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Nokia: Android fragmentation helps us

Chris Weber, the newly appointed head of Nokia (s NOK) North America is confident that his company, along with his former employer, Microsoft(s MSFT), has what it takes to compete with the mobile industry’s glimmer twins, Apple (s APPL) and Google (s GOOG). Weber admitted that while it will be a hard battle, Nokia-Microsoft could take advantage of the fragmentation in the Google Android ecosystem.

Weber, who worked with Microsoft for about 16 years (and left in Sept. 2010), is a believer in Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and joined the Finnish cell phone maker in December after Elop took over as the chief executive. I remain extremely skeptical of Nokia and its chances. and wasn’t shy about sharing my opinions with Weber. Weber, of course, is more optimistic, though he candidly admitted that the company clearly has a couple of challenging quarters ahead.

I would say so. If its current sales numbers are any indication, then Nokia’s on-the-fly reinvention is like Wile E. Coyote racing off the cliff in pursuit of Road Runner, and flapping hard before going splat. If there continues to be a global economic slowdown, then Nokia would find itself in a pretty bad place much sooner than the company can handle.

Nokia doesn’t plan to introduce a Windows Phone 7-based device until later this year, and it will be 2012 before the company can introduce the devices in volume. That long, risky transition gives another six to nine months for Android and iOS to essentially suck up market share. The company will introduce a portfolio of products and form factors in different price ranges, Weber said, arguing that it was how the company was going to win over customers.

We are different

“We have a differentiated product, and it is a differentiated consumer experience,” he argued. “The challenge is to break through to the consumer.” You don’t say! Weber argued that the Windows Phone 7-based devices will have seamless context without needing apps and it would use voice-based inputs/outputs in a clever sort of way – and that’s what makes it different from Android and Apple.

“Static apps and icons are an outdated model,” he said. Of course, you wouldn’t know that if you took a look at Apple’s recent earnings or Google’s claims that over 600,000 Android phones are being activated every day.

I wonder if Nokia is whistling in the wind. Thanks first to Apple’s iPhone and then Google’s Android-based phones, consumers have embraced the touch-based, app-style, interaction model. Microsoft wants us to learn yet another mobile behavior – not an easy task. Weber believes the company is going for first-time smartphone buyers and has an opportunity there.

The third option

Weber wasn’t coy about his opinion of Android and argued that fragmentation is going to be a big issue for Google. “As they try to address it, they will find it tough to retain what makes it (Android) attractive,” he added. “Fragmentation in Android is going to end in a poor consumer experience and that’s what we can take advantage of and we can give a better experience for first time smartphone buyers.”

The company, along with Microsoft, is willing to spend a lot of money to get apps and developers on the Windows Phone 7 platform. Will that be enough? Weber argues that mobile phone companies want a third option to Android and Apple, suggesting WP7 has a chance to be a viable third option.  Yeah sure – this from a company that has no market share and brand presence in the U.S., but waited years to cease Symbian and S40 device sales here.

Elsewhere in the world, Nokia might be better off, but they need to hurry, because Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei, in addition to biggies like Samsung, are starting to eat into their market share. Weber’s optimism doesn’t factor in that Research In Motion (s RIMM) and Hewlett-Packard (s Hpq) are also in the running for the third spot.

Having followed Nokia from the day when they introduced their first GSM mobile phone, I cringed at the mention of them settling for being the third option. But I also don’t want the company to fade away into obscurity. After all, like many of us, Nokia was our gateway to the mobile web, and that should (and it does) count for something.

22 Responses to “Nokia: Android fragmentation helps us”

  1. Walter Adamson

    He’s right about fragmentation but that’s Apple’s strength and it’s not going away. I just wish the new Nokia guys would stop dissing the previous management “The other guys were dumb – Nokia dissing its team” