Engadget has published the full text of what it claims is a memo by Nokia's new CEO Stephen Elop. The memo is entitled the 'burning platform' memo. It seems to foreshadow a shift in Nokia smartphone strategy but is not clearly identifying what that shift would be. It is a good read, and well written, with lots of good facts in it. Its general sentiment, to rally troops, seems about right. I think, that to most industry-watchers, it seems very credible, as it could have been written by Nokia's new CEO.
UPDATE 11 February - Stephen Elop has confirmed today that the memo was real. This whole blog posting is now pointless, I was wrong. I will of course leave it here if anyone would like to come read it (and its comments). But please recognise - I am admitting I was totally wrong about it. For those who want to see what my view is of the new Nokia Microsoft alliance, please read: Wow this is good for Microsoft.
I don't think so. I think it is a hoax, but honestly, I do not know Stephen Elop, I have never met him, and I certainly have not heard one way or another, from my Nokia friends and colleagues, whether that memo is actually true. (please read the memo first, at Engadget)
Here is why it doesn't ring true to me. There are several astonishing errors and also 'obvious' missing pieces, that I cannot imagine Nokia's new CEO 'not having heard' from most of his meetings with most of his staff. I think, it reads more like a US analyst, who is trying to influence the discussion, who knows much of the Nokia story, but not the whole story. Here is where I think there are very glaring omissions or faults.
First the statement about Apple owning 61% of the 'over 300 dollar phone' segment is patently wrong, and Nokia is nothing if not meticulous about market shares and they buy every report and their competitor analysis department could not have suggested this kind of number. This to me, is an Apple-friendly analysis, based on US market share, not globally. Let me explain why. Apple sold about 47 million smartphones in 2010. RIM ie Blackberry has an average sales price of over 300 dollars, about half of its smartphones sell in that price range (over 300 dollar phones). Lets call it 23 million. Then we have HTC and Samsung, both sold about 25 million smartphones - the whole Samsung Galaxy series is in that price range (Samsung also sold 5 million cheap bada smartphones in 2010) and I'd say most HTC phones are in the price range. Lets call it 35 million combined from Samsung and HTC to play safe. Then what of Nokia? It sold 5 million S^3 phones in just one quarter, those were all 300 dollar or more phones (plus many more N97s and premium E-Series phones as well in the quarter). Again, if we play it safe and say of Nokia's 100 million smartphones, only 20 million were in this price point, we already have a combined global market of 125 million phones that cost over 300 dollars. And Apple's 47 million would be 38% of that. It will be even less, after we add premium cost Motorolas, SonyEricssons, and various other premium phones like the new ones from Sharp etc. No, this number does not ring right. I can believe, that an American analyst would be inclined to believe that as a 'fact' that Apple has 61% of the premium phone market, but Nokia knows this far better, and Nokia internal staff know the numbers better, they would not believe their new CEO if he suddenly says Apple is that big. And they have the corporate licenses to big handset analysis reports by Gartner, IDC, etc that all echo the same story. That Stephen Elop would start his email with such a number, that his own competitor analysis department would scream and kick and yell that it is totally off, does not seem right to me. But maybe its an isolated error. Lets read on.
On the low price phones, the memo mentions MediaTek but it does not mention any of the low-cost handset makers by name? The memo dares to mention Apple and Google, but now the CEO seemingly doesn't dare to mention Chinese brands like ZTE, Huawei, G'Five etc? That doesn't seem right.
While we are on competitors, Nokia's real competitor is Samsung (not Apple) and all at Nokia HQ know this. Samsung has recently launched its own OS bada (the most successful new OS launch in history, better than Google's Android or Apple's iPhone in its first 6 months) and Samsung is very successful in the high end with Galaxy smartphones and - most relevantly - Samsung has passed Nokia in the dumbphones market of Europe and now gaining in Asia, including China. He mentions Apple and Google but ignores the real (and currently only) threat to Nokia's hegemony, Samsung. This to me doesn't sound like the CEO has understood his primary competitor or the main market or how his primary competitor is moving into the smartphones space. I cannot imagine that the real Stephen Elop was blind to Samsung, and I cannot imagine if he talks of competition, that he would not point out how hungrily Samsung is eating into Nokia's markets globally. This doesn't ring right to me.
