I enjoy good smart debate. Robert Scoble, the Scobleizer, is a very highly respected tech and mobile blogger, often referred here on this blog and no doubt most of our readers recognize his name. I was a bit surprised that the Scobleizer took a negative view to my blog a few hours ago, where I explained why Nokia won't abandon its current strategy. As that strategy is complex, involving Symbian, MeeGo, Ovi and QT, not everybody understands it, and I felt it necessary to write that blog, to try to explain why it would be futile for Nokia to abandon its current strategy, and go with Android or Phone 7.
When Robert Scoble replied, in his blog posting 'Why Nokia is still doomed, no matter how many words Tomi Ahonen writes' he didn't actually offfer an alternate strategy to what Nokia is now doing, other than claiming that Nokia was 'doomed'. In my blog I argued that Nokia's strategy in smartphones was better than that of other legacy handset makers and to this point Robert never makes any mention.
Robert says that the "prevailing view in high-tech communities I talk with around the world is that Nokia is doomed." That may be so, but it was also said that Nokia was doomed when the iPhone launched - actually Nokia's N95 outsold the iPhone. The prevailing view was that Nokia had lost it when Motorola's Razr launched - actually Nokia is standing and Motorola lost it. And we could go back year after year and model after model. That 'prevailing view' in high-tech communities that Robert Scoble is likely to be meeting - mostly US based (this part added:) or visiting in the USA, mostly PC based - would not understand mobile telecoms, certainly not that which is outside of the USA, where 92% of all mobile phone subscriptions exist today. In that market, Nokia has pretty near to 50% installed base of all phones (as Nokia is also the preferred phone among the ultra-poor as a second hand used phone). So I'll grant you Robert that you hear that Nokia is doomed. I have heard that for a decade. I prefer to discuss the facts, not the parlor game of whose flagship luxury toy gadget is the sexiest this month. 95% of the people who buy a phone cannot afford your Google Nexus S by Samsung or the iPhone 4, that you mention that you own, Robert. Nokia is not only connecting rich people, Nokia is in the business of connecting people: all people.
But Robert does argue that Nokia's own communication of its strategy is confused - I agree. Nokia is not good at communicating its strategy, I have said that many times in the past. Contrast that with say Apple who are very clever at communicating their strategy. Yes, I agree with you Robert, that Nokia has been weak at communicating its strategy - but its strategy nonetheless, is far better in smartphones than those of Motorola, SonyEricsson, Samsung, LG or any other legacy dumbphone makers.
Then the Scobleizer gives us his impression of a 6 point strategy for Nokia. He outlines it as:
1 - Attack Apple, er, attack America, Make it Europe vs America.
2 - Talk about all the cool things they are going to do for us
3 - Don't show anything new
4 - Arrogantly insist that they are ok and will dominate smartphones
5 - Insist that MeeGo will save the world
6 - Say that there is a Cupertino distortion field happening.
Ok. Lets see if there is some merit to Nokia doing this. Let me say first, that these are quite reasonable 'talking points' and 'communication strategy' for Nokia today, which illustrate a newer hungrier more 'aggressive' Nokia, run by a new North American CEO. Nokia PR is not as timid as its been in the past, something I have been critical of them in the past. Maybe they are not as elegant at the marketing PR battles yet, as Apple is, or Microsoft is, or Google is, but the points are all valid.
1 - "attacking Apple, America". The truth is, that the USA is only 8% of the world's mobile phones. The view of what is the iPhone and Apple's popularity in the USA does not translate to the rest of the world. While anyone would want an iPhone, it is simply too expensive for the rest of the world. It cannot be a mass market phone in any market, ever. I think this is a worthwhile argument for Nokia (and others like HTC, Samsung, Motorola, RIM etc) to make. And on USA vs Europe, the truth is, Robert Scoble, that US phones are backwards and Asian and European phones are ahead. Look again at what you have now. The new phones? Not every one of US new phones has a forward-facing camera. Apple only put it on its phones in 2010. Nokia had them on all 3G phones as far back as 2005. What of Near Field, what of QR code readers, what of HD output, etc. US phones are still behind, today. This is a valid point by Nokia. Of Apple's 15 improvements to its iPhone in the past 4 years, 14 were standard features of Nokia phones in 2006, BEFORE the iPhone 2G even launched. And the last of the 15, half of that (half retina display) was on a Nokia phone in 2008. It is a fair argument to show that Europeans have demanded far more advanced smartphones for many years before the Americans discovered smartphones, and Nokia has a deep understanding of that. Why is it that Apple's original iPhone didn't support multitasking, or MMS, or videocalling etc etc etc. Apple did understand the PC world, and it optimized the iPhone to be a 'pocket computer' like the son of the Apple Newton, but it was not designed to be a modern smartphone - as you know, Robert, the original iPhone 2G didn't even allow users to install apps to it.
