In 2011 the mobile industry faced a shock. The world's largest handset maker, largest smartphone maker, the owner of the bestselling and most-used smartphone OS platform, the second bestselling app store, and second largest network infrastructure provider; the company that made the second largest revenues of any mobile industry player in 2010 when counting only their mobile revenues (and the second biggest profits behind only Apple) - this would be Nokia obviously - announced a strategy change.
Never before has any company owning the world's bestselling 'platform' abandoned it for one made by a competitor, when it was still the biggest in the world. Sony didn't do this with Betamax or Playstation, Microsoft didn't do this with DOS or Windows or Xbox, etc. But after Nokia hired ex-Microsoft dude Stephen Elop as its new CEO, Nokia suddenly abandoned the Symbian platform - and Nokia's new MeeGo OS that was supposed to replace it - and switched not to the world's biggest smartphones platform (Android, like when Sony finally abandoned Betamax, and went to VHS); no, Nokia selected the smallest of 6 operating systems in smartphones and selected Windows for its new smartphone strategy. Could such a foolish strategy succeed?
The gorilla in the room, by far the biggest handset maker in the world - more than 50% bigger than its nearest rival - and the inventor of the smartphone - where Nokia truly dominated, in 2010, Nokia sold more that twice the smartphones as Apple and four times as many as Samsung. Nokia's overpowering position in smartphones was far stronger than Toyota has EVER had in cars, or General Motors or Fiat or Nissan or Honda. Nokia's position in smartphones was bigger than HP has ever had in PCs, or IBM, or Dell, or Compaq or Apple. During 2010 Nokia grew MORE than Apple and Samsung in smartphones - meaning Nokia was growing the lead it had over its nearest rivals - and Nokia did this with a very healthy smartphone business - the profits in the smartphone unit actually grew - at a Nokia record level - at the end of the year as the new CEO took charge.
Then in February, Stephen Elop announced he is abandoning the winning ways of Nokia in smartphones running Nokia's own Symbian and its about-to-be-launched MeeGo smartphone platforms, and would switch to Windows instead. Windows Phone was lingering as 6th in the rankings of smartphones. So Nokia abandoned the world's largest platform for a tiny one. Yes, certainly a risky move. So risky, Nokia identified literally hundreds of itemized risks to this perilous move, in the formal filing of the Form 20-F to the USA Securities Exchange Commission and the NY Stock Exchange.
MASSIVE GROWING GORILLA
Nokia smartphones using Symbian were the bestselling smartphone and most used smartphone OS and app store in China, the world's largest smartphone market. They were also the bestselling smartphone and OS and app store in all of Asia. In the world's most advanced market, Japan, while Nokia's own brand was not a player, the major Japanese handset makers from Panasonic and Fujitsu and Sharp on down, were producing some of the world's most advanced handsets running Symbian. In India, the world's fastest-growing mobile market in 2010, Nokia's Symbian dominated the scene as the bestselling smartphone, OS and app store.
On the continent of Africa of 1 Billion people, Nokia was the bestselling smartphone, Symbian the bestselling OS and app store. On the continent of Europe, where more smartphones were sold than in North America, Nokia was safely the biggest smartphone maker and Symbian the best OS and Nokia's Ovi the bestselling App Store. On the continent of Latin America - with more mobile phone users than in North America, Nokia was the bestselling smartphone, Symbian the bestselling OS and Nokia's Ovi store the bestselling app store.
Only in North America, the second smallest of the inhabited continents, and Australia, a continent so small even Canada alone has a bigger population, was Nokia not the biggest smartphone maker, OS and app store. Even on the uninhabited continent of Antarctica, Nokia's Maemo OS was the most used smartphone and platform - due to the Linux compatibility of the highly advanced N900 superphone, that was very suitable for scientific computing uses.
Nokia's smartphone sales grew 29% in 2009 and Nokia was one of very few smartphone makers able to generate profits out of its smartphone unit as the world went into the global recession. In 2010, Nokia's smarpthone division grew unit sales 34%, again profitably. As I mentioned, Nokia grew new sales more than Apple's highly-praised iPhone in 2010, or Samsung powered by its highly-praised Galaxy series. And this massive growth was now put into risk by Nokia's CEO, Stephen Elop, who suddenly announced in February 2011, a Windows Phone based strategy and promised he would migrate the total Nokia smartphone product line from Nokia's own Symbian, Maemo & MeeGo operating systems to Microsoft's Windows Phone.
