In Enemy Quarters

3 minute read

At last year’s CeBIT technology exhibition in Hanover, Germany, Juha Christensen spoke about Microsoft as if it were the Evil Empire. As a cofounder of London-based Symbian, he saw himself as a Jedi Knight, intent on European technology winning the day and becoming the Windows of the handset market. Several months later the 36-year-old Swede switched camps. Now, he is helping design the mobile strategy for Symbian’s nemesis out of the U.S. as vice president of marketing and services for — you guessed it — Microsoft’s mobility group.

Why the switch to the enemy camp? A year ago the entire market was confident that Europe could take on the world in the wireless space. Now a more sober reality has set in. Japan has pulled well ahead of Europe. Prohibitively expensive third-generation mobile licenses have made the entire industry question business models. And delays in the introduction of next-generation services mean that time to revenue is being pushed back, killing many start-ups and opening the door to big and well-funded U.S. companies like Microsoft. Symbian, on last year’s list as one of Time Europe’s 50 Hottest Tech Firms, will take longer than expected to be profitable because of the delay in next-generation networks. And it has had to put off its planned initial public offering. But to Christensen, the problems are deeper. He says he grew frustrated by what he sees as too narrow a focus for Symbian, which concentrates exclusively on developing a mobile operating system. Microsoft wants to play in all spaces of the wireless world, from the operating system to services, in partnership with phone companies. Christensen says he believes the U.S. software giant’s approach will be far more lucrative.

“It is not about the operating system; there is a huge advantage to doing everything together,” he says. “While Microsoft was once a no-go zone for me, now I think they are a great company with a great strategy.” Symbian makes about $5 every time a smart phone is sold; Microsoft plans to make much more from taking a cut of the service business. Symbian still stands in Microsoft’s way in dominating the mobile phone operating system, but it’s unclear whether the company can take on Gates et al. In stealing Christensen, taking over one of the firm’s principal suppliers and cutting deals with its partners, the Empire is clearly striking back.

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