Then he supposedly writes "While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time." This again smacks of ill-informed US based views of Nokia. "..we missed big trends" (?) WHAT? Excuse me? I can accept, definitely, that Nokia has recently been executing poorly, and its early steps in new areas have been clumsy. But 'missed' big trends? Which trend has Nokia missed. Name even ONE! Touch screens? Before iPhone! Internet phones? Nokia did the world's first. Consumer smartphones? Nokia invented that. Gaming phones? Nokia had years before the iPhone ever heard of Angry Birds. An app store? Nokia followed this trend from Japan five years before Apple launched its first app store. A developer community? Nokia has had it for more than a decade. Apps? Nokia has a whole unit that sells apps and services. Maps? Nokia bundles those on the phones. Money? Nokia launched Nokia Money long ago. Dual SIM phones, Nokia did that years ago. What trend is it that Nokia has supposedly missed. MISSED?
I can accept that Nokia's touch screen interface is not the most elegant and its user interface is currently not as good as rivals. That is not 'missing big trends'. The are perhaps slow in capitalizing on the big trands. That is fair. I really can't see him saying this. This is a typical US analyst view who don't know about Nokia's global products and its years of innovations. Stephen Elop could easily say, "we were not capitalizing on our innovations" or something like that, but seriously, he has been on a deep fast fact-finding mission to understand the company he is running. There is no way, Stephen Elop could be under any misconception about where the big trends are, and when Nokia first moved to enter those trends. I cannot believe he would say this in a memo to staff. This to me, sounds like a US analyst writing what he wishes Nokia would say, from a US viewpoint.
The supposed CEO memo continues "At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind." Again, 'years behind'. Years? On what? I could see, that last summer, when the N8 was again delayed, and Symbian S^3 had not shipped, that perhaps, perhaps a Nokia CEO could say, they were 'years' behind. But not today. Ovi store is the second best-performing handset maker app store behind only Apple's App Store. Nokia is years AHEAD of most of its rivals from RIM's app store to Microsoft's. Symbian S^3 sold on 5 million handsets, on only 3 Nokia models, vs Microsoft's brand new and fresh 'from the ground up' OS, Phone 7, which on about a dozen phone models from several manufacturers, shipped 1.5 million units in the same period.
Meanwhile Google talks of Google Money (Nokia Money years ahead). Apple is rumored to introduce Near Field ability to hits handsets (Nokia years ahead). I can see that the CEO would want to motivate his staff to work harder, and I totally agree that Nokia is currently under-performing. It is executing poorly. But this is totally the wrong message from the CEO, the facts he sees and hears, cannot support this type of claim. If anything, after Nokia bought full control of Symbian, Symbian has been climbing back into the game. It is not as user-friendly as Android or iPhone OS, but it doesn't need to be either - for that Nokia is bringing MeeGo and has very good 'prototype' experience from the N900 that ran Maemo. Nokia can definitely create a very competitive and utterly modern OS. Symbian is clearly stated to be the legacy OS, to power increasingly lower cost smartphones, and is designed to operate on modest power phones (CPUs and memory). Nokia is far ahead of Android or Microsoft Phone 7 or Apple iOS, in specifically having Symbian prepared for low-cost phones, something bada at Samsung is also designed for. To my mind, Nokia's CEO would be mentioning this, not saying they are years behind.
What is more, Nokia invested heavily in designing a migration path for its two operating systems, to help developers manage that transition. That is built around Qt and it is a centerpiece to Nokia's smartphone strategy. Qt is not mentioned in the whole memo? Why? He mentions Apple or iPhone four times and Google or Android four times but no mention at all of Qt? This again, seems to me like it was written by someone who studies Nokia but isn't fully aware of it. I cannot imagine, after all the effort Nokia does in all its communications to promote Qt as critical to the two OS platforms it controls, that it would not even be mentioned here. And it is definitely leadership - Microsoft decided it was too complex and costly to help its developers migrate from Windows Mobile to Phone 7 and just left the developers adrift. They now are witnessing the effects of that. And I cannot - cannot imagine - that Nokia's CEO could think, that this Qt strategy was somehow wrong, now? When we are mere months from the first MeeGo devices? This is the ultimate care of an existing eco-system. To go through the extra effort, time and money, to build a migration path - for Nokia's developer community! If the CEO talks of competitors, and 'falling behind' and ecosystems, why the stunning silence about Qt? What would be seen as the ultimate betrayal of Nokia's loyal developers would be for Nokia to abandon Qt and MeeGo now, mere months before the first phones? I cannot see Nokia CEO making this strange memo, without acknowledging Qt. It doesn't ring right to my ears.