TWO YEAR PLAN
Elop told us that the transition would take two years, and that the intention was to migrate all existing Nokia customers from Symbian to Windows. His strategy's goal was literally to achieve 1-to-1 transition as Nokia testified in Form 20-F "This strategy recognizes the opportunity to retain and transition the installed base of approximately 200 million Symbian owners to Nokia Windows Phone smartphones over time." And the strategy was very explicitly said to take two years "We expect the transition to Windows Phone as our primary smartphone platform to take about two years."
The new strategy was revealed on February 11, 2011. We are now two weeks from that deadline, the two-year period is closing. Lets examine how well the 1-to-1 transition promise has been fulfilled, and explicitly, lets examine every published forecast by mobile handset industry experts who gave an analysis of this highly risky move being plausible. So this blog is a review of the forecasters, who were put to the test. This was the biggest forecast for 2011, arguably the most important forecast of the whole decade in mobile. Could Nokia achieve a transition of its 103 million smartphone sales per year - at a 1-to-1 level - from Symbian to Windows. And before we can look at the various forecasters, I have to make a brief overview about forecasting. What is easy, what is difficult in forecasting.
SHORT OVERVIEW OF FORECASTS
The easiest forecast to make, is to look at an existing trend, and to project it into the future.
This is really basic linear math. Does not require much of analysis to do this. Note, very often this is how we do forecasts, as this also often is the pattern we expect. Some industry trend growing (or shrinking) willl continue into the next few periods, at roughly the same rate as the recent history. This does not require much insight by the analyst, but also does not provide much insight to the interested person studying the phenomenon. Yet, often this is reality.
Then there is the 'safe' forecast. This is what technology forecasters often offer us
That is taking the historical past growth, and assuming it will slow down in the coming years. There will yes still be grwoth, but it will be at a slower rate. This is what we see all the time in the industry - Apple's iPhone will continue to grow, but at a slower rate. Samsung will continue to grow, but at a slower rate. Global mobile subscriber numbers will continue to grow, but at a slower rate. Smartphone sales will continue to grow, but at a slower rate. SMS text messaging will continue to grow, but at a slower rate, etc etc etc. This is the 'safest' forecast in general, in a high-growth tech space. Most short-term forecasts made in the industry follow this pattern. It is, also, most likely to turn true, so it is a 'safe' forecast to make.
The difficult forecasts are 'inflection points' when a growth pattern turns into decline (or vice versa)
This is very difficult to pinpoint. These often go wrong even by very good forecasters, but this type of forecast offers significant insights, even if the exact timing turns out to be off by a period or two.
The most difficult forecast to make, is to pick the new rate of decline (or growth) after an inflection point when there used to be growth (or decline). This is by far the most difficult forecasting task. This requires very deep insights and is still prone to considerable error. Here the best a good forecaster can hope for, is to be 'less wrong' than most peers..
WHEN CEO PROVIDES NEW GUIDANCE
What if a company and/or its CEO provides us new guidance. Telling us, that the past days are now gone, for whatever reason, and he/she suggests a new path for the company, at a lesser rate than before. This is the easiest forecast to make:
This is essentially the 'lazy' forecast. Saying that yes, you fully agree with the CEO. Here is a very big risk that you have been drinking the Cool-Aid and are actually accepting optimistic views by the CEO. This is not automatically that the 'analyst' is in the pocket of the company and mimicking the projections, but there is a strong danger that this is not a deeply considered and independent forecast...
Then there is of course the safe forecast. Take the promise by the CEO, and say it will be mildly missed. That the reality will be slightly below the promise
This is obvioulsy the 'safe' forecast from the above, adapted to the new situation as explained by the CEO.
But there is one type of forecast, which is irresponsible and unless very explicit reasons are given why the CEO is wrong, and this pattern will emerge despite what the CEO has said, this is a delusional and utterly incompetent forecast to make
In this case the forecaster actually discounts the CEO's warnings and foolishing thinks the growth of the past is close to continuing. Any forecast like this should be taken as a VERY strong warning that the forecaster is incompetent and should not be considered unless very compelling explanations are provided by the analyst why the analyst view is superior to the CEO/company in question, and only if the analyst makes the explicit point, that they acknowledge the CEO expectation but find reason to differ from it. With that, lets look at the forecasts for Nokia smarpthone sales for 2012, made in 2011.
