At the risk of turning this blog into "Nokias dominate Nokias dot blogs dot com", haha, I have to write one clear blog story, once and for all, about the Nokia smartphone strategy. Nokia's smartphone OS strategy is right! Nothing wrong with it.
Whatever you may think of Nokia today, and whatever problems you can find in the company, and no matter how much you love your phones of any other brand, and hate Nokia, there are yes many problems with Nokia, but one thing they have done 100% right - is their strategy for their smarphones. That includes the smartphone operating system decisions, the app store, the partners, the ecosystem, and the handset portfolio for Nokia smartphones.
So let me explain, this will not be a monster-long blog, don't worry.
TRANSITION FROM DUMBPHONES
First, Nokia is not competing with Apple or RIM or HTC, companies that only make smartphones. 77% of all Nokia branded phones sold in 2010 were dumbphones. Nokia is the world's most widely used brand, not just phone brand, or tech brand - any brand. More people have a Nokia phone in their pocket today, than ever owned a Sony Walkman music player, or watched a Panasonic TV or drove a Volkswagen Beetle, or wrapped a Timex watch onto their wrist, or wore Levi's jeans or laced on Nike shoes, or used a BIC pen, or colored a children's coloring book with Crayon color pens, or drank a Coca Cola. Nokia is the world's most widely used brand today, with an active user base of over 25% of every person alive on the planet (over 1.7 Billion people)!
Nokia cannot - cannot - abandon those when it transitions from dumbhones to smartphones. Nokia has to have a sensible, credible, long-term migration path from dumbphones to smartphones. The only way its management will be thanked in the year 2020, when all phones are smartphones, is if Nokia has managed to convert its HUGE global lead in dumbphones today, to a lead in smartphones sold at the end of the decade. If Nokia abandons that lead during this decade, then Nokia will become a laughing stock in MBA studies of how to destroy your own market leadership position (like IBM did in computers for example).
How huge is 'huge' In cars, Toyota is slightly bigger than GM. In airplanes, Boeing and Airbus switch positions every few years. In videocaming consoles the race is close with the three platforms. In personal computers HP holds a modest lead over its rivals, etc. But in mobile phones, Nokia is almost exactly as big as its nearest rivals numbers 2, 3 and 4 combined! That is not market leadership, that is market dominance. And this is what Nokia has to 'manage' as it transitions from dumbphones to smartphones.
For Nokia it is not the race to be better than Apple. It really isn't. Its like Ford who made recently that supercar Ford GT 40, as a credible rival to Ferrari, suddenly abandoned all other Ford models, no longer making the Ka and Fiesta and Focus and Mondeo and Mustang and Taurus and Explorer and F-Series trucks etc and only specialize suddenly in super-premium sportscars. What of Ford's massive dealer network (ie partners) who have huge lots and stores to sell thousands of Ford cars - a GT 40 will sell a couple of units per year, couple per month in very rich cities. What of all the suppliers (ie partners) who make little four cylinder engines for city cars, and diesel engines, and radios and air conditioning units and back seats haha.. Ford can yes, make a rival to a Ferrari, but Ford cannot suddenly abandon being Ford, and extinguish 95% of its business.
Similarly neither can Nokia. Apple's iPhone is a highly desirable luxury premium phone. Nokia can - from time to time - do a 'rival' to the iPhone (like it tried with the N97 and now again tried with the N8), but that is a tiny fraction of Nokia's business. Nokia cannot - cannot - abandon its main business - where it has huge advantages none of its rivals can match, from the world's largest handset distribution network to the world's biggest supplier network to a fantastic logistics system to ship over 1.2 million phones every single day of every year (yes, they sell phones on Sundays too).
So where were we? Ah yes, Nokia has to manage a transition. Its primary focus cannot be to beat Apple at the premium top end phones (although they should continue to try to do that too) but rather to fight against its biggest rivals who are Samsung, LG and ZTE, all Asian powerhouses who make phones from the very cheap Africa phones to smartphones.
So, first what is Symbian? It was for the longest time the world's biggest smartphone OS by a wide margin, as it was developed in partnership with all the biggest phone manufacturers. After the iPhone came along, Nokia noticed that Symbian was not competitive against Apple, and Nokia bought out its partners and started to develop Symbian into a more user-friendly 'touch screen' oriented operating system. This is the right strategy. Nokia did not abandon Symbian - the world's bestselling smartphone operating system still today - Nokia took charge of it, did the right thing by paying its partners to leave, and then put Symbian on a modernization path. This is the right strategy if you own the world's biggest smartphone OS. Anything else would be lunacy.
Whatever you think of Symbian today, if you think in any possible way, that Microsoft's Phone 7 is a credible smartphone operating system, then you cannot criticize Nokia for its Symbian path. Why? Because Microsoft's Phone 7 was launched for Q4 of 2010 and with about a dozen handsets from several manufacturers, Phone 7 achieved 1.5 million sales. Nokia's Symbian, its latest version S^3 was also launched for Q4 (this is the new user-friendly touch screen version that powers for example the N8) and while only on 3 Nokia smartphones, it sold 5 million units. Yes, more than 3 times more than Phone 7 by that software superstar we know as Microsoft. Nokia's 'obsolete' Symbian, its newest S^3 version alone (ignoring all other 24 million older Symbian based smartphones also sold in Q4) utterly crushed the newest most amazing OS from 'the' company we know for operating systems: Microsoft. Don't try to argue that Nokia cannot make a good OS. It took a while to get control of Symbian, and it took a while to modernize it, and Nokia is not done with Symbian, but the latest version is definitely 'good enough' if it outsells Microsoft's Phone 7 by more than 3 to 1.
By the way, that means obviously that Nokia would be utterly foolish now to abandon Symbian in favor of Phone 7 haha.
Symbian is not as good as Android or iOS. I am not claiming that. But the gap between them is closing. And here is the critical part that you have to remember, Symbian in Nokia's strategy is not the weapon to fight Android (or iPhone). It is the weapon to fight for the low end phones, migrating Nokia featurephones and cheap dumbphones to low-cost smartphones! That is the clearly stated strategy for many years now. Clearly stated strategy. Nokia is not positioning Symbian against top phones, for that it has MeeGo.
But is Symbian viable for the low cost market? Remember, Nokia has to migrate its customers using non-smartphones to smartphones. Their average price was 43 Euros (about 65 dollars)! How many people bought such a phone with a Nokia brand in 2010? Try 360 million! Yes, one million non-smartphone basic phones were sold every single day of last year, with a Nokia badge. That is more than all smartphones sold by all smartphone makers including Apple and RIM and HTC and Samsung and LG and Motorola and ZTE and LG and Huawei and Sharp and Kyocera and Fujitsu and Lenovo and Acer and Dell and Palm and Alcatel and Panasonic and ...
...and all smartphones made by Nokia itself!
..combined. That is how huge Nokia is. And there is Nokia's challenge. No, their mission is not to try to do a phone better than the iPhone. The real mission for Nokia is to take all those 360 million satisfied Nokia customers, who only paid on average 65 dollars for their Nokia phones - and migrate them to smartphones during this decade.
So, is Microsoft's Phone 7 built to run on very modest power CPUs on modest memory and in cheap phones? No! Is Apple's iOS designed to run on very modest power phones? No. Is RIM's Blackberry operating system designed to run well in very low spec phones. No. How about Android? It exists on low-cost phones, but not in phones of low specs. The only other smartphone OS today, that is optimized for low-cost phones is bada, developed by Samsung. And there is Symbian.
There is a reason why Symbian development is slow, it is constantly developed with those needs in mind. It is also a very mobile phone-optimized operating system. It has had multitasking for years before anyone even saw an iPhone. It is not the most elegant OS, it is not the sexiest OS, it is not the best OS. It is not intended to be that, it is intended to be Nokia's engine to power low-cost 'entry level' smartphones later in this decade. And it should be measured by that metric, not compared to operating systems that were developed for premium phones only.
Developers can be frustrated that developing apps for Symbian is far slower and more cumbersome than for Android or iPhone. But that is not why Symbian exists. Symbian exists for enabling smartphones for those people on the planet who were not lucky enough to be born in North America or Western Europe. For that Nokia is developing MeeGo. Do not be confused about what Symbian is, and what is its purpose. It is used today, yes, to power Nokia's top phones, but that is only temporary, while Nokia finishes its new OS. The change in strategy was announced roughly at the time Nokia took control of Symbian and announced its development of its new OS based on Linux.
SNATCH DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY
But the most outrageous statements I have ever heard, about smartphone strategies, are those who call for Nokia to abandon Symbian for any other smartphone OS today, including obviously Android and Phone 7. Why now? While Symbian is clearly the biggest OS still on the planet (please remember, the Canalys numbers that got so widely reported last week, were wrong, even Google's own statement of Android shipments do not add up to what Canalys had counted. Other analysts have already said that Symbian is still the biggest).
Imagine if, when the Apple Macintosh OS was battling Microsoft's early Windows OS, and when Windows was bigger, suddenly Microsoft would have announced, they quit? The market leader doesn't quit! Those who fall behind, are the ones who quit. Nokia's Symbian is - by all analysts, all numbers, except that one Canalys faulty report now last week - the biggest OS. Yes, Android is growing. Yes, Android is bigger than Apple or RIM or Microsoft or Palm etc, but Symbian is still the biggest. This would be madness to quit now, while Nokia is ahead. Come back to us after Android has passed Symbian (and that is likely to happen - but is not sure to happen - later this year). If Symbian falls behind, then maybe we can consider are there merits to switch (and I think there are huge benefits to owning the control of your destiny even if you are second biggest haha, witness Apple's Mac 26 years on). To suggest now that Nokia toss in the towel is madness. Not while they are ahead, the clear global leader.
