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Nokia and Microsoft: The Tables Have Turned

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A most peculiar thing has happened to the Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report)- Nokia (NOK - Get Report) relationship over the last two and a half years. Whereas Nokia was only a peg in Microsoft's wheel in early 2011, the hunter has now become the hunted.

It is a most amazing story about a shift in the balance of power. Let me explain.

When Nokia hired Microsoft executive Steven Elop as its first non-Finnish CEO in the second half of 2010, the company was in free-fall, and there were no great options. Nokia could continue to develop its own OS, use Android, or Windows Phone.

CEO Elop picked the Windows Phone path, exclusively, and announced this in February 2011. It's not relevant to this discussion, right now, as to whether this was the right decision or not. For all I know, it was the right thing to do.

That said, at that stage of the game, it was easy to see one of the key weaknesses of Nokia's chosen Windows Phone strategy. By spring 2011, it looked like the Windows Phone market would be structured just like the Windows PC market. Basically, Microsoft had all the power -- and all the profits -- while a bunch of box makers made commoditized devices.

For example, in the Windows PC market for 25 years, did you care -- and do you still care -- whether your PC is a Dell (DELL), HP (HPQ), Sony (SNY), IBM (IBM)/Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Samsung or whatever? Most people would say no. It's the same software, these hardware guys operate at near-zero margins, and Microsoft collects all the profits.

The reason Microsoft collects almost all the profits in the Windows PC world is because there are so many of these box makers, competing against each other. When basic PCs start at $399 or below, there is not much room for computer box maker profits. It's simple commoditized price pressure coming from massive competition.

When Windows Phone launched in 2010, there were several credible entries in the handset world: Samsung, LG and HTC to name the more prominent ones. Acer and Huawei were also planning to launch. Nokia would be just one of the many, just like in the Windows PC world.
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