Blog Post

As bad as it seems now, Nokia’s future looks worse

After revising its earnings estimates downward in May, on Thursday Nokia shared abysmal results for the second quarter. The onetime clear leader of the first smartphone era has tumbled down to what looks like the third spot for smartphone sales, definitely behind Apple (s aapl) and likely behind Samsung as well. With a new CEO in Stephen Elop, Nokia (s nok) is surely in a transition, but a transition to what?

My first reaction to today’s results was twofold: one of sympathy and one of optimism. I thought to myself that one of Elop’s major actions so far, choosing Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 (s msft) platform for the future, was akin to quickly yanking a Band-Aid from a wound: Sometimes it’s best to just get the pain over with. But after digesting the news a little more and thinking about the path Nokia traveled to get to its current low point, I don’t see how the bleeding is going to stop this year, now that the Band-Aid is off. Here are five reasons why.

  • Feature phones can’t save the day. Each time I’ve pointed out Nokia’s challenges, the company’s faithful have railed at me and rallied on the general platform of “. . . but Nokia sells more feature phones than most others combined!” While that’s always been a valid point, it’s less relevant as the world transitions to smartphones. Nokia’s own sales numbers reflect this point: Total mobile-phone-handset sales revenue declined 20 percent from the year-ago period and 25 percent from the prior quarter. Combine the sales drop with a 3 percent decline in the ASP of Nokia’s mobile phones, now 36 euros ($51.20), and you can see that Nokia’s bread and butter contributed to its $692 million quarterly loss.
  • Existing smartphones aren’t helping. So as feature-phone sales are in decline, one would hope that high-profit-margin smartphones can help make up the difference. That’s not happening, given that the company didn’t capitalize on the smartphone market like Apple and Samsung, for example. Apple just reported 20.34 million iPhone sales for the quarter, a 142 percent boost from a year ago, while Samsung is estimated to have sold around 20 million smartphones in the same time period. This happened while Nokia’s smartphone sales declined 34 percent from a year ago, with 16.7 million smartphones sold. The ASP did rise 2 percent, but that’s not enough to offset the sales dropoff.
  • A smartphone answer doesn’t exist yet. Nokia is still at least one, if not two, quarters away from even beginning a sales transition to Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices. Elop today confirmed that Nokia would launch a Microsoft-powered device by the end of the year. That means sales and revenues in the high end are likely to continue declining throughout 2011. And there’s still uncertainty about the first WP7 handsets from Nokia: What will make them different from those offered by LG, Samsung and HTC, for example? Again, the Nokia faithful will chant that Nokia makes hardware second to none. I’d be the first to agree with that, but there are two problems with the mantra. Nokia always made good hardware, and yet that alone hasn’t saved the company. Second: Nokia may not be manufacturing its first Microsoft phones. Instead, it reportedly outsourced the production to Compal, in Taiwan. In other words: Nokia’s smartphone transition is still fraught with risks for many reasons, and it’s going to take time for Nokia to hone its skills on a new platform.
  • Android squeezes at the top and bottom. Clearly, Nokia isn’t competing well in smartphones, given the growth rates shown by devices running iOS and Android (s goog). It’s the latter of the two that may have hurt Nokia the most. Why? Google is activating 550,000 Android devices per day — both handsets and tablets, but the vast majority are phones — and that number is composed of devices at both the top and bottom. High-end smartphones are selling well in regions that can afford them. At the same time, cheap Android smartphones are popping up in areas where feature phones once reigned. Think of India and the next 500 million mobile users. Look to China, where Nokia moved 52 percent fewer phones this quarter as compared to the past one. In these areas, inexpensive, low- to mid-tier Android phones are arriving and offering much more functionality for just a little more money over feature phones. We’re even seeing these in the U.S.: This year offered $149 no-contract Androids with expectations of prices dipping below $100 by the end of the year.
  • How much destruction can one brand take? Among the many negative tangible results for Nokia today, there’s a massive intangible one as well: a tarnished brand. Tomi Ahonen illustrates the global branding Nokia has on his blog today, saying “[M]ore people use a Nokia phone than drink a Coca Cola, than wear Levis’s jeans, than tell time on a Timex watch, than wear Nike running shoes, than smoke Marlboro cigarettes, or write with a Bic pen.” As sales of Nokia devices continue to stumble, the brand itself loses value in terms of consumer and investor confidence. With smartphones, the brand is tied not just to hardware but also to software and services: Consumers are purchasing brand platforms and ecosystems when they buy a handset. Think of it this way: When consumers purchase an iPhone, they equate the full package with Apple, a company that arguably sets a high bar for the entire user experience. What will customers think of when they see a Nokia smartphone after the company’s fall from grace?
I still have the same sympathy for Nokia that I had over my first cup of morning java. It’s never good to see a global leader heading toward “has been” status, especially with all the innovation Nokia has brought to so many people around the globe. But the optimism I had dissolved faster than the sugar in my coffee, faster maybe than Nokia’s overall profits and sales.
Image courtesy of Flickr user ecastro