Now, if you are one of the world's biggest handset makers, and you know the industry will shift into smartphones, then what is the optimal strategy? It is to have full control of your own destiny in smartphones, meaning you make both the handsets, and the operating system (like two of Nokia's four biggest rivals: like RIM, and like Samsung. What of Apple? They don't make both! Apple make iOS but they subcontract the iPhone to Taiwan, so they don't even make their own phones. And HTC? They bid for Palm last year but were not able to buy it, they would also want to control their own destiny making their own OS).
This is what sets handset makers apart, into two classes. The top class are thosesmartphone makers who control their own OS - Nokia, RIM, Apple, Samsung and HP (via Palm acquisition). These five have full control of their destiny. The second tier makers are those who are hostage to the whims of outside smartphone OS makers, like HTC, Motorola, SonyEricsson, LG, Lenovo, Dell, Sharp, ZTE, etc.
What is the ultimate smartphone OS for the new decade? It is open source (something Apple's iOS, RIM's Blackberry OS, HP's Palm/WebOS, Microsoft's Phone 7 are not). It is Linux based (something Apple's iOS, RIM's Blackberry OS, HP's Palm/WebOS, Microsoft's Phone 7 are not) and in a perfect world, it is developed with a partner! Like Nokia's brand new MeeGo is with equal owner-partner-developer Intel (and unlike all other Operating Systems including Google's Android). And in a perfect world, you have multiple device makers committed to the operating system (something Apple does not allow, neither does RIM, neither does HP)
MeeGo is a Linux based, open source totally modern, brand-new from-the-ground up operating system for touch-screen based modern smartphones, co-owned by Nokia and Intel, with a family of device manufacturers already committed to the operating system.
You cannot judge MeeGo by Symbian. You at least have to give MeeGo a chance. It will be releasing first phones this year. It has been in development for several years (counting back to Nokia's previous Linux based OS, Maemo, and similar work by Intel also on Linux for smartphones). Android took a year to reach meaningful sales. Apple's iOS took a year to sell 10 million iPhones. Samsung's new bada sold 5 million in its first six months. Microsoft's Phone 7 only sold 1.5 million in one quarter. Nokia will be launching MeeGo phones this year. Apple was able to make iOS very compelling from the start. So was Google with Android. So was Samsung with bada. It is not 'impossible' to create a modern smartphone OS from scratch. Nokia has the longest history in making smartphones, so they know something about it (Nokia invented the smartphone) and Intel has some competence in the IT industry haha. And even when Nokia was 'repairing' an near-obsolete OS, Symbian, it could make S^3 so good it outsold Microsoft's best effort by 3 to 1. The fair assumption has to be, that MeeGo will be a reasonably modern, satisfactory operating system when it launches. Just if one looks at the user experiences of Maemo, on the Nokia N900 device, the reviews of the OS were very positive.
If MeeGo turns out to be a disaster as an operating system, and utterly fails the market. Then - and only then - can it be fair to consider abandoning MeeGo. Not now, when it is only months from launch, after years in development, even more so, where there is a partner developer/owner in Intel also involved, and even more so, when there are other device makers committed to MeeGo. It is possible, that MeeGo fails, and that Nokia should consider shifting to another OS, but absolutely definitely beyond any doubt, today, months before MeeGo launches, is not the time to shift, or to announce any kind of strategy to rival platforms. The least Nokia owes its developers and partners and ecosystem is to give MeeGo a fair chance.
Now, if you have a vast developer community, and you are going to shift your platform from under them, the dirty thing to do, is to abandon them and not give them a migration path (like Microsoft did with Phone 7, which was not offering a migration path to the big developer community and apps that Microsoft's previous OS, Windows Mobile had built). The right thing, in a perfect world, is to build a migration path for the developers. So that they can develop for both platforms as the shift occurs. This is the right way, but it is not the fastest way, and it definitely is not the cheapest way, but that is the right way, for the developers and ecosystem (and apps, and consumers). What do you think Nokia did? They did it the right way. They set up Qt as the development platform, that today allows for development once, publish on both platforms. This is the right way, to help the Nokia developer community from Symbian to easily migrate with Nokia to MeeGo. It is not the easiest and fastest way, but it is the best strategy, if you own the world's biggest smartphone OS platform, and you want to migrate your users to a newer platform.
