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Nokia’s Elop declares war on Google, looks for recruits (including operators)

New CEO says he considers handset makers, Qualcomm partners in its attempt to dislodge Android as the dominant mobile OS

SAN DIEGO—It’s amazing how the emergence of a big challenger can drawn once sworn enemies together. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) CEO Stephen Elop delivered a keynote address at Qualcomm’s Uplinq conference, burying the hatchet after more of decade of warring in the courtroom, in front of regulators and in the public sphere.

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Elop made it clear that Nokia has a new enemy, one threatening enough to make Nokia forget all past disagreements. That enemy would be Google. In essence, Elop issued a call to arms today, inviting handset makers, developers and carriers to join Nokia and mobile OS partner Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) in challenging Android’s growing dominance in smartphones.

Nokia’s new partnership with Microsoft has changed Nokia’s role in the market, Elop said. Not any ordinary licensee, Nokia is contributing heavily to Windows Phone 7’s development and providing a slew of services such as Nokia Maps to ride over the OS (CP: Nokia CEO says Microsoft deal will create mutual dependency). That software will be available to all of Microsoft’s WP7 licensees, which makes Nokia a partner to the same phone and tablet makers it competes against today, Elop said.

Singling out HTC CEO Peter Chou, who delivered the earlier keynote, Elop said that Nokia and HTC compete directly, but as a WP7 licensee, Nokia will be responsible for much of the services and software that go into HTC’s devices. HTC also happens to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of Android phones, but Elop said Nokia is willing to overlook the competitive conflicts in favor of promoting the WP7 ecosystem. “That’s the part of Peter I talk to,” he said.

Elop said he now also considers Qualcomm one of its partners, though he never specifically addressed how the two old enemies are working together. Qualcomm, however, is very close to Microsoft. All WP7 phones use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors and baseband radios. Nokia also plans to move back into the CDMA handset market directly, meaning it will have to buy Qualcomm chips. Qualcomm, of course is also a big advocate of Android, but Elop said both companies have a vested interest in seeing WP7 succeed.

He invited Qualcomm’s developers and device partners at Uplinq to join Nokia and Microsoft’s development efforts, and he promised that WP7 would become the most carrier-friendly OS on the market—something Nokia has hardly been known for in the past. Carriers could be a key ally in Nokia’s war against Google, though. Google and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) have wrested more and more services away from the operators since the launch of their platforms. Carriers may be aching to win some of the services back or at least take a cut of the revenues.

Elop said he’s under no allusions that the handset vendors will suddenly abandon Android in favor of WP7, but he said that suits Nokia just fine. Donning his competitor’s cap again, Elop said that while WP7 trails Apple, Google and Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) in the market, Nokia can nurture the fledgling OS, using it as a way to differentiate its devices from other handset makers. “The majority of handset manufacturers out there are doing their best work on Android,” he said.

Elop also named Apple and its iPhone as a competitive threat also but he kept his sights set on Google for most of his speech. In fact he implied that Apple was the dupe in the smartphone game. By closing the iOS ecosystem, Apple opened the door for its biggest competitive threat. “Apple created a vacuum,” Elop said. “Google stepped in and filled that vacuum with Android.”

Elop repeated his past statements that Nokia seriously considered adopting Android, but decided against it as it didn’t want to become another Android handset maker among many. Today he added a few more reasons. Compared to Apple’s closed “box”, Google’s box flaps were open, he said, but there’s no guarantee that Google would keep them open. He also said part of the reason Nokia decided against Google was one of attitude. Picking Android “felt a little like giving in,” Elop said. Nokia has always had a proud tradition of independence and by picking the underdog OS and by striking a deal that gave Nokia far more say in its evolution, Nokia was striking out on its own path, Elop said.

In his earlier keynote, HTC’s Chou announced that it was opening up the handset maker’s Sense user interface, releasing a set of plug-ins, application programming interfaces and libraries developers can use to integrate their apps into the uppermost layer of HTC’s devices.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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