COMPARISON OF FORECASTS OF NOKIA SMARTPHONE SALES IN 2012, MADE IN 2011
Here are all published smartphone analyst house forecasts for Nokia smartphones, made after the February 11, 2011 strategy change. Note, I am not including forecasts of purely Windows Phone sales (as those include other manufacturers, and we do not have final Windows Phone sales yet reported - I will do another blog about Windows Phone forecasts too). So this is every mobile industry analyst who published a forecast for explicitly Nokia smartphones, or published a forecast for Symbian and Windows Phone - for 2012. If the analyst gave a forecast deeper into the future, I have used the equivalent point for 2012 within their trend. Wherever the analyst gave an actual unit count - number of smartphones sold in millions - I used that, but if the analyst only gave a market share, I have converted the forecasted market share to units, by 2012 total smartphone shipment number of 710 million.
Here is the honor roll. Here is how your big mobile industry analysts compare in the most important forecast made in theyear 2011:
This picture may be freely shared
So lets examine each briefly.
ASYMCO February 14, 2011 - 68M - Error 93%
(calcuated from diagram)
Horace Dediu was first out of the gate, his projection is not strictly a forecast of Nokia smartphone sales, his was more a 'best fit' of attempting to reconcile Nokia's promise of 150 million more Symbian sales, and the ramp-down of Symbian and ramp-up of Windows. Before anyone snickers one bit, I must point out, Asymco was the third most accurate forecast. Then recall, Horace expressed a lot of doubt about this Nokia promise and finished his analysis by writing "One could question why would anyone buy a product whose platform that’s been declared end of life. Perhaps there is a built-in assumption that end users are inherently stupid."
Note, Asymco gets the direction correctly, that Nokia smartphone sales in 2012 will be below those of 2010. Of all analysts, his is one of only three whose forecast is off by less than 100%. This is exceptionally notable, being the first forecast published, that four subsequent forecasters managed to publish later forecasts - with more data points to use - and still achieve bigger errors than Asymco.
IDC - April 2011 - 148 Million - Error 318%
(using full Symbian numbers but only half of Windows Phone numbers)
(calculated from trend)
IDC only gave a market share percentage and they gave the starting point and ending point of their forecast period, from which I calculated - using IDC's provided CAGR number - the 2012 numbers as 15.7% for Symbian in 2012 and 9.6% for Windows Phone (and only assigned half of WP to Nokia). IDC had clearly a bizarre projection, and one can only say it was delusional, incompetent and one has to raise the quesiton to ask, is this honestly an independent forecast, or has this been purchased by Nokia/Microsoft to influence the story? Why would Nokia smartphone sales jump up - massively - by 43% - when Nokia CEO himself says he expects flat sales? Obviously the reality is now out, IDC's forecast off by a massive 318% even as I was very generous to them, and not assign the real Nokia contribution percent to Windows Phone (in the 75% to 88% range as it has been) but only assigning half of IDC's forecast of Windows Phone to Nokia. IDC knows now how ridiculous that original Windows Phone and Nokia forecast was, they cut their Windows Phone long-term forecast down by nearly half in December 2012 - without any explanations of why the massive drop in their projection. Still, of a major company selling big analysis of the handset industry, this is truly pathetically poor performance. Shame on you IDC.
GARTNER - April 2011 - 66.8 Million - Error 89%
(using full Symbian numbers but only half of Windows Phone numbers)
Gartner was the second most accurate forecaster of Nokia smarpthone sales for 2012, of any forecast made in 2011 (behind only me). Congratulations. Gartner gave the 2012 Symbian forecast as 32.6 million and Windows Phone as 68.2 million (I used half of that for Nokia). Gartner tends to be very meticulous in their handset industry analysis and numbers, and rarely make booboos. They had the correct direction and while yes, their error is still big, they were less than 100% off in their forecast. Like with IDC, I assigned only half of Gartner's Windows Phone number to Nokia, plus all their Symbian. Gartner gave actual unit sales projections for both platforms for year 2012 allowing us a nice precise number, to one decimal point, as well.
