Monumental changes are taking place in the wireless handset and tablet PC market. Companies are crossing operating lines as it becomes more obvious that the dividing lines between software and hardware businesses were artificially created and are no longer justifiable or viable.
The recent decision of Google
(Nasdaq: GOOG) to purchase Motorola Mobility Inc.
(NYSE: MMI) for $12.5 billion is the latest step in the evolution of the high-tech industry towards the creation of more compelling business narratives. (See: Google Draws New Battle Line With Bid to Buy Motorola
The next shoes will soon be dropping. By offering to acquire Motorola Mobility, Google literally demonstrated that the old walls companies have built around industry segments do not need to exist. Admittedly, there was justification for the industry to rip up the old vertical manufacturing system OEM used up until the last decade of the 20th Century. However, simply because we do not believe an OEM needs to have a semiconductor division does not mean we can also justify the dividing lines between software vendors and hardware manufacturers.
This is why I believe Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is next in line to make a major acquisition in the hardware space. The company has enough cash to fund any deal it wants (aside from buying Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) or Google, of course), and if it wants to expand beyond the PC operating system market and make a big splash again in the consumer electronics sector, it should consider making a play for OS partner Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). (See: Nok-Win a No-Win Combination.)
The two companies need each other, and together they can become a tougher competitor in the wireless handset and tablet PC market. Microsoft already signaled its intention to move closer to Nokia by agreeing to a joint-development plan for Windows OS that would net its partner billions in support dollars. Also, Microsoft's Windows OS for mobile platforms hasn't done very well in the market so far and has badly trailed offerings from Apple and Google. If Microsoft swallows up Nokia, the relationship becomes more entwined, and both could benefit from the interplay of hardware and software.
Such a transaction would be a no-brainer for Nokia. CEO Stephen Elop's decision to abandon Nokia's Symbian operating system admittedly hurt the company, but that decision is now irreversible. Rather than try to untangle the relationship with Microsoft, the Finnish company should instead seek an even tighter engagement. Nothing can be closer than an acquisition that makes Nokia a business division within Microsoft.
Will investors support the arrangement? They may not like it at first, but it's clear already Microsoft is no longer in a fast-growing business, while Nokia appears to have run out of steam. Together, they would be a formidable presence in the fast-growing wireless mobility market and would be better able to compete against Apple, Google-Motorola Mobility, and Samsung.
Sure, some Windows OS licensees may find the deal unpalatable, but many of these were already irritated at Microsoft's earlier announcement that it would help Nokia migrate to its platform. And, there aren't enough heavyweight companies supporting Windows OS, anyway. The few that are already in Microsoft's camp also have offerings that feature competing operating systems such as Google Android or internally-developed platforms.
By the way, the idea of Microsoft buying Nokia isn't really that far-fetched. It isn't a great mystery, either, that Google would offer to buy Motorola Mobility. Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) acquired Palm Inc., absorbing its operating system and using this in its products. BlackBerry (Nasdaq: RIMM; Toronto: RIM) is not on the block today, either. But I wouldn't be surprised if some other company with a deep-enough pocket makes a play for the Canadian enterprise mobility company. At their current market capitalization of $24 billion and $14 billion, respectively, Nokia and RIM are certainly affordable, having been trading at a discount for some time.
As I was wrapping up this blog, a Bloomberg news item flashed across my desk. It noted the huge jump in Nokia's share price following the announcement of the Google-Motorola Mobility deal. Speculators were betting Microsoft might agree to buy Nokia, the report said. Makes sense to me.