39 Responses to “As bad as it seems now, Nokia’s future looks worse”

  1. 1. How come a company like Nokia can’t deliver portrait mode keyboard for almost a year on symbian ^3?
    2. Why they abandoned N9 Meego? Very neat device with innovative OS. Poor Intel, Nokia simply dumped them.
    3. Why would Elop announced that Nokia is a burning platform and that symbian is dying soon while in the end they say that symbian will be supported until 2016?
    4. Same goes to Meego. Doesn’t it seem like Elop saying: DON’T BUY SYMBIAN OR MEEGO – get WP?
    5. I’m fed up. Fell in love with e71 few years ago, great features at that time and sexy design, still think nokia phones have nice look and feel, but enough lying to myself, they are not going to catch up anytime soon. Meanwhile i’m going Android. Google rules nowdays.

  2. Isaac Ogdan

    Looking on latest Nokia phones; C7, N8, E7 & E6; install on each WM OS, and you got several very promising devices that could succeed globally quiet well.

    There is no doubt Nokia did mistake, but they were clever enough to recognize situation and turn their ship towards. In the end their phone are best hardware.

  3. Nokia has been on top of the list of mobile phones companies for a long time i remember the launch of N series mobiles People were just crazy to get that what seriously effected nokia’s status was launch of i Phone and then came android phones, now nokia is trying hard to regain its market presence…wish nokia a very good luck…

  4. TheRealist

    I loved my Nokia 6160. It was a beast. Loved Nokia as a brand too. Hope they can pull it off. I have doubts though. MS brand doesnt excite anyone
    Ike Apple & Google… Otherwise they can go back to manufacturing tires….

  5. Blerim

    As the patenting games plays lately, I think Nokia made huge mistakes of not patenting every single phone feature. Apple on the other side is patenting anchor links and suing Android phone companies of anchor links on emails. Apple seems to be playing unfair and Nokia seems to be losing it!

  6. Kokoro Dudu

    One thing Nokia and Microsoft could do now is to find an easy app where existing Nokia “smartphones” can be upgraded to Windows 7. Imagine getting N9 and E7 on Windows 7 now. Though they might not be able to get sales but at least could show how the future would go..

  7. Nokia has been on the way down for a while now, yes their still selling well in the third world markets but it’s only a matter of time before android/winmo, etc start releasing cheaper handsets to compete directly with that market. The Nokia fan’s at this point sound like the captain of the Titanic…living in total denial!!

  8. I’m afraid my predictions based on the Feb 11 strategy change have come true. In hindsight how could this current situation not have happened?
    When Elop switched Nokia’s focus on to Windows Phone he sent a message out to every phone shop salesman in the world that Symbian is a zombie. I’m sure that many previous Nokia customers will have been advised to get an Android or iPhone when choosing their next upgrade and this is sure to continue until at least the end of the year if not into next.
    This makes me wonder if Elop was naive and didn’t realize this would happen or very clever, intentionally wrecking Symbian sales to force Nokia to accept the medicine that he was administering.
    It’s clear now that there is no going back for Nokia – they have to make Windows Phone 7 work for them and fast.

  9. If Nokia could just readjust their products to be more competitive then they can survive. I use a Blackberry at the moment and just 2 years ago I loved my Nokia N95. I’ve use Nokia’s that are around now and they are awful, compared the Apple and BB its their own poor research that has shot them in the foot. But by no means is it too late the smart phone industry can change in months.

  10. Am speaking from my country Kenya where the phone is doing not well in terms sales. Low end android especially Huawei is realy giving the rest of the phones a run of the money. am still waiting to see what strategy or what windows will offer in terms of application where it is still limiting as compared to android.

  11. Praveen

    Hi Kevin, insightful comments. thank you. I have been reading GigaOm as I used to find your blogs heavy on substance and low on sensation. Unfortunately, off late you guys seem to be succumbing to sensationalism (using catchy headlines to drive traffic). This turns me off. Guess will have to find another tech blog. cheers.

    • Sorry to see you go Praveen. I’d be curious what about this headline or post was sensationalistic? I only ask because Nokia’s financial situation and dramatic market share loss (both factual, not my interpretation) sort of speak for themselves. Or better yet: what did I miss that show Nokia’s immediate future to be positive and not negative? Thanks!