PYRAMID - May 2011 - 153 Million - Error 332% - Most inaccurate
(using full Symbian numbers but only half of Windows Phone numbers)
Pyramid did not give units, it gave market share. Pyramid said that Symbian would have 7.5% in 2012 and Windows Phone 28% (of which I assigned half to Nokia). Pyramid was not just drinking the Nokia/Microsoft Cool-aid, this forecast is delusional, thinking Nokia sales would jump after this partnership. Pyramid were the most inaccurate forecaster. They were off 332% in a forecast reaching only 19months into the future from when it was made in May of 2011. This is clearly a sign that either Pyramid was in the pocket of Nokia/MIcrosoft or else they were simply baiting for headlines. Their analysis is pathetic and as they have never even issued a newer lower forecast, is clear proof Pyramid are charlatans and have no place in mobile handset analysis. Shame on you Pyramid. Quit peddling your sad analysis. (like with IDC and Gartner, I used all Symbian numbers and as kind as possible for Pyramid, assigned only half of their Windows Phone forecast to Nokia. The reality was obviously even worse than this if we used the real Nokia share). BTW, if someone sold me such bullsh*t forecast as this Pyramid rubbish, in 2011, and didn't issue a correction by now - I sure would demand to get my money back...
TOMI AHONEN - July 2011 - 45.4 Million - Error 27% - Most accurate
The most accurate forecast, literally 3x more accurate than the second most accurate in forecasting Nokia smartphone unit sales in 2012, of forecasts made in 2011. My forecast was in unit sales numbers, like Gartner, up to one decimal point, as well as market share. I also gave quarter-by-quarter breakdown. I'll discuss my own forecasts later, lets first see the rest of the field.
TREFIS - NOVEMBER 2011 - 107 Million - Error 202%
Trefis offered only a market share forecast of 15% which I converted to units. What makes this forecast particularly odeous, is that it was made in November, after 3 quarters of the Elop Effect, Ratner Effect and Osborne Effect had been seen. And while Nokia CEO initially promised a 1-to-1 transition, and then he had already admitted he cannot deliver the level of sales he wanted - Trefis still feels Nokia somehow magically will jump sales to above what they were when the strategy was announced. Trefis clearly is not competent to analyze handsets, but it should be pointed out, they don't claim to be so either. They are a Wall Street analyst website, with tools for investors to make online projections. So Trefis can be partially forgiven for being 'amateurs' at the handset game and we just need to observe that their forecast was off massively.
MORGAN STANLEY - January 2012 - 77 Million - Error 118%
Morgan Stanley took the safe forecast route in January 2012. They looked at Elop's promise of a 1-to-1 transition, and his subsequent observation that Nokia cannot achieve that anymore - and Morgan Stanley went safely below what Nokia CEO had initially promised. But this is still a pretty lame forecast, that when made 9 months after Gartner, Morgan Stanley still managed to make their error bigger than that of Gartner. Nonetheless, at lest Morgan Stanley did get the direction correct, that yes, Nokia's smarpthone sales would decline in 2012 compared to 2010, not increase.
That's your field. The published forecasts for Nokia smartphones (remember, I will return with a separate blog about Windows Phone forecasts - they are far worse). If you know of any other published forecast for Nokia smarpthones, listing unit sales or market share, published between February 11, 2011 and January 31, 2012, let me know, I will happily add to this list.
TOMI AHONEN FORECAST
Then my forecast. Once again, I have been the most accurate forecaster in the mobile industry, and again, by a HUGE margin over the next-best forecaster. On February 15, 2011, I gave my first numbers and market shares forecast for Nokia smartphones, but only for the quarters of the year 2011. It was the most pessimistic forecast by any analyst in the industry, and obviously also I was by far the most accurate.
But Elop promised us a 2 year transition. It is possible, that there would be a 'dip' in the first year, and a 'recovery' in the second year. So the real measure of the forecaster in 2011, is what they said of Nokia in 2011 for its full-year performance in 2012. My full numbers forecast for Nokia for 2012 was made on 25 July 2011, when I published these as my forecast numbers for Nokia for 2012:
TOMI AHONEN FORECAST JULY 2011
Q1 2012 - 11 M total Nokia smartphones
Q2 2012 - 11 M total Nokia smartphones
Q3 2012 - 11 M total Nokia smartphones
Q4 2012 - 12.4 M total Nokia smartphones
TOTAL 45.4 Million smartphones in 2012, market share: 7%
(Nokia reality was 35.3 million and 5%)
My forecast was off by only 29%. The next most accurate forecaster, Gartner, was off 89% ie literally 3 times bigger error than in my forecast. This is not even close. The difference between what I projected for Nokia smartphones for 2012, and the next most accurate forecaster said, using Nokia smartphone average sales prices, is worth 3.3 Billion Euros (4.1 Billion dollars) in revenues. If the next best forecaster's view had turned out to be true, Nokia would not have had to sell its HQ and some of its factories this past year...
