AM , Rating: 2
Google is already squeezing OEMs with their Nexus tablets showing up everyone on features and price. Asus and Samsung are getting low margin business from Google to make them, but everyone else is dying in the tablet space.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Google try to do the same with Motorola and smartphones, though I don't think OEMs will concede as easily on that front.

It'll be interesting to see what Samsung does, but in all honesty Google needs them. I think Tizen is nothing more than a contingency plan in case that changes.

By Da W on 9/4/2013 6:20:12 AM , Rating: 1
Forget Elop as CEO. What will he do? Sell bng to Google? Sell Windows to redhat?

By Mitch101 on 9/4/2013 3:17:49 PM , Rating: 2
Ballmer tried to sell Bing to Facebook. Facebook would have done well with it.

By Reclaimer77 on 9/3/2013 4:44:27 PM , Rating: 5
It is pretty apparent that Microsoft has gotten tired of relying on the OEMs to 'get it right' with their devices.

People were saying this about why Microsoft wanted to do the Surface tablet in-house.

So how did that work out? Fact is Microsoft isn't a hardware manufacturer, but suddenly they've decided they can magically transform into a 'products and services' firm.

While Microsoft can play around with failed device after failed device, they will always remain profitable because of Windows and their enterprise software stranglehold. Hell Microsoft makes more off software IP royalties from other phone OEM's than they themselves make from Windows Phone.

My point? OEM's 'get it right' more often than not. Because unlike Microsoft, they usually don't have extremely profitable side businesses that allow them to lose tons of cash from failures and still make massive profits.

This idea that Microsoft is going to do hardware better than those who live and die off hardware is kind of bent. So far all they have to show for it is billions of dollars flushed down the drain.

By ClownPuncher on 9/3/2013 6:19:03 PM , Rating: 4
Isn't Samsung the only Android OEM that makes money?

By kamiller422 on 9/4/2013 3:29:28 PM , Rating: 2
LG, Sony, Oppo, Huawei and others are making a profit.

By InsGadget on 9/4/2013 1:09:24 AM , Rating: 4
Actually the Surface hardware is great, quality-wise--better than any other Windows OEMs. They obviously lost money since they spent a billion on advertising, but the hardware itself has gotten nothing but good reviews. I'm definitely interested in a Haswell Surface Pro myself.

By damianrobertjones on 9/4/2013 3:45:32 AM , Rating: 3
"People were saying this about why Microsoft wanted to do the Surface tablet in-house."

They KNEW it would be a gamble but something had to be done... We've all seen the offerings from Lenovo, Dell, Sony and Acer etc. Pretty sad stuff with NOTHING being that impressive. At least Dell tried with the latitude 10 (Full sized SD card, removable battery)

I'm glad that MS made the Surface as it shows what they really CAN do.

By Mint on 9/4/2013 6:31:45 AM , Rating: 2
Surface RT remains nothing more than a backup plan if Intel doesn't deliver with low power, low cost x86. Atom has always been a half-baked effort.

Surface Pro is the direction MS wants to go, but only with Haswell can they fulfill their vision. It'll solve the weight (from cooling) and battery issues that make the current Surface a notable compromise as a tablet. Reserve judgement there until the second iteration.

But you only need to look at XBox to see why MS needs to get into hardware to succeed in software. Now that they've established themselves in the console space, the One will use HDMI to let MS run an OS for the living room. The cable/satellite companies still get their money, but MS will seamlessly integrate other media content into a unified listing interface superior to what cable/satellite offers.

Regarding Windows Phone, OEMs generally get it right, but they will not cater to every whim of Microsoft's because it's too small of a market right now.

By Argon18 on 9/3/2013 4:56:28 PM , Rating: 2
Microsoft 'tired of relying on OEM's to get it right'? In what universe does that occur? I know memories are short, but Microsoft already tried that move, doing a totally in-house phone. It was called Kin. And it failed miserably.