  12. Well Nokia can’t change now to Android. It is the end of the road for them. Unless say Samsung buys them. Can it happen?

    Now RIM (not the subject here – I know …) should just move to Android and provide a niche market of professional applications and probably even an OS flavor (like HTC / Motorola) that targets that market.

    Microsoft, can get out of it too. With a big cost. They should target (home) tablets and not mobile (tablets) smart-phones. With that market proximity to the desktop applications they have a huge advantage with Windows 8 coming soon. And leave the smartphone battle for another day.

    Heads should fly and blood should be spilled – metaphorically I grant you – with all 3 companies.

  13. Very nice post, only a miracle can save nokia. The symbian platform that they acquired, is now become a headache and they can’t simply abandon it. Nokia is not capitalizing on android’s success, instead, they are making a feeble attempt with their own OS. People have now started using android, cuz its open-source, has TONS of free apps and its easy for developers to make apps which are very portable on any android platform…

  14. Does Nokia’s agreement with Microsoft have any clause for excluding Android? Probably does. If not, and if Nokia built Android phones, their fortune will see an immediate turn around. I would seriously considering switching to a Nokia Android phone next year. Unfortunately, this is not gonna happen.

  15. Mike Reilly

    In about 2 months or less, I will buy my first Apple iPhone, the iPhone 5, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Nokia and Microsoft can change my mind, if they will change theirs. All they have to do is play to Windows strong suit, but so far they refuse to see it. Windows Phone is trying so hard to be iOS that it can’t see inking and handwriting recognition as its primary winning differentiator. Integration with MS Office and other Microsoft programs comes in 2nd, and integration with Windows 3rd programs comes in 3rd. All of these are unique winners for Windows Phone 7, and Nokia, if they will embrace them, probably in that order. Give me a 4.3 quality screen, with a high resolution, top quality digitzer, that I can take to job sites and meetings, and take notes and make sketches. If need be, for now, the handwriting recognition can take place when I transfer to Windows, via cloud. Give me One Note. Give me Mobile Office, but if I have bought Windows Office for my Windows computer, give me a code for at least a Windows Office Lite on my Windows Phone.
    All of this fits in perfectly with the concept of Windows 8, but I must have part of it now, particularly the inking, text recognition, and digitizer, with Nokia/Windows Phone 7. Otherwise, I might as well buy the iPhone 5.

    • kidsilver

      firstly, considering your requirements, I think an android phone is a better option for you than iphone, since you seem more of a power user.

      second, windows phone comes with office preinstalled, for free. there is no pen input/digitizer, however I think that is all stuff that will come down the line. There are a few apps that let you finger paint to text, then copy and paste, but I dont think thats what you are after.

      In WP7’s defence, I think a HD7 is exactly what you are after, except the handwriting. But I dont think iOS or android offer handwriting support either.

    • Bryan Lue

      I don’t believe handwriting is going to be in any wp7 device. Look for it in Win8 and how is moving to the iPhone5 going to help you with any of this. The only integrated office device is going to be wp7 once the mango update is released.

  16. Stuart

    In their mobile phones area, I wonder if the introduction of their dual-sim phones will help stem the tide in developing countries. Though announced over a year ago they are just now being sold. I’m hoping they’ll offer a qwerty dual-sim phone. Hopefully the N9 starts to be sold during Q3 so that it’s potential impact can be felt.

  17. Yet another doomsday article about Nokia. These are getting old.

    Nokia performed better than expected. Anyone that was actually waiting for actual good news from Nokia this quarter knows next-to-nothing about the mobile industry. Of course Nokia lost money this quarter. They said as much with their “things are more grim than expected” profit warning back in May. Just by walking into a store and asking what they recommend would give one the insight to realize that Nokia’s sales weren’t going to be anything remotely close to good enough. In fact, the 3rd quarter will likely have more of the same.

    As for the Symbian->WP7 transition, I grantyou that Nokia should have handled the transition much better. Hindsight is 20/20. On the other hand, had Nokia given some squishy announcement in February about Symbian being alive and well while migrating to WP, the tech press would have been all over them like stink on s#!t. It’s a classic case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Had they adopted Android, everyone would have scorned them for being unoriginal. Had they recommitted to Meego, they would have been chastised as bunch of Finnish crazies.

    So now, let’s be fair to the once great Nokia. They will have a VERY bad 2011. That is already in the stock price, though. It has been for quite some time. However, it will take considerably longer than another year for Nokia to meet its demise…or for the price to fall enough for someone to want the headache of acquiring it.