Now what really hit me the first time I read this memo, that made me 'decide' it cannot be right, is the line in it that reads "Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes." This sentence refers to the widely-reported Canalys numbers about Android OS overtaking Symbian in Q4 of 2010. But right after it was released, many analysts have said the numbers don't add up! It is a math error! You don't build corporate strategy on someone's math error haha. Canalys have jumped the gun, it has not happened that Android would be bigger than Symbian (that is likely to happen, now in 2011, and this is something Elop would be very wise to warn his staff, but not claim it had happened). Right now, IDC for example very explicitly on Monday said that Nokia is still ahead of Android. The official numbers from Google itself on Android, do not support Canalys's claim! I cannot believe, that Nokia's CEO would take a number which is ridiculed by the industry (and must be against every other measure Nokia tracks internally) and puts it in the memo! I can see it from a US based tech analyst, who is not that familiar with the issue. Since the Canalys number had more than 400 press mentions all the way from CNN and CNBC and Bloomberg on down - it must be right. But Nokia CEO would know fully well that there are four analyst houses and that this one number is utterly at odds with what all others report on the industry. He would not take it as the truth, where all other evidence suggests the opposite. It would not be believed by anyone in the organization (but would be easily believed by those who are not very familiar with the industry, especially US analysts, who have heard earlier - correctly - that Android had overtaken Apple and RIM). This is the biggest glaring error in the memo to my mind, I cannot see that Nokia's CEO would give any credence to that reported market share. Especially not, when its already been discredited by other sources Nokia prefers to use, like IDC.
Then a weird statement. The supposed memo states "We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market." Its early February. If the CEO wanted, he could easily accelerate MeeGo development and give it resources and bring more devices to the market, if that is what he needs. I think this is now an analyst 'speaking' who projects from recent delays in N8 and E7, and expresses a warning about possible MeeGo delays. It really doesn't seem like the CEO would make this kind of 'forecast'? I could see him 'committing' to some number or asking his team to help ensure they have x models this year, but for the memo to have this kind of 'forecast' seems totally at odds with what I would imagine any CEO saying about his company?
The truth is, that MeeGo is new. It is the amalgamation of Nokia's Linux based open source new smarthone OS project, Maemo (that powered N900) and Intel's similar project. The strategic decision to join with Intel is a masterstroke by Nokia, it brought new partners into the new Maemo/MeeGo ecosystem and of course, because of this there would be no more Maemo devices, and MeeGo would need to be managed together with Intel. What is far more important is a good OS, than having tons of devices on the OS (remembering that the 'old' Symbian in its newest edition S^3 outsells the brand new Microsoft Phone 7 by more than 3 to 1). Again, I cannot imagine that the new CEO of Nokia would not have studied MeeGo carefully and know this. Most Nokia staff know this. Therefore there is no point at all in saying it is now somehow 'in jeopardy' or 'endangered' or 'severely delayed'. I can believe that Nokia's new CEO would want MeeGo devices this year, but for him to suddenly say he projects only one device - when we are in February, this doesn't seem right to me.
And on that point - why no mention at all of Intel, Nokia's partner in MeeGo? Or no mention at all of NTT DoCoMo, Nokia's biggest remaining partner in Symbian. How can it be, that Symbian can power phones for the world's most advanced mobile phone market, Japan, years ahead of every other market - and is the OS of preference by NTT DoCoMo the worlds' most innovative and inventive mobile industry company, and at the same time that same Symbian is obsolete and somehow 'years behind' the competition. I again don't see Nokia's new CEO being somehow so ill-informed about key strategic assets - and key strategic allies - especially in a memo where he talks about ecosystems and partners.
Then the funniest error in the supposed memo, is something only a US based writer would dare to write with a straight face, and no Nokia exec would accept - "(Symbian) ...has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America." Haha. Yes, Symbian is failing in North America. But Nokia do global analysis of all of their markets. They know fully well, fully well, that the world's most advanced market for phones is Japan. Then comes South Korea. Then come the other leading Asian 'Tiger' economies like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan etc - here we have far more than 50% smartphone penetration rates etc. After that comes Western Europe, ahead of the North American market. There is no way, a Nokia exec will say with a straight face that North America is a 'leading market' in phones - knowing how well they do, how backwards the US carriers (mobile operators) are in stiffling that market.
To me the memo is a well-written hoax, which has a few critical 'obvious' errors. Here for example, if the memo had read something like 'proven non-competitive in significant markets like North America' or in 'important' markets like North America or 'growing' markets or something like that. But for anyone to suggest North America is a leading market in mobile phones, this is something laughed at by all major analysts. It is a mid-range market, slightly behind Western Europe, on par with the Middle East and slightly ahead of Easter Europe..
