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January 14, 2009


Sujeewad de Silva

A wonderfully thorough analysis of mobile convergence! Thank you for making the effort to compile it.

phil barrett

Thanks for a great read. If the last 10 years belonged to Nokia, do you think the next 10 may belong to Apple? Industry projections say that Apple will outsell Nokia in the smartphone space within 4 years....

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Sujeewad and phil

Thank you for the kind comments. I'll respond to both invidivually.

Sujeewad. Thank you. Yes, it became a bit of a project of passion, combining my love of statistics, a long passion in history, and of course my close association with the Nokia brand, both as a former employer of mine, and now a regular customer of my consulting.

Was a delight, but as you can imagine, some of those stats took considerable effort, as I usually don't "track" the sales levels of alarm clocks or electronic calculators etc. It was also a lot of fun, and you should see the original draft, it was twice as long with umpteen details that I just had to cut - its not meant to be a book ha-ha, and as a blog, its really too long even as it is. But it was a nice story to research, and I hope it can also serve to provide some impetus for some "real journalists" to research and write that story into a more mainstream media..

phil - thank you very much to you too. Yes, good point, who owns the next 10 years. My gut says a global leader cannot continue to hold such a lead, although IBM did for many decades and GM has done it for even more decades (while both have had their ups and downs in their periods of reign).

If I had to pick a "other than Nokia" guess, my first gut instinct says Google. Deep pockets, hungry and have been focused on mobile far longer than Apple. Also Google is not obsessed with perfection, but rather goes to business in the incremental method, offering a "good enough" product with some unique benefit(s) and then develop it relentlessly. Apple is obsessed with secret development of a superior technology. It can lead to market-failing products like the Newton or market-disappointing products like the Lisa.

Also, I'd say Apple core ethos does not bode well for "world domination" type of scale and speed. They are a typical niche high-quality high-price high-premium brand. If Nokia is Ford, Apple is Porsche. Ford offers a huge range of products, from the very cheap basic transport to luxury sedans, trucks and sports cars. Porsche only offers sports cars (at the very high end of those) and now sporty SUVs. Ford can figth for world domination against a GM or Toyota; but Porsche (alone) cannot. Only if they buy a mass market player like the discussions now with VW, can they hope to be a rival in the big game.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being a high-end niche player, Porsche is the most profitable car maker ha-ha, not Ford. But I don't really see their competence easily translating into a global domination play. They don't have the scale in low-cost production and sourcing, for example, that Nokia has mastered.

So it would need to be a much more tightly-defined contest, like you say, among smartphones. Of those pundits who suggest Apple will outsell Nokia in 4 years, I an promise you, that won't happen. Those "industry projections" come only from "misguided" North American analysts. The North American market is only 8% of the globe.

If you ask European or Asian experts, most will feel very doubtful that Apple could match Nokia in size even in the smartphone space, based on how poorly they are adjusting to the new market they have entered (even the second edition of the iPhone is severely deficient, from the primary buying customer - the mobile operator community - point of view, such as still not supporting MMS, the second biggest messaging platform on the planet behind SMS and ahead of eMail, and a vital leg on the future of mobile operator revenues and profits, etc..)

I don't mean to suggest the iPhone is a bad phone. But, I do suggest, that Apple cannot - it is economically impossible - to get a major market share without strong mobile operator (carrier) support. And Apple has not played that game well (so far). They are behaving very arrogantly, and many operators feel burned by early promises and now Apple developments, from exclusivity to the Apps store.

Now, I've said again and again, that Apple is great at learning, and they will improve and get better at this game. But I also said, that Apple has never in its life, faced the quality of competition as they do now in mobile. In the PC world in the 1970s they faced garage competitors. In the 1980s, IBM did not put its first team on the field, with the PC. With the iPod they never had a challenge from the big portable music player maker, Sony, because Sony mistakenly thought the musicplayer market was saturated and focused on the Playstation and PSP.

Now, Apple faces four very competent and powerful companies (Nokia, Samsung, LG and SonyEricsson - obviously Motorola is not in this class) who know the market inside out, who have far stronger and more broad customer relationships with the 300 relevant mobile operator/carrier companies around the world; and who all have staked their future on specifically mobile phone success.

And this is a fashion oriented industry - something Apple has not yet grasped, but even RIM has already noticed - which means new phones for every season, not once per year.

I honestly don't see Apple capable of succeeding in this battle. Note that when they passed 10 million iPhones sold in 12 months, they have matched the level of Nokia's output in one week. Lets say Apple pursues a relentless and total commitment to capture this space, and plays severe price-cutting/cost-cutting games and grows its sales volume 50% year on year, it would take them 10 years to match Nokia's current sales level (assuming no growth for the industry in the same period..)

Totally unreasonable.

But, its not just the phones, obviously. The more it is a different, media-delivery game, then Apple has strengths, such as its iTunes heritage. It also brings considerable baggage and iTunes is not universally loved by the record industry... Yes, they have a chance, but I'd say a very dark horse, and only if the industry shifts very strongly away from the handset side. And Apple would need to shift their resources very deliberately to the phones (and related software and services) side, away from the PCs an iPods..