    I think the future holds great things for the company. It won’t be the same company of the 1996-2007 time frame, but a great company none-the-less.

    • I beg to differ. This article has it spot-on. If anything, it understates the pressure on Nokia.

      Missing from the article is that, in addition to the assault on Nokia from iPhone (at the high end) and Android (at the mid-range and high end), they are getting killed in China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere by Chinese handsets built around the MTK chipset. It’s happening very, very quickly.

      Decreased market share in feature phones will disrupt and diminish Nokia’s distribution network, further weakening their ability to sell smartphones.

  18. Wow, you really sounded the gong of death on that company :) Personally I like Nokia, and I’m going to upgrade to Nokia the moment they launch a W7 phone. Nokia’s antenna is really really good, and I’m wary of trusting any other company with my money… especially because Apple products are expensive enough in India to leave me with googly-eyes… there’s a lot of trust out here on the brand, let’s hope Nok will be able to replicate it and exploit it over here and other places globally…

  19. Jon Martin

    I don’t fully get the argument. Nokia currently has not one decent smartphone and yet it’s still selling a lot of them. If it had a smartphone that was, in fact, half decent, it could sell a lot more.

    It’s easy to forget how fickle people are. Some of Nokia’s biggest sellers in the early days were no different to any other phone, they were just a bit more stylish. Nokia and Microsoft together can create a phone as good as an iphone or high-end Android. It doesn’t need to be better for a lot of people, it just needs to be different. The market is huge as are the margins. Nokia won’t rule the world again but if they get it right they can do okay.

    • Jon, you’re correct that Nokia still sells a lot of smartphones (and non smartphone for that matter). But it sells them all at a far lower average selling price than competitors and it’s selling fewer phones each quarter than the last at a time when the general market is fast growing. So sales are declining on a product that’s not making them money; hence the large financial losses. Market share has tumbled and that turns off 3rd party developers. Now the company is going to be just another Windows Phone 7 licensee, so it has lost the competitive advantage it could have had by using its own operating system. Simply put: Nokia didn’t adopt fast enough to the smartphone market of today and when it tried to, it spent so much on R&D (for marginal products and services) that it started to become unprofitable.

      I agree that “Nokia and Microsoft together can create a phone as good as an iphone or high-end Android” but I question if it will happen and if it does, will it be too late? Nokia can still survive, but we’re watching it systematically be de-throned… something we’ve been saying for several years.

      • Nokia does not sell smartphones. They sell feature phones, and advanced feature phones. Just like RIM. They’ve been calling them smartphones for years (and before that, “multimedia computers”) but they really aren’t smartphones in the way that iOS and Android devices are. It really is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

        The day that iPhone launched in 2007, Nokia needed to realize that the definition of “smartphone” had changed forever. They did not — they clung to their sales figures, touting “we sell more smartphones in a month than Apple in 1 year”. In truth, they have never actually been in the (new) smartphone game.

        It is truly sad to watch a once-great company in this state. But Nokia has always sucked — with a capital “S” — at software. The advent of the (new) smartphone age signified the triumph of software over hardware (or in the case of Apple, software married with hardware). Not being a software company, Nokia never grasped this fundamental fact.

  20. The thing that sits in my mind is that given their amazing hardware capability, their only remote chance is if M$ can deliver a superlative user experience that exploits those hardware chops!

    If not RIP Nokia, I will always miss the potential and promise of the early tablet and Meego days.

  21. The big question is, “Will Microsoft save Nokia?”

    Basically, if a big-company-that-bet-the-farm-on-Windows-Phone dies, that might take windows phone with it. To prevent that, Microsoft might have to do something.

    • “To prevent that, Microsoft might have to do something.” Possible of course. An outright purchase of Nokia by Microsoft? Perhaps. But that would fundamentally change Microsoft’s business model as it would effectively be competing against its licensees. If that happens, they likely defect to Android or something else.

      • Kevin, WP7’s sales seem to suggest that licensee defections might not hurt that much. I’d guess that both sides of this partnership are desperate at this point, making anything possible.

        • Very fair point, Paul, and that could open up the door to such a purchase in the future. I still wonder about it though because it’s not in Microsoft’s DNA to build and sell hardware. The two notable exceptions (not counting keyboards, mice and the like) are the Xbox and Zune products. But you’re right: desperate times call for desperate measures!

      • TWiT Commander

        “it’s not in Microsoft’s DNA to build and sell hardware”

        Dear Xbox,

        It’s just a bad dream. No one said that.