Nokia’s Nuclear Option?

In the high-end smartphone market, Nokia’s clearly been lapped. Their Symbian mobile OS was getting long in the tooth even back in 2007 when my arsenal included a N95. In fact, that was probably Nokia’s smartphone apex. At least here in the US, where they’ve worked relatively few carrier subsidies — critical in our market. Since then, Nokia’s applied some liptstick to the Symbian pig, aborted a series of Maemo-powered Internet devices, and now appears to be doing to the same to its MeeGo successor, once considered the Symbian heir apparent. Needless, to say these fits and starts haven’t been pretty. Or successful.

So the Finnish brought in a North American Microsoft exec (Elop) to turn this ship around. And, given his DNA, he’s doing exactly what one would expect… laying off staff and integrating a MS operating system. It’s a heck of a bet, but so is doubling down on failed strategies and software platforms. Bring on the Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices I say. Nokia’s always produced exceptional hardware and, as long as Microsoft relaxes their licensing requirements so they can differentiate themselves, I expect some compelling customization out of a more HTC-like Nokia.

9 thoughts on “Nokia’s Nuclear Option?”

  1. My experience with Nokia hardware differs. I had an N800 tablet that was well done. The more expensive N810 was a piece of crap. Vattery door is a thin piece of metal that is easily bent. The N810 power switch is close to imposible to push with a finger.

    It would take a lot to get me to ever buy a Nokia mobile device again.

  2. They should have just sold themselves to MS. This is just a slower death.

    They can’t make decent hardware anymore. They can’t get anything out in time. Distribution is only worthwhile in poor countries.

  3. Rumors over the weekend had Nokia looking to move their hedquaters to the Silicon Valley. No cities were mentioned just that general area, maybe they can look at the old 3Com or Palm offices….

  4. So what differentiates Nokia phones from HTC or any other vendor? Looks to me like Nokia will become another “clone maker” for Windows OS (in this case the phone version). So razor thIn margins and a race to the bottom. Wow – great business plan! Apparently only Apple has figured out how to make real money making smartphones.

  5. They should have bought palm. Shipping OS with good underpinnings and structure for marketplace, just needed muscle from large company. Would have made more sense than HP. Wrong timing of realization of their problems I suppose.
    Even if they can differentiate, they’re still one step behind the main release while they work on differentiation. And no way they can differentiate windows as much as they would have been able to on Android.

  6. Tim, I’m not sure what other options they have at this point. Desperate times call for desperate measures? HTC and Samsung seem to do OK selling phones with other company’s OSes on them. And perhaps this will buy Nokia some time until they come up with another mobile platform. Or perhaps they’ll just end up a much smaller company.

    Jeremy, I agree the timing didn’t work out. OR Nokia was one of the Palm bidders last year and backed out? Either way, I agree a Nokia-Palm marriage could have been special and allowed them to operate independently. Ah well…

  7. I think we already have a situation like the Windows/Mac war. There are or will be apps people will just ‘need’ that are only available in the app store or android. as people depend more and more on their phones and as they become more powerful, the apps will become more complex and the platform targeting will be more critical and severe. Apple better get their phone on all the carriers or they’ll fall back in terms of market share such that if you have to pick, it’ll have to be Android. Though I have to say (anecdotally at least) that the app quality seems better in the app store (could be tools or time the platform’s been around). I don’t know if there are stats on paid vs. free apps (not that it’s the only way for a dev to make money), but I would guess there’s more money spent in the app store despite the larger footprint of android phones with marketplace. I don’t see windows phone keeping up with them unless they can come up with some way to leverage their desktop install base in a way google and apple can not. I don’t see it.

    HP, Microsoft and RIM now need to be significantly better than Google and Apple in terms of development tools, price, or something if they want to be a viable platform. Maybe HTML5 really will succeed in making the platform irrelevant, but I don’t see that happening right away either.

    The way I see it, Microsoft needed Nokia. Nokia needed something, but not sure Microsoft was the best choice. Seems like an executive boardroom partnership that forgot to talk to the product guys. Perhaps they were too concerned about being able to differentiate… Though the surprise that you’re using a particular OS when few others are is not the same as differentiation. Besides, it seems like every review I read for an android phone, at least on engadget, has ‘Not running stock android’ in the con column.

  8. Dave, I agree that Nokia probably had no choice – and I agree that Nokia buying Palm would have been a better choice (too late). But we are already seeing the commoditization of the Android based phones with a race to the bottom on price. BOGO deals show that there is not a lot of “value” placed on the hardware and it is becoming disposable since hardware vendors (or phone companies) aren’t always upgrading the OS as new versions of Android become available.

    So where does that leave Nokia? How are they going to put value into their “me-to” hardware? As the Nokia CEO’s memo said, it wasn’t the device war that Nokia lost – it lost the ecosystem war (before it even realized it wasn’t fighting a device war). So what ecosystem is Nokia going to make money out of? Are they going to suddenly pull a fully realized WinPhone7 app store out of the air run by Nokia? What incintive does a developer have to put their software on the Nokia store vs. A MS based store? Nokia will only get ecosystem $$ if they own some part of an ecosystem. All they are going to have is a device. So they are back fighting a device war – which their CEO already said they lost. What has changed?

    I just don’t see the long term upside for Nokia. I think we are witnessing the death throes of a once powerful company.

  9. Tim, I think you’re right. Though it will be interesting to see where the sales are with android devices going forward. There continue to be premium android devices and when you look at what you’re paying for the plan, an extra couple hundred $$ likely isn’t a deal killer for most. Perhaps the premium (build and power) android devices will become a niche over time. With current pricing being what it is and how I use the device, I will pay extra for a better experience and better build quality. Fortunately, I have not seen a device ending accident before, just device debilitating. But that was a blackberry and I blame the lack of build quality.

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