I don't see them able to pull it off. But Google, that I think is a strong rival from among the non-handset makers, and obviously Samsung is now the strongest (growing) rival to Nokia.

My two cents..

Thank you both for writing.

Tomi Ahonen :-)

E. Casais

When analyzing the fate of digital processing products, the evolution of and disruptions in storage technologies are at least as important, and often much more important than the famous Moore's law about raw computing power. This applies to mobile phones as well.

10 years ago, one of the top three features of a mobile phone was the size of the phonebook: how many addresses or phone numbers could it store? Five years
ago the question moved to how much space for Java applications. Today it is more
like: how many movie clips? All of which highlight the crucial significance of
that technology called flash memory.

Without it, no phonebook; one could place a call, but not store numbers (just as in very old phones). No permanent storage of SMS (and hence phones would be reduced to simple pagers, not messaging or e-mailing devices). No downloading of ringing tones or wallpapers (one could hear them or look at them, but they would disappear once the battery dies). No photographs or video capture (except with an attached film or video-cassette recorder, as in older cameras). No music
clips (except with an attached CD-reader, just like a walkman). No games or installable applications (except with a cartridge reader, like older game
stations). No software upgrades (one would need a hard drive to store software, like in computers). No exchange of data (except with an attached diskette drive).

Before flash, code was inalterably in ROM and data in RAM -- which was cleaned
up when the battery died; EPROM required a special setup to be rewritten. All other storage mechanisms -- used in the other data devices throughout history --
were bulky, mechanically fragile or required a considerable (relatively
speaking) source of electricity.

In short, most of the applications you mentioned, and all of the important early ones, would be impossible or excruciatingly tedious. Think about it: the advent of miniaturized electronic, easily rewritable memory storage, independent from a permanent source of current, was perhaps the single technological factor that enabled the ascent of mobile phones to their status of king of multimedia, multichannel communication.


Just a comment about a little mistake :
it is now admitted that Marconi didn't invent radio...

otherwise great article!

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi E and Fred

Thank you for the comments.

E - great point, yes storage ability has been one of the most important developments, although probably the battery development is even more critical to enabling the modern phone.

Fred - thanks. yes, good point. Many inventions actually weren't by those we generally believe, such as Alexander Graham Bell who is also strongly believed today to have stolen the patent for the telephones.

Thank you both for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)


An Excellent Article....

just adding my points to it.

Nokia is on its way to replace CDs with their "comes with music service", though it didnt make an huge impact in 2008 but it is expected to do in 2009.

Nokia with its TV-Out enabled phones has the capacity replace even DVD Players. Though it cannot exactly replace one now but with the support of all video file extensions and better video quality it can do it in the future.

Nokia with its own "mail on Ovi" Service, it can compete with Gmail and Yahoomail. It is expected that more people in developing countries like Africa, India and China will experience Internet, first on their mobiles only. So Nokia has a chance of winning even this competetion.

With the N97, Nokia has promised "SoLo", which is Social Networking and blogging on the mobile. we have to watch out for the responses when that product gets released

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Ganesh

Thanks, yeah, looks very promising for more convergence and more cannibalization both by the mobile phone in general, and Nokia in particular.

About the DVD cannibalization, I think we see a tiny step in that direction, in that some movies are now available on the memory module formats for phones (and PSPs). I received the Mission Impossible 3 movie on the memory card that came with the Nokia N93 in 2006 and watched the movie on the phone with no problems. I think its a start..

SoLo on the N97 looks also very promising..

Thanks for commenting

Tomi Ahonen :-)

senior phone

It is great how easy and cheap cell phones have become.

used computers

In short, most of the applications you mentioned, and all of the important early ones, would be impossible or excruciatingly tedious.

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Companies today need to have next-generation technologies, especially those engaged in some kind of engineering who need to maintain constant flow of work and the people.

refurbished computers

it cannot exactly replace one now but with the support of all video file extensions and better video quality it can do it in the future.


I don't know of anyone who hasn't owned a Nokia mobile phone at some time!
However Apple are now set to dominate the next decade with the iphone.
For me as long as it makes a call & texts then it's OK

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Available for Consulting and Speakerships

  • Available for Consulting & Speaking
    Tomi Ahonen is a bestselling author whose twelve books on mobile have already been referenced in over 100 books by his peers. Rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in December 2011, Tomi speaks regularly at conferences doing about 20 public speakerships annually. With over 250 public speaking engagements, Tomi been seen by a cumulative audience of over 100,000 people on all six inhabited continents. The former Nokia executive has run a consulting practise on digital convergence, interactive media, engagement marketing, high tech and next generation mobile. Tomi is currently based out of Hong Kong but supports Fortune 500 sized companies across the globe. His reference client list includes Axiata, Bank of America, BBC, BNP Paribas, China Mobile, Emap, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, LG, MTS, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Ogilvy, Orange, RIM, Sanomamedia, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Three, Tigo, Vodafone, etc. To see his full bio and his books, visit Tomi Ahonen lectures at Oxford University's short courses on next generation mobile and digital convergence. Follow him on Twitter as @tomiahonen. Tomi also has a Facebook and Linked In page under his own name. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and as expert witness, please write to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com

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Tomi Ahonen Almanac 2009

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