Editorial: two days, two deals. What do they tell us?
Sep 4, 2013
Yesterday we had a second deal. This time it was ALL of Nokia's handset business, bought by Microsoft for $7.2 billion. A mere fraction, not only of Verizon's value, but a mere fraction of what Nokia had been worth less than a decade before.
What does it illustrate, you ask. A few things.
Just to get the detail out of the way, I don't buy the 'this is a great fit' view that so many sources are putting out (often to support their own view of the way the universe and everything is headed).
The only golden rule in high tech M&A is that stitching two turkeys together simply makes a bigger turkey. Now, not only does Microsoft have a failing mobile operating system on its hands, it has the boat anchor of a huge hardware manufacturing operation that needs to be towed along behind.
And I don't buy the argument that ownership of both OS and hardware operations will enable more agility in product development either. Have any of the people trumpeting this advantage every actually worked in a large complex organisation where two obvious halves are supposed to work together in a common cause? Agility is usually the least likely outcome from such a marriage.
I think the real reason Microsoft stumped up a premium price (yes, $7.2 billion was actually more than the business was worth) was that it had been made clear that a radical move was in the offing: either a switch in strategy (a move to Android, perhaps), or a sale to another manufacturer (which would probably have come to the same thing).
Clearly the Nokia board had to do something as there was simply no sign - no evidence at all - that the Nokia Windows strategy was going to work. Forget all the "we're the fastest growing smartphone OS at the moment". That's just BS. The effort simply wasn't working as it should: way, way undershooting the market share projections that some of the more enthusiastic Microsoft supporters had been marking out just a year or so before.
The result was a deal that Microsoft just had to make - the alternative was to see Nokia sail off to who knows where crashing completely the tiny market share that all that spend and effort on Windows Phone had finally brought. A Nokia defection would have been unthinkable.
But the two deals illustrate something else. Despite all the talk of handset and OTT content providers winning all the value in the mobile ecosystem, network builders and owners are obviously still in the hot seat. Nearly $300 billion for one minority share (albeit a substantial one) of the US mobile market says it all.
And $7.2 billion says that, in the great scheme of things, Microsoft and Nokia and how they decide to deploy themselves just doesn't matter that much at the current moment.
There is no meaningful Windows Phone market share now and little prospect of it gaining one in the near future. The idea that the Nokia deal somehow changes the big game by aligning Microsoft's strategy against Apple's is simply fanciful.
In two years, I'm afraid to say, Nokia will have been digested by Microsoft, in 10 years people will be struggling to remember where they'd heard the name.