I do not mean that Nokia is miles away ahead today. I do mean, that Nokia has been developing consumer-oriented smartphones far longer than Apple or Google or Microsoft (or Palm or RIM) and they, Nokia, do know a lot about what consumers want. They - Nokia only in its smartphones - clearly outsell the total handset production of Apple, RIM, Google branded Nexus phones, Microsoft's defunct Kin phones and all Palm smartphones - combined.
2 - "talk about the cool things they are going to do". I do think this is something MANY people would like to know. That Nokia is consistently voted the most eco-friendly tech company, the most 'green' handset maker. Does it matter to your techie friends, Robert? I think it matters to some up there in Washington State and Oregon and California, judging by 'my' humble meetings with occasional techie influencers of North America haha. What about Nokia Money? When do we see Google Money or Apple Money to help India? I see Apple wants to charge a million dollars for ads on their iAd platform. I think there is a legitimate story here, where Nokia is really helping the emerging world truly 'emerge'. Like those South African high school students this past week who took their student exams in math and found 14% better math scores, because of Nokia helping them take math tests via mobile phones. Or the bicycle peddaling rechargers for mobile phones.
I think these are relevant stories in a real world of technology. To me, it seems that Google is more involved in lawsuits with regulators about spying on citizens, while Nokia helps bring connectedness to the poorest parts of the planet. That does not necessarily make its smartphones any better, but it is a good story, that Nokia has forgotten to tell in the past. I do think there are journalists who are interested in how socially responsible Nokia is. Don't you think that story has at least some merit, especially compared to say how Apple treats its parteners, fewding with industry standard technologies like the long fight they had with Adobe about Flash, etc. Nokia is the standard-bearer for industry cooperation and by far the most open of all handset makers, supporting open standards. By far!
3 - "dont show anything new" - this is good. Nokia used to show tons of new tech with an indefinite delivery date, and then delayed and delayed and delayed its releases. The ultimate disaster was the N8. So I think its a good thing for Nokia now to take a pause, ideally announce stuff they are ready to ship, rather than promises of something coming sometime in the far distant future.
4 - "Arrogantly insist they are ok, and will dominate smartphones." Ok, Robert Scoble. I put you to task now. Are you Robert, seriously suggesting, that in 2011, any handset maker will sell more smartphones than Nokia? They will sell about 36%- 38% of all smartphones this year (when the N8 was seriously delayed most of the year). Their nearest rival is RIM, which you claim is also in trouble - who will sell about 16% to 18% of all smartphones this year. And the next biggest smartphone for the full year 2010 will be Apple, who will sell something between 15% and 17% of all smartphones. Are you Robert seriously suggesting Nokia will somehow not sell far over 30% of all smartphones next year? You know this market Robert. Are you suggesting that somehow the 'suffering' RIM can overtake Nokia, or somehow even more bizarrely the 600 dollar iPhone can outsell Nokia smartphones that are available in 3 times as many networks on the planet, and sell for less than 200 dollars. Are you seriously suggesting Robert, that Nokia will somehow 'not dominate' in smartphones next year? What are you smoking this evening, haha, Robert, that claim - while perhaps arrogant, is also true. Nokia is utterly dominating the global smartphone space, and they will also utterly dominate next year. Nothing on the horizon is threatening Nokia. All major analysts have already said that Apple's iPhone smartphone market share had stalled this year and is on a plateau or declining. So who is now the rival to eat Nokia's came? Hmm, Robert? Who? HTC perhaps? Or Samsung? Or Motorola? You gotta be kidding. You know Nokia is set to dominate into the near future. Maybe you don't like the arrogance of they saying it, but you know its true.