On the Symbian paragraph the memo says "if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind" and again, this is something that the US based myths do perpetuate, but the facts are strictly the opposite. Symbian based Nokia phones outsold its two biggest rivals, all Apple iPhones and all RIM Blackberries, combined. Yes, the CEO could have written that rivals are starting to catch up to Nokia, but just in smartphones, Nokia is more than twice as big as its nearest rival. (and is still profitable!) You want to give this 'problem' to Toyota? To Coca Cola? To Boeing? Anyone in almost any other major industry would desperately love to have this 'problem' of being that huge, that you are twice as big as your nearest rival. I cannot imagine the Nokia CEO would make such a blatant error in his memo, suggesting Nokia is not far ahead. Yes, the rivals are catching up, but Nokia is not behind! Not falling 'further' behind. And definitely not falling 'further and further' behind. This could only have been written by a US based analyst who mistakes US market share for global market share. Nokia HQ staff know fully well that the world outside of USA is 3 times bigger in smartphones (and 8 times bigger in dumbphones).
Lastly, the direct oppostite finding. When the CEO says Symbian has proven non-competitive in 'leading markets like North America' - when we go to the world's leading market, Japan - Symbian is supremely competitive there! The exact opposite is the truth, but few analysts know the Japanese market. Nokia knows, and Nokia's Symbian team knows very intimately, because NTT DoCoMo, Japan's biggest mobile operator/carrier with half the market there, is a Symbian partner. I can see how a US based analyst would think Symbian is failing in 'leading markets' but I know that the Symbian team inside Nokia know the facts, that Symbian is succeeding in the market with by far the most advanced phones and by far the most demanding customers, used by the operator/carrier that is by far the most demanding. The Nokia CEO could not have missed this fact, when talking to any Symbian people at Nokia.
Lets move on, the memo mentions how fast the "Chinese OEM's" are - where all Chinese makers combined produce less phones than Nokia alone - but doesn't mention Samsung - which is by most industry analysts who specialize in Asian phones - far faster than the Chinese - and who are closing in on Nokia's market share (leading it in some markets already). This again, doesn't sound like it was written by a real Nokia CEO. There is speed in innovation, and then there is South Korean speed, which is legendary. He does mention the speed, yet he somehow ignores the chance to motivate his staff, that Samsung is using its world-record speed to catch up on Nokia (and has now in public even stated that its goal now is to become number 1. This memo really doesn't sound right. The theme - lets compete harder - makes sense but the example, Chinese OEMs without names, and ignoring Samsung, this doesn't seem right to me).
Then the memo has a paragraph on ecosystems. I much agree with that paragraph. But, if this was Nokia's CEO, I cannot see that he'd be able to include this glaring contradiction with what he wrote just a little bit earlier. The ecosystem includes not just hardware and software but "developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things." Yes. What was that? Developers? And previously in the memo Nokia was supposedly not innovating and years behind. Nokia's developers were recruited way back in the previous century! Applications? Nokia has a software unit that reports quarterly. Ecommerce, fine. Advertising? Nokia has bought two advertising companies to build its ad platform years before Apple or Google bought their first mobile ad platforms. Search, fine. Social applications, fine. Location-based services? What is Ovi maps for goodness sakes, Nokia was the first to offer maps totally free. And so forth. Either Nokia "thought it was making the right choices but has fallen years behind" or else this chapter about the ecosystems is not true, but both cannot be true. They are at a contradition! And again, a brand new CEO, in a memo to energize his company, cannot possibly make this basic level of error? This does not sound right to me.
While on ecosystems.. where is Ovi? Again if the new CEO emphasizes the need for an ecosystem, surely Ovi should at least be acknowledged in the memo? The world's second-biggest app store by a handset maker? Far ahead of most rivals? And all the steps Nokia has done to expand this ecosystem, not just apps but also services and content and maps and communities etc.
And then on customer preference, again I agree with the sentiment, and have written on this blog that Nokia loyalty and customer preferences are in decline, and that is very bad for Nokia. But this paragraph? "(Nokia loyalty is) ...also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE..."
Russia. Yes. Germany. Yes. Indonesia. Yes. UAE? WHAT? Yes, I love Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but come on? Where is Nokia's single most important market? CHINA? China alone adds a whole new UAE every single month in new mobile phone subscribers. Where is India, Nokia's second most important market? India now adds not one, but TWO whole new UAE's every month! There is no way, no effing way, that Nokia CEO would write a sentence about Nokia's 'traditional stronghold' markets and ignore China and India, while including the United Arab Emirates. Wrong, Mr Fake Elop. This is not a Nokia CEO writing.
Note that the facts actually support the thesis - Nokia has been bleeding markets share in China and in India! So if that is Elop's message, he would most definitely include China and India in the memo! China houses the world's biggest phone factory for goodness sakes (a Nokia facility). There is no way, no no way, that Elop mentions the Arab Emirates, but forgets both China and India, the two biggest markets in the world of mobile telecoms.