As for the current product lineup, the people have already spoken, and they don't want 'Metro' or 'Surface' or whatever Microsoft is calling it these days. All the big box stores have taken the Surface tablets off the shelves cause nobody is buying. Phones are next.

With Android and iOS being very polished and mature products with active ecosystems, there's no compelling reason whatsoever to consider a 3rd place me-too copycat offering from Microsoft or anyone else.

This latest MS/Nokia thing is nothing more than a hype machine. Microsoft's lame attempt at proping up a failing product via Wall Street hype.

By inighthawki on 9/3/2013 5:10:46 PM , Rating: 2
Microsoft did not design any Kin phones, the situation is actually completely identical to how it is today.

By Solandri on 9/3/2013 7:16:20 PM , Rating: 2
If you look at the iPhone, you have Apple who controls basically the entire ecosystem. They design the OS. They design the phone. They have been very successful with that degree of control over their phones and tablets.

Thing is, that's a losing strategy. It is exceedingly difficult to know ahead of time what will succeed in the market. The companies that that field successful products weren't prescient nor did they have some genius insight into the market which told them exactly what to make. They just had a belief that a certain type of product would be better, and they happened to be right.

The way it works is that dozens if not hundreds of companies field products, each slightly different, each made according to what each particular company thinks will work. The successful ones are simply the ones which the buyers like. The rest don't sell in sufficient numbers and drop out of the market. It's the shotgun approach - all the companies throw a lot of different products out there and see which ones stick. Then they all look at the ones which stuck, evaluate why that product worked while theirs failed, and try to further refine their product to improve upon the successful product. (Which is why the current trend of trying to thwart copycats by suing them for patent infringement is very bad - it destroys the fundamental mechanism which drives the market.)

Occasionally this gets distorted by market inertia (people "trust" the brand - Apple in the 2000s, Sony in the 1970s, IBM before then) or good marketing (Monster cables). Sometimes a company gets lucky with several consecutive successes. But long-term it's mostly a matter of luck who is successful - your best guess as to what the market wants matching what the market actually wants is like winning the lottery. People may try to claim that they knew it all along after the fact, they may even believe it. But it's always just a guess. You're never sure until the product hits the store shelves.

Microsoft was successful by making a simple product which bridged software to hardware. Companies were free to experiment with different software products, other companies were free to experiment with different hardware products. By luck and inertia Microsoft found themselves in a position where people needed to buy their OS to marry the software with the hardware. That was their gravy train, and it's served them well for 30+ years.

If they want to get off that train and start limiting their product to a single software and single hardware solution both made in-house because they think it will expand their market appeal, well good luck to them.

By flyingpants1 on 9/4/2013 12:53:49 AM , Rating: 2
Most companies in this market make the exact copies of eachothers' stuff over and over again, often badly, and then wonder why they don't sell.

Your bit about not being able to know for certain what the market will do, or being able to prove you knew after the fact, is nonsense. Of course there are ways to guess what will work, somewhat reliably. Market research is just one of them. Some do it better than others. Luck is certainly a huge factor, but capitalism is a game of skill.

By damianrobertjones on 9/4/2013 3:43:14 AM , Rating: 2
"how they do all this without alienating the OEMs."

Those same oems have all pretty much jumped over Android so sod them

By jayfang on 9/4/2013 4:26:37 AM , Rating: 1
Bottom line: Do Microsoft/Nokia have a vision?

Owning a complete stack only matters if you want to do something innovative with it.

Apple with iTunes had a vision and executed.
Google with the 'web first' had a vision and executed (with a few neat pivots)

Microsoft's vision so far have given us
* Vista (trailing OS X by years)
* Windows 8 (copying everyone)
* Bing
* Surface
* XBox
bleh, bleh, bleh

"Me too!" products used to be good enough with Microsoft's huge marketing spend, but given the size of Google and Apple that ship has sailed.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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