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By now, you’ve probably heard the big but unsurprising news that Nokia has partnered with Microsoft to power its smartphones. I say unsurprising because of Nokia’s slipping market share, need to get over Symbian (and MeeGo), recent “burning platform” memo, and CEO Stephen Elop’s history with Redmond.

Both companies’ challenges are also well aligned — Nokia to step up its software game, and Microsoft to jump-start its market share. They’re both late to the party when it comes to smartphone innovation so they’re hoping to help each other up.

Windows Phone 7 is meanwhile a great operating system, but it’s about two years too late.   It will be the bigger winner here, getting carried to another level on the back of a global device powerhouse.  And it reportedly paid handsomely for the privilege.

There’s been speculation over the past few months that Nokia would partner with Android — despite comments from former CEO Anssi Vanjoki that this would be shortsighted, and reported lobbying by European carriers against such a move. In the end it went with Microsoft and that was the right move.

It’s right for precisely the same reason why Windows Phone 7 made some of the design moves that it did. An Android partnership wouldn’t give Nokia the level of differentiation it needs at this point, especially in a marketplace increasingly filled with Android devices.

One of the things I like about Windows Phone 7 is that its UI is decidedly different from anything we’ve seen. It didn’t create an iOS clone. One could argue that Android is an inferior version of the general iOS structure — that’s a tough game to play and Microsoft knows it. So it built something completely different and elegant.

It’s that point that will differentiate Nokia devices at a time when they really need it. The company’s stubbornness and inability to see past Symbian (like a proud parent in denial that his kid stinks at sports), resulted in some bad decisions. It took leadership change to right the ship.

The strategy to not need to be Apple and instead own the bottom portion of the market (cheap devices at volume) is of course understood. But Nokia has started to slip there as well, as cheaper chipsets drive down smartphone and mid-tier device costs for Android and others.

Symbian will still power lower end devices but today’s move is a play at competitive position at the higher end. That’s good because the new quality standard at every segment of the market is evolving and Nokia needs to step it up.

In terms of the gadgetry and geekdom, there will be lots to look forward to in seeing what results from this union. The the global smartphone OS wars also rage on, but sadly this won’t have the firepower to overtake iOS and Android share nor momentum. At least for the foreseeable future.

Here’s a bad marketing piece with big names that say very little:

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