Now, as to the sentiment, that Nokia is in trouble - yes, that Nokia faces huge changes, yes, that Nokia needs to embrace change, yes. Yes, the sentiment is right. But the statements in that memo do not ring true to my ears.
I think we'll know for sure on February 11th. If Stephen Elop's strategy presentation echoes many of the themes in this memo, then I will be clearly wrong. I doubt it. I do believe that his strategy view will be in many ways at odds with this memo. I do think that Nokia is very committed to Symbian, MeeGo and through Qt and Ovi is well along in achieving a long-term sustainable ecosystem leadership advantage, using its partners like Intel and NTT DoCoMo. I believe these will be clearly stated in Elop's strategy. There are lots of areas where Nokia is struggling (as I wrote in my blog last week giving my recommendations) but the platform for Nokia is not burning and definitely, now is not the time to jump off Symbian and MeeGo to Android or Phone 7. Yes, the CEO needs to motivate his team and company, but I do not believe this was a real memo from Stephen Elop. One or two of the above mistakes I could see in it, not this list of errors. No way would Nokia's CEO be so deluded from the facts.
(But obviously, lets see. Worst case, it is proven to be real, he really believes all that, and Nokia is led by a delusional psycopath who willingly suspends reality. Imagine if Microsoft had thrown in the towel when it had the world's biggest PC operating system! Imagine if Blueray had stopped fighting for the market when it was leading. This is silly)
Lets see if we get any official confirmation or denial of this memo. I do honestly believe, it cannot be true, that it would seem like the CEO didn't understand his own company, its markets, its products, and would not be believed by his own staff if he circulated this memo with this wording. But hey, I'm an outsider looking in, wouldn't be the first time a CEO had misunderstood his company haha..
ADDENDUM - We have over 50 comments on the blog. I am writing now to clarify. I thought I was perfectly clear in the above - but let me be as clear as I can - I TOTALLY - TOTALLY agree - AGREE with the SENTIMENT of this supposed memo. Do not write comments saying 'Tomi you are delusional' etc. I TOTALLY AGREE with the main themes that this memo expresses. All of those - ALL OF THEM are valid concerns for the new CEO - and I HAVE MYSELF EXPRESSED MOST OF THEM ON THIS BLOG BEFORE. I am NOT SAYING that Nokia is 'not in trouble'. I am ONLY saying, that when I read that article on Engadget, and many of my Twitter followers asked me for my opinion, I said I don't think that is genuine, that I honestly think it is a hoax - because of some detail errors in it. It is possible that this is an inaccurate representation of Stephen Elop's statements, speeches, blogs, memos whatever. If so - if it is not 100% verbatim exactly from beginning to end exactly as Elop wrote it (or spoke it) - then I am right. That is my only point. I feel like there is some fraudulent person who has manufactured a well-written story, that seems credible to be from Stephen Elop to his staff. It apparently has borrowed several direct phrases from other items he's said or written.
The point is that I - Tomi Ahonen - TOTALLY AGREE with all major sentiments in this supposed memo. I am not in denial about any of the issues reported in it, as being problems with Nokia. I am finding astounding faults in how it is written - on specific items that to me, are not professional, and to me, could not have been expressed as they are written. That is why I feel this is a hoax. I have never said in this blog that the main points of that supposed memo are not true. I AGREE with the memo, ok? I just believe, that a Nokia CEO would not be making these basic errors in basic facts. Are we clear now? Tomi fully agrees with the 'sentiment' of that memo. Not partly agrees, fully agrees! Ok?
UPDATE - I just read a brilliant comment by Terence Eden @edent on Twitter who said that this might be taken out of context. If this was part of a longer memo, where Stephen Elop said first "Others are saying this about us" - then yes, very clearly, this could be in a memo, but then Stephen Elop would know - and his employees would also know, that those statements are not reality. That would be fine, and then, Engadget would have been publishing deliberately or accidentially a partial excerpt that expressly communicates the opposite of what was intended.
MORE - I have written a companion volume to this blog, explaining to those who might not immediately 'get it' why Nokia's current smartphone OS strategy (Symbian and MeeGo with Ovi and Qt) is the best for Nokia and any change to the OS now in 2011 would be tantamout to corporate suicide. The blog article is here Why Nokia OS Strategy is Right for Nokia.
EVEN MORE - and for those visitors who are interested in the overall market shares and the major players in the smartphone industry, as the final numbers were reported earlier today, I have just done my final analysis of all the numbers, market shares, major manufacturers, operating systems, by Q4 and for full year 2010, at this analysis: Smartphone Bloodbath 2010: Now Final Numbers.