The Nokia Lumia, app lock-in and Google Plus

I’ve been playing with one of the new Nokia Lumia 800s for the past few days (and tweeting a fair bit about it). It isn’t my job to do a ‘review’ -  you can find dozens of those online, but I will say that the industrial design is as good as anything Apple has produced - perhaps better. The Windows Phone UI is very polished, though it lacks a lot of the incremental features that Apple and Android have accumulated over the last two years. Most importantly, it never once slowed down, whereas the reviews of the latest Nexus - a phone that Google specified and controlled to be a showcase - all mention ‘the typical Android lag’. I hate the PenTile screen though.

Of course, the two Lumias that Nokia announced last week are the first outputs of a crash program that we should expect to yield half-a-dozen more models in the next 12 months, and it is the totality of that portfolio that will determine Nokia’s survival. 

Hence the key issues for now are things like the retail and operator ranging outlook, the lack of a US launch until 2012 and the lack of a low-end model (the cheapest Windows Phone Nokia so far is €270 pre-subsidy where you can buy a decent Android phone for $150 and a working one for $100). The app experience is actually surprisingly good. Though Windows Phone lacks the apps that you’re used to if you’re coming from Apple or even Android, if you come to it from RIM, Symbian or a featurephone you’ll be dazzled by all the great stuff that is there. Microsoft appears to have taken two or three dozen best-selling games for iOS and ported them to Windows Phone, a very sensible move.  I’ve written a ‘proper’ report on all these issues and more for Enders Analysis.

However, I also wanted to point out that there’s a hidden value partner here: Facebook. This is effectively a Facebook phone: your address book, messaging and photos effectively ARE your Facebook content. The video below explains this better than I can - 9/10 of the value of your day-to-day experience is the deep integration of Facebook (and also twitter and LinkedIn) with your phone. 

What does this mean? First of all, it is much easier for Google to get web search onto a Windows Phone device than it is for it to get Google Plus onto that device. There is a hard-coded Bing Button on the phone, but you can easily pin Google to your home screen. But Google Plus posts won’t show up next to my friends’ names unless Microsoft puts them there. Google’s fear of being blocked from mobile devices, which prompted Android in the first place, is becoming just a little more real. 

Maybe, apps are not the lock-in that we tend to assume. 

I have a LOT of iPhone apps - iTunes tells me I’ve downloaded 493, many of which I have no memory of (according to Apple cumulative app downloads/total iOS devices sold is 72, though this is a blended figure). But many, perhaps most of my apps are either free or disposable.

On one hand, there are essential utilities such as Dropbox, Evernote, Amazon or, yes, Facebook. These are free and cross-platform. So long as I switch between mobile platforms big enough to be supported by these services, many of the apps that are most crucial do me on a day-to-day basis do not lock me in to any given platform. 

On the other hand, there are lots of paid apps, especially on iOS. If you divide cumulative gross app revenue on iOS (which Apple discloses, sort of) by total device sales you get to an average of $16 per device.

But again, at least half of these are games, and most of the games that I’ve bought I don’t really want to play again after a few months, and so I don’t care that, a year later, I won’t be able to use them on my new phone. So it seems to me that most games are essentially disposable. The exception are social games - but of course many of those or will be cross-platform too, with my achievements following me from client to client. So, no lock-in here either, perhaps.  

I don’t want to over-state the case - clearly there are many paid, essential apps that are only on one platform and may well lock people in to that platform. But for a lot of people, the sacrifice of apps that they must make when they switch platforms could actually be pretty small. Conversely, switching social network is vastly harder, especially if it’s deeply integrated into my phone, and Google Plus isn’t.

So all those people who are talking about how Nokia has sold its soul to Microsoft might be missing the point - actually, Microsoft sold it to Facebook.