So yes, understand, this forecast was made obviously in July, 2011, after I had seen 2 quarters of the damage of the Elop Effect, and had learned of the retail and carrier boycotts against Nokia and against Microsoft (separately from the Nokia sales boycott, the Microsoft boycott was triggered in June by Microsofts purchase of Skype). What I expected was, of course, that Nokia's CEO would launch sensible Lumia smartphones, using Nokia strengths like NFC, FM radios, full QWERTY keypads, great cameras, wide connectivity such as unrestricted Bluetooth, etc. I could not imagine how badly the CEO would mess up the launch of the Lumia series. So in May of 2012, after I had seen two quarters of Lumia sales, I gave my revised/updated forecast which had my Nokia 2012 smartphone forecast sales downgraded to 35.3 million and 5% market share. I know, I know, that is an ASTONISHINGLY accurate number, but - this is no longer so difficult a forecast, its now into year 2012 and we have seen two quarters of Lumia sales to use so while yes, it was 'spot-on' perfect, that is not the relevant measure. The truly difficult forecast was those made in 2011. And you can see from the table what other so-called experts projected for Nokia in 2012, and what I said, and where the truth was.
Whats far more, is that where most of my peers only gave an annual forecast, I gave you far more detail and data. I gave quarter-by-quarter breakdowns. Where most rivals only gave either a numeric unit sales number or market share, I gave both. And most of my peers did not address the Average Sales Price, nor Nokia revenues or profits. I predicted totally correctly in February 2011, that the new Nokia strategy would plunge Nokia smartphone unit into loss-making instantly (as it did) and that Nokia would not recover from those losses in the smartphone unit by the end of 2012 - as it hasn't - and that the troubles in the smartphone unit would even pull the whole Nokia corporation into loss-making (as it did) but that Nokia would pull out of that by end of 2012 (as it did). I have given Windows Phone/Lumia breakdowns vs Symbian sales - by increasing accuracy as we saw the devices and their initial sales. And so forth.
Most importantly, when I make a change to my forecast - and as some vital data changes, a professional forecaster will update his/her forecast of course - I am open about it, and explain clearly WHY my forecast has been updated. Not like we saw with IDC, who just very sheepisly, without any commentary, cut their Windows Phone forecast by half. That to me, sounds like pretty unprofessional behavior.
So back to the point. Just on the overall forecast, made in 2011, of the most important mobile industry forecast of the year 2011 (Arguably the most important forecast of the decade) - I was once again the most accurate forecaster in mobile. My forecast was off, yes, by 29% - but the next most accurate forecaster, Gartner, was off by 89% - literally three times more error than in my forecast. Do I give value here on this blog? And remember, the whole blog is free, no banner ads to annoy you, no registration hassles to go through and I don't cull your emails or bombard you with spam later.
SO WHO DO YOU TRUST NOW?
Going forward, if some of these 'analysts' have promised you a 20% nirvana for Nokia smartphones in the cozy Windows Phone ecosystem, and they were off by 200% or 300% or more, can you trust them? And what of me, who said back in 2011, that Nokia's smartphone unit sales will collapse and Nokia's market share will crash, and I was the closest to the truth? When I now say that going forward into 2013 - when Nokia currently has 3% market share in Q4 - that Nokia's market share in smartphones may stabilize to about 3% or may still fall to nearer 2%.. who ya gonna trust, eh? Don't, please don't delude yourself into thinking Nokia can magically recover to 25% using Windows Phone. Nokia has been selling Windows Phone for 5 quarters now, to dismal success. In fact 17 out of every 20 customers that Nokia tried to shift to Windows from Symbian, has run away and bought some other brand. And 2 of the 3 who were tricked into buying Lumia, hate it so much, they will not replace their current phone with another Windows Phone based smartphone in the future. This strategy has failed. Comprehensively. (Insert here usual rants: Elop needs to be fired, he's the most incompetent CEO of all time, presiding over the biggest corporate collapse of any market leader in any industry, ever. He has literally established a world record in corporate failure. Why is he still running Nokia today?)
With that - some who read this blog may want my latest forecast? I released my TomiAhonen Mobile Forecast 2012-2015 last summer including of course lots of handset industry and market forecasts. It has 110 data points forecasted, see more here
And who wants all the current stats on the handset industry? Check out the TomiAhonen Phone Book 2012 (note, this is not a forecast, it is only current statistical data up to year 2012).