OVI THE DOOR TO SERVICES AND APPS
So then the ecosystem, the services and apps. For Apple this is the iPhone App Store which serves not just iPhones but iPad and iPod Touch devices etc. We have the Android market place and Blackberry's app store and Microsoft's and all kinds of operator/carrier app stores and independents like Getjar etc. The biggest by far is Apple's which did about 7 Billion app downloads last year.
So, what of the much-maligned Nokia offering? Nokia's Ovi store has been evolving and improving and evolving and improving and you know what? They now do 4 million downloads per day, ie 1.5 Billion per year. Of all handset makers, Nokia's Ovi is now the second-bestselling app store, behind only Apple's. What was it about Nokia 'failing'?
Again, the facts are crystal-clear and irrefutable. Nokia's Ovi store is already the second-best performing app store. It doesn't matter one iota what some analyst or pundit thinks about their experience with Ovi. Ovi is a success and a rapidly growing run-away success. It dwarfs the app stores of the rest of the rivals like RIM or Palm or Samsung etc. The Ovi store is not as good a success as Apple's App Store, but nobody is, and Apple won't license its iOS to Nokia anyway. Nokia's Ovi is second best, and growing. Nokia is learning. Nokia intends to grow Ovi how? By doing the right thing! First of all it is on carrier billing - on over 100 carriers now. This is what all consumers prefer (and none of the rivals offer). Secondly by doing it with local content and languages, across more languages than any other app store. Again, this isthe Nokia way. Its not the fastest, it is what is best for the long term.
THIS IS HOW NOKIA FAILS
So, there are all those who scream that Nokia is failing. Is it? Lets only look at its smartphones. Nokia sold 100.3 million smartphones last year (profitably). The world's second biggest smartphone maker, RIM sold 48 million. Apple, the world's third biggest smartphone maker sold 47.5 million. Just counting its smartphones sales, Nokia is bigger than its two nearest rivals added together - and more than twice as big as its nearest rival.
If this is failure, please give me failure like this. If this is failure, every manager at Toyota or Coca Cola or Boeing or Levi's or Nike would love to fail this badly.
When you are that big, that you not only dominate your industry but you are more than twice as big as your nearest rival, and you fully control your own destiny, you do not abandon your own smartphone OS, or your partners, developers, app store etc.
THE ULTIMATE METRIC
But all of that becomes meaningless on one final metric. The true measure of "is Nokia succeeding or not", is only one measure. Can Nokia achieve a better market share in smartphones than in dumbphones. If so, that means Nokia is successfully migrating customers from dumbphones to smartphones. When you are the huge dominant player in your industry, this is the only thing that matters (assuming, obviously, that you do this profitably). The only way Nokia will be remembered at the end of this decade, is either Nokia was able to hold onto its market leadership in the transition to smartphones or else, that Nokia lost its lead in that transition. Like Motorola lost its lead (to Nokia) in the previous transition in phones, from analog 1G phones to digital 2G phones.
If it occurs, that Nokia's market share in smartphones is worse than in dumbphones, that means, that Nokia is actively losing customers when it migrates from dumbphones to smartphones. If that happens, then it is a true sign that Nokia is in trouble. What is this metric reporting? It is reporting again for Q4, like every single quarter of every single year since the first smarphone, that once again, Nokia's market share in smartphones is better than in dumbphones (and every single quarter, Nokia's handset unit has been profitable while managing this transition).
This is the ultimate metric, and as long as Nokia manages this ultimate trick, it is succeeding. It is irrelevant what you or I may think of Nokia's latest phone, or its user interface, or its app store selection or its operating system or its loyalty or customer satisfaction or whatever you want. If Nokia is able to gain market share, as it migrates from lower-cost dumbphones to higher cost smartphones - then that is the ultimate proof, that Nokia is executing a successful smartphone strategy, and it would be madness to change it.
I do not mean that Nokia is perfect. I do not mean that Nokia hasn't made big errors. I do not mean that Symbian is perfect or Ovi. I do not mean that Nokia's phones are perfect. Nokia has made many errors. But those are not in its Symbian strategy, and its migration to MeeGo via Qt, and they are not in the strategy with Ovi. Nokia's problems are elsewhere. To change the operating system now, would mess with a successful formula, would cause crisis inside Nokia and far more with Nokia partners and developers, and would serve to kill the best strategy of any legacy dumbphone maker migrating to smartphones. Yes, Nokia can do better and yes, Nokia has to do better, but changing to Android or Phone 7 now, would be a catastropic failure in strategy.
I am confident on February 11, Nokia's new CEO Stephen Elop will be announcing a strategy that acknowledges these elements of its current leadership. Nokia has issues and needs to change and is struggling in many ways. But do not expect Nokia to announce it is abandoning Symbian (and/or MeeGo) in favor of Phone 7 or Android. That won't happen.
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.