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A Mobility Take on the Microsoft/Nokia Alliance

In a teleconference today, Microsoft and Nokia announced an alliance for mobile unified communications that will bring Microsoft enterprise productivity tools to Nokia smartphones. Stephen Elop, President of Microsoft's Business Division and Kai ÕistämÕ, Executive VP for Nokia Devices announced the alliance jointly, and one of the first fruits will come next year with support for Microsoft's Office Communicator Mobile (OC Mobile) on Nokia smartphones. Mr. Elop took pains to drive home the point that the plans go far beyond Office Communications Server (OCS) access and will include Sharepoint and Microsoft's System Center for Device Management as well as continued support for Exchange, ActiveSynch.I have chided Microsoft about Office Communicator Mobile in the past, and support for Nokia's Symbian S/60 devices is a step in the right direction. They noted in the announcement that Nokia is number one in worldwide market share for smartphones with 45%, however that dominance is seen largely outside of the US. In the US market, BlackBerry is clearly the enterprise mobile platform of choice. While Microsoft does not have an OC Mobile client for the BlackBerry, RIM makes a BlackBerry client that interfaces with OCS.

One feature that Nokia has is a strong Wi-Fi capability, an area where RIM has been weak. That is particularly true of Nokia's E71 that was mentioned in the announcement. All of the dual mode FMC suppliers including DiVitas and Agito depend primarily on those Nokia E-Series devices. Microsoft's Wi-Fi support has been virtually nil up until now, but we still have to see how well they tie it all together (if at all). Cisco has been marketing a Nokia-based dual mode solution called Nokia CallConnect for Cisco for some time, however, there's no handoff between the two environments. Hopefully Microsoft can do a little better than that.

As Al Sulkin pointed out in his earlier post, there is some potential for friction given that the Nokia developed Symbian operating system competes with Microsoft's Windows Mobile. However, given the variety of user requirements and personal preferences, no single mobile operating system is going to dominate. If you are looking to enhance your UC-capable IP PBX solution, the more device options you support the better.

As we move to the next phase of business communications, the user will have two focal points for their communications: a desktop hard or softphone and an associated mobile device. The value of that mobile adjunct capability will be based on a number of factors including the selection of attractive handsets, how well the mobile application is linked to the UC platforms, the range of network options it supports, and ultimately the quality of the user experience it delivers.

As Brent Kelly postulated in the first part of his "Do You See What I See Shaping Up in UC?" post "the vendor that owns the presence engine influences the rest of the UC components." While I agree with that entirely, I also think that control of the user interface is equally important. Clearly Microsoft has a leg up in the PC interface with Outlook, but they have failed to duplicate that in the mobile. With the Nokia alliance they will get a strong mobile partner in those areas where Nokia dominate, but for the US market it still looks like OCS in the data center, Outlook on the desk, and BlackBerry in your pocket.