Nokia (Credit: Reuters)
Nokia vice president Bryan Biniak is positive about the future of Windows Phone platform but believes Microsoft need to change its ways to make it a success.
Last week Nokia reported record smartphone sales of 7.4 million Lumia devices. While this is admirable, it is but a drop in the ocean compared to the likes of Samsung and Apple who shipped over 70 million and over 30 million smartphones respectively in the same period.
While Nokia is doing better than some other big name brands in the smartphone market, the problem is that Nokia was the king of mobile phones for 14 years, and being an also-ran just isn't good enough.
The problem is the Finnish company has thrown all its eggs into Microsoft's Windows Phone basket and is now forever tied to a mobile operating system which is playing catch up.
Worse than that, it is tied to a company whose main priority is not Windows Phone. Indeed Windows Phone is not even Microsoft's second, third or fourth priority - leaving Nokia carrying the can and trying to make it a success all on its own.
Nokia's vice president Bryan Biniak knows that his company is facing an uphill struggle, and points out that its partner in this struggle has been in a similar position before.
At the turn of the century Microsoft introduced the Xbox brand into a console market dominated by Sony and Nintendo.
It managed to overcome its lack of heritage in the market by introducing exclusive titles like Halo, and Biniak believes it now needs to do something similar:
"To give you a reason to switch, I need to make sure the apps that you care about on your device are not only on our phones, but are better. I also need to provide you unique experiences that you can't get on your other devices."
Laying the blame
However there is one major problem with comparing Windows Phone to the Xbox, as it attempts to impose itself on a smartphone market dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS - this time around Microsoft is not pushing the hardware and therefore has less motivation to promote and innovate the brand.
While Biniak stopped short of blaming Microsoft outright for Windows Phone's failings, he did point out that while Nokia and Microsoft are close partners in this new eco-system, they are coming to the table with two completely different ways of working.
Nokia is a smartphone manufacturer renowned for innovation and development and in the past 12 months alone it has released more than 10 new Lumia smartphones into the market.
Microsoft on the other hand is coming to mobile from a heritage of desktop software which was updated at the most annually, and it is failing to adapt quickly enough to the rapidly changing smartphone market.
"We are releasing new devices frequently and for every new device, if there is an app that somebody cares about that's not there that's a missed opportunity of a sale."
"We are trying to evolve the cultural thinking [at Microsoft] to say 'time is of the essence.' Waiting until the end of your fiscal year when you need to close your targets, doesn't do us any good when I have phones to sell today."
Biniak agrees that it is up to Nokia to "reinforce the message" that Microsoft has to change its practices when it comes to mobile, especially as a strong platform and app catalogue is key to success:
"You can't sell a phone without the apps, you just can't."
"People rely on applications for their day-to-day life and if you don't have something which I use in my day-to-day life I'm not going to switch [operating systems] because I don't want to compromise the way I live my life just to switch to a phone."
"It's not just about the hardware, it's about the tools that are on the hardware. You can't sell a phone without the apps, you just can't."
In terms of hardware, it cannot be said Nokia isn't fulfilling its part of the bargain. It has innovated with colourful polycarbonate cases on all its Lumia devices, and with the Lumia 920, Lumia 925 and most recently the incredible Lumia 1020, it created the best imaging hardware on any smartphone to date.
However, this has so far proved to be not enough - and mainly because of the software.
The Windows Phone Store currently has 165,000 apps available, which is up from 7,000 when Nokia first partnered with Microsoft two-and-a-half years ago. However this figure pales in comparison with Apple's App Store (900,000+) and Google's Play Store (1 million+).
While many people use this as the main reason for not switching to Microsoft's platform, Biniak doesn't believe there are any "major gaps" in the catalogue but admits there are "select applications that need to be there."
Biniak says there isn't a single developer in the world who has created an "important application" who Nokia and Microsoft are not talking to, promising all these important applications are on their way to Windows Phone.
Such is the symbiotic relationship between Nokia and Microsoft that throughout the interview Biniak uses the terms "we" and "our" to refer not only to Nokia, but to Microsoft as well. It is an indication of how tied into the platform Nokia is and how important it is for Windows Phone to succeed.
While it might be vital for Nokia that Windows Phone is a success, it seems that the folks at Redmond don't put quite as much importance on the platform, as it has bigger fish to fry with Windows, Office, Xbox, Surface and more.
Biniak however remains positive about the future of the partnership. He says that operators want a third eco-system to succeed as it will give more selection for customers as well as give them more negotiating power with the likes of Apple, Samsung and HTC.
He says that by the end of 2013, Windows Phone will be at a point where "people will be hard-pressed to say '[Windows Phone] doesn't have this app' and it makes a material difference. I don't think there will be any [app developers] we don't have commercial agreements with, and so maybe it's not published by the end of the year but it will be published before the end of [March]. "
Whatever Microsoft's intentions for the platform, it is clear that Biniak and Nokia are intent on making it work, and won't rest until it does:
"As a company we don't want to rely on somebody else and sit and wait for them to get it right."
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