Nokia signs Windows Phone 7 deal with Microsoft

Nokia has done the unthinkable today, signing a deal with Microsoft to use the Windows Phone 7 OS as its primary mobile platform - effectively abandoning Symbian and MeeGo after years of development.

The partnership sees Nokia agree to contribute to the future development of the Windows Phone 7 platform to the cost of its own Symbian and MeeGo platforms. Nokia will also switch to Microsoft's Bing for its search, and sign over its Nokia Maps technology to Microsoft.

"Today, developers, operators and consumers want compelling mobile products, which include not only the device, but the software, services, applications and customer support that make a great experience," claimed Stephen Elop, ex-Microsoftie and Nokia's current chief executive. "Nokia and Microsoft will combine our strengths to deliver an ecosystem with unrivalled global reach and scale."

"It's now a three-horse race," Elop continued - referring to Windows Phone 7 competitors Android and iOS, and clearly signing Symbian's death warrant.

The partnership comes shortly after a leaked memo saw Elop claims that Symbian, Nokia's long-standing homebrew mobile platform, was becoming "an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms."

Even with this foreshadowing, and the earlier rumours that the company would look to Windows Phone 7 should its recently released Symbian^3 platform fail to capture the smartphone market, it's a surprising move - but one that the company needed to make in order to survive in an increasingly competitive market.

"I am excited about this partnership with Nokia,” crowed Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer at today's press conference. "Ecosystems thrive when fuelled by speed, innovation and scale.The partnership announced today provides incredible scale, vast expertise in hardware and software innovation and a proven ability to execute."

The deal marks a milestone in the mobile arena, and the end of an era - but could go down in history as the smartest move Nokia ever made, so long as Microsoft's Windows Phone series can hold its own against Google's increasingly popular Android platform.