5 - Insist MeeGo will save the world - I do think MeeGo will save Nokia, I trust the 'save the world' was more tongue-in-cheek haha. But you didn't give any analysis why MeeGo couldn't save Nokia.
6 - "Cupertino distortion field" - well, Nokia didn't invent the "Apple Distortion Field" as you know, and you know also fully well how much that distortion field is truly skewing the coverage of the smartphone market analysis. Most US based analysts will think that Apple has a major share of phones - in reality the facts are that iPhones account for under 4% of all mobile phones sold in the world. Nokia branded phones outsell Apple 8 to 1. And of smartphones, Apple's market share has stalled at about 15% for the full year (say the major analyst houses, not just me) and Nokia sells more than twice that. But if you read any US based analysts or reporters, they tend to talk about the iPhone, Android, RIM and Phone 7, but they conveniently forget Nokia/Symbian. That is part of the Distortion Field, that you know fully well, Robert. I am not accusing you of forgetting Symbian and Nokia, you do know the field. But you do know, that if we see major smartphone market analysis, or the analysis of any significant new phone model, discussed in most US based tech or financial press, they are part of the Apple Distortion Field, and they will dismiss Nokia totally.
That covers the six points you mentioned. We agree on most of it, but I think that 'communication strategy' is far better for Nokia today, than the more timid one they had in the past. But Robert, also, a communciation strategy is not a smartphone strategy. We both know, its not 'how they say it', what will decide who wins. If that was the case, Apple, Microsoft and Google would rule the world of mobile today. It is execution of a 'smartphone strategy' not a 'communciation strategy'. And of that, Nokia's actual smartphone strategy, you didn't respond to my blog.
INFLUENCERS AND DEVELOPERS
Then the Scobleizer goes into his main beef. He says the big problem for Nokia's strategy is, that it is not popular with the influencers and developers. First, I beg to differ. Nokia is certainly not popular with US-based developers and influencers. It is significantly more popular among European developers and influencers who currently do like iPhone and Android more. But Nokia is far more popular with Asian and African developers and influencers. Does that matter. Africa alone has twice the number of mobile phone subscribers as the USA, and Asia has half of the planet's mobile phones. Yes it matters.
But the developers and influencers do not decide on who buys the phones. I have been writing again and again and again, that the mobile phone industry differs from all other consumer electronics, in that its competition is not open and fair. We do not see the best phone for the best price winning globally. The market for smartphones has two drastic distortions, the subsidised phones, and the employee phones. It is why a highly-rated phone - with excellent influencer support and excellent developer support - like Palm or the original Google Nexus One - can fail in the market place. And why even a poorly received flagship phone, like the Nokia N97, can outsell those two better phones, easily, worldwide.
Robert, if the phone business was like the PC business, then Lenovo, Dell and Acer would not all have issued such desparate complaints about how expensive it is to enter this market, so much more so, than they had expected. These are 3 of the world's 5 largest PC makers. Unable to make a dent in the smartphones space, even though they all had the most popular smartphone operating system of the moment, Android. Having the 'best phone' or the love of the developers or the influencers, will not win you the race. There is something else that determines who wins, that is 'carrier relationships' as you fully well know, Robert. That is why Google's Nexus One failed, why Microsoft's Kin was pulled and why Palm died. Not because they made bad phones or didn't have the support of influencers or developers etc.
And who is the planet's master at carrier relationships? Nokia. On every continent except North America. So you say Robert Microsoft Phone 7 is 'already way ahead of Nokia' because your developer friends tell you its easier to develop for than Nokia is. Want to wager a bet, here in public, Robert, on whether 12 months from now, in Q4 of 2011, Phone 7 will outsell Nokia Symbian/MeeGo? I am happy to wager you anything you think is fair. I think you won't dare to put your money where your mouth is, haha. Perhaps you were a bit too hasty in celebrating the inevitable rise of Phone 7. I am 100% certain it won't be challenging Symbian/MeeGo/Nokia any time soon. Android, yes. Phone 7, no way.
Then his last point is that the consumer is buying apps, including in France. Well, first, there is the consumer survey by Deloitte from October said that only 18% of consumers will consider the apps as a major reason to make their smartphone selection. You, Robert, are perhaps mistaking the view of the early adopter 'geeks and nerds' and using that for the total smartphone-buying public. Deloitte told us that the screen size, camera resolution, keyboard style, cellular network coverage, and style of phone, all came ahead of the selection of apps, in making the decision. If we take a larger size screen - like say the 4 inch screen I have on my E90 Communciator, or the camera resolution - like the 12 megapixel on the N8, or the keyboard style like the QWERTY on the E-series, etc - we find a lot of reasons for the totally normal buyer, to go and pick a miscellaneous Nokia model ahead of that iPhone, even if the iPhone has more apps.
But Robert, you missed the point of my blog article. I told readers we can't compare a luxury PC maker like Apple to Nokia. We have to compare the mass market dumbphone maker Nokia to the other Top 5 mass market dumbphone makers, Motorola, LG, Samsung and SonyEricsson. Nokia has the second best-performing app store, in Ovi. Even if Nokia wanted to abandon its OS and somehow adopt Apple's iOS, they can't. Their only options are Android or Phone 7 - and where is the app store, selection, downloads of those two? Nokia's Ovi is miles ahead of both Android and Phone 7 app stores! Miles ahead in selection of apps, and in downloads of apps, and in paid revenues to content developers - plus, on Nokia, there are far more people earning a lot, than on the Apple iPhone App Store where the 'long tail' is so extremely skewed. Far more apps have achieved a million downloads (free or paid) on Ovi than on Apple's App Store which seems to be only Angry Birds, haha.. (note above paragraph corrected on Dec 17, original said 'a million paid apps')
If you do honestly think, that Nokia is 'doomed' with the world-leading market share, growing unit sales of smartphones, dominant position on all five other continents except North America, and the second-best-performing app store - what is your verdict on all of Nokia's true rivals. Are you willing to say, that if Nokia is doomed, that LG, Samsung, Motorola and SonyEricsson are as good as dead already? That is the only reasonable conclusion of your argument. If this performance by Nokia - so far better than its traditional rivals is so bad, then you must agree that the other top 5 are doing far worse - they can't even manage to sell smartphones profitably even, far less build an app store or create their own OS (with the exception of Bada, but also, all of your arguments against Nokia must be far more so against Bada?)
But I would prefer to end on some points of agreement. I will agree, that Nokia's recent PR has become more aggressive, it can be accused of being arrogant - but so too has often it seemed, that Microsoft's and Apple's PR spin has been on the side of arrogance. I would point out, that the PR strategy is not the 'smartphone strategy'.
I would agree, that developers do not like Symbian today, there is clear consensus that the iPhone was far easier to develop for, and now the easiest seems to be Android. However, the new QT development tools, in particular as they allow simultaneous development to multiple platforms - are new to the market, and are changing that perception. I would say its too early to call this race, and the 'convenient' part of Symbian developer community is, that it is tens of thousands of developers strong, built over the past decade. Phone 7 has to start from scratch, as they discontinued continuity with Windows Mobile. Symbian's legacy developer community globally is far greater than Palm or Bada or even Android today. But yes, they hate developing for it, I'll grant you that. But the alternatives are not better - because of the Ovi store, at least Symbian will get you huge reach on the planet (vs Palm, Bada, Phone 7). The Symbian installed base of smartphones in use is as big as iPhone plus Blackberry plus Android plus Palm plus Bada plus Phone 7 - combined).
But I would hope you Robert will agree, that apps today, the developer community opinion and the opinions of thought leaders, is not what decides which smartphones will win globally . That is far more a function of providing phones that consumers want, that the apps are only a small part of that decision - and that by far the biggest criterion is the carrier relationships - something Nokia knows well.
I apprecite the comments, Robert, and I apologize for yet another long posting, but I do enjoy the intellectual exchange. Thank you for writing, I do agree Nokia is not the most developer-friendly currently - but is improving - and especially among US based influencers - is not anywhere near as popular as its range of models would warrant. But on a global basis, I think Nokia is by far executing a smartphone strategy the best, when compared to its traditional rivals, and no, I don't see Nokia doomed in any plausible scenario for hte next few years.
UPDATE - I have just on Wednesday released my 10th book. The 340 page book is entitled 'The Insider's Guide to Mobile' and the best part is, that you can read it now. Its the first time one of my books is made totally free, as an eBook download. For more see link Tomi 10th book.