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Nokia: Mind the Gap
26th February 2011
It's been a couple of weeks since Nokia announced that it was going to partner with Microsoft for its primary smartphone platform, and the initial shock (which wiped 25% of the share values) has subsided a little.
There are several unanswered questions - and perhaps some unquestioned answers - about Nokia's new smartphone strategy, leading to some apparent gaps in the whole picture.
But there are other gaps - those gaps in technical specification which will make Nokia's strategy a little harder.. and some worrying gaps until these new Nokia powered Windows Phone handsets come to market.
Let's start with the big question first - when can we see a Nokia WP7 device? At the moment, all we have are some renderings of what is a very nice hardware design, and nothing more. The lead times and challenges in designing a completely new class of device are likely to be significant. So the smart money seems to be that we might see a Nokia Windows smartphone sometime in 2012.. a long time to wait while Nokia is struggling in the high-end smartphone market.
Part of the problem is the sheer technological step up to a Windows Phone 7 class device from what they have at the moment. The minimum specification for WP7 is significantly beyond anything that Nokia have done before, especially when it comes to display technology and processors. Nokia are a generation behind the current WP7 minimum.. and that's just the minimum specification which other rivals will be easily beating by next year.
As this table shows, even the flagship Nokia E7 and N900 handsets have significant shortfalls over a basic WP7 handset. So Nokia's hardware designers are going to have to play catch up before they can move forwards.
Nokia 6700 Classic
Nokia's intention is to squeeze the existing Symbian OS out of the range.. eventually. They anticipate making 150 million more devices.. but bear in mind that they sell 100 million of the things a year. At a guess, perhaps Nokia is aiming to stop selling Symbian by about 2014 or so, after which they will concentrate on the more basic Series 40 platform at the bottom end and Windows at the top end.
But this strategy is likely to lead to an enormous gap in Nokia's product range. If we go back to the table, we can see an aggregate "top specification" for a Series 40 device.. yes, some might have a small and rather crude touchscreen, WiFi and 3.5G and even GPS, but the gap between Series 40 and Windows is huge, covering all of the upper midrange market and a lot of bestselling Nokia devices.
Nokia's previous strategy was to push Symbian down into handsets where Series 40 was used previously.. but because Nokia sets teams up to compete, Series 40 ended up with touch support and GPS added instead. So instead of Series 40 being killed off, it has actually strengthened its position in Nokia's range.
The distinction between Symbian and Series 40 will be lost on most consumers.. but basically Symbian is a fully blown but slightly awkward mobile OS, and Series 40 is much more stripped down in its capabilities.. a "feature phone" platform rather than a smartphone.
Can Nokia beef up Series 40 to fill the gap that will eventually be left by Symbian? Well, perhaps.. but what would be the point? It seems to us that Symbian will be very hard to get rid of because it's actually quite a good and flexible OS for mid-range devices where Windows won't run. Remember that Samsung recently created its own Bada OS which more-or-less fits into the same slot in their range.
Pragmatism vs Paralysis.
Stephen Elop, Nokia's new CEO has his work cut out, but the controversial decision to switch to Windows shows pragmatism in the face of Nokia's recent paralysis.
Nokia's calamitous decision to drop Maemo, as used in the promising N900, and start on a completely new project called MeeGo which delivered exactly nothing at all for Nokia and killed off the N900's successor and any really significant interest in that platform. Given this dead-end situation, the Windows choice was a difficult but practical one for all sorts of reasons. You can't spend more than a year producing nothing in the high-end smartphone market and hope to compete.
But pragmatism should apply throughout Nokia's range, not just at the top end. If nothing else, Symbian accounts for an enormous amount of volume. Stripping down the Symbian range to a smaller number of handsets that can bring smartphone features at a feature phone price is surely a better long term strategy than ditching this operating system altogether.
However, perhaps if Nokia was being really pragmatic about sales they'd produce an Android phone as well. All the current WP7 manufacturers also make Android devices.. and it would do no real harm to Nokia's Windows strategy to have an alternative product line with real consumer appeal.. would it?
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