Stephen Elop and Steve Ballmer

Nokia is not adopting Microsoft’s current Windows Phone 7 platform – which means that there is no chance of any handsets running Microsoft’s software before the end of October. It is likely to be a lot later.

Rather than using the current version of the Windows Phone platform, first released last October, the mobile phone company is going to wait until a major release of the operating system, codenamed “Mango”, is made available this coming October – and that is expected to have a slightly different name from the current Windows Phone 7 name.

Stephen Elop, the former Microsoft executive who since September has been chief executive of Nokia, and announced dramatically last week that Nokia will abandon its market-leading in-house Symbian smartphone platform, has been careful throughout the week to refer to the adoption as Windows Phone – and not Windows Phone 7.

That, coupled with his repeated refusal to offer any timescale for the introduction of handsets running Windows Phone this year, points to a decision to delay the introduction until the newer version of the platform is available.

A Nokia spokesperson said that Nokia has committed to using Windows Phone but would not comment further. Microsoft had not responded to request for comment as this story was being completed.

Though the difference between Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone may sound trivial, Elop, who previously ran the hugely profitable Office division of Microsoft, will have been keenly aware of the importance of the difference in naming and the need not to be seen at any future date to have misled investors, analysts or customers.

Mary Jo Foley, a ZDNet writer who follows Microsoft closely, previously revealed that Mango will be renamed, possibly to Windows Phone 7.5, with Windows Phone 8 following at the end of 2012. But Mango, which adds a number of new features including HTML5 support, is not due until autumn at the earliest.

However it would have been impossible for Elop to announce last week that Nokia is adopting Windows Phone 7.5 as it would have given away too much about Microsoft’s then-unannounced plans, and the delays implicit in Nokia’s plans.

Yet his refusal to say that Nokia is adopting Windows Phone 7 – a phrase that he has never used in a single one of the dozens of interviews and speeches he has made in the past week – now stands out.

Elop has been briefed on upcoming Microsoft branding efforts. For example, at the announcement last week Elop did not mention Microsoft’s Zune music platform as one of the benefits of the tieup; he said Microsoft has a “great software platform” in Windows Phone, and the brands that mobile consumers want, “such as Bing, Xbox Live, and Office.”

Yet neither Elop nor Ballmer mentioned Zune, Microsoft’s music service that is expected to replace Nokia’s offering in music.

That is because in the past few days, growing evidence suggests Zune is being rebranded and that the name will be dropped. Its logo was noticeably absent from Microsoft’s press materials about the tieup.

A Microsoft spokesperson told ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley on Tuesday: “We’re not ‘killing’ any of the Zune services/features in any way. Microsoft remains committed to providing a great music and video experience from Zune on platforms such as Xbox Live, Windows-based PCs, Zune devices and Windows Phone 7, as well as integration with Bing and MSN.”

Elop would have been briefed on whether Zune could be mentioned as a benefit of the Nokia-Microsoft tieup – and noticeably did not.

Analysts have marked down Nokia’s stock in the expectation that it will have significant restructuring costs and that it will have problems selling Symbian phones in the face of growing competition from rivals as it tries to ramp up production of Windows Phone models.

Elop has repeatedly refused to offer any timescales for the introduction of Nokia handsets running Windows Phone, saying only that Nokia expects to ship them “in volume” in 2012 and that he expects to sell 150m more Symbian handsets. At current sales rates, that would see the last Symbian handset sold in mid-2012, though a deceleration in sales is highly likely as consumers and mobile retailers discard the old platform.

On Tuesday he told the Guardian, when challenged on how Nokia could maintain sales if competitors begin to describe Symbian as a dying platform: “Competitors will do whatever they think is right for their business, and, of course, we are going to fight very hard to retain those customers. Note that we have very strong brand equity and we take care of our customers in more countries around the world than anybody else. Our hope is that the good work we do will allow us to defend ourselves against any attacks that may come.”

He declined to say whether Nokia will remain profitable through the year, saying that he had given sufficient financial guidance in a briefing to analysts last Friday – where he noticeably did not guarantee that Nokia will retain quarter-by-quarter profitability this year.

From www.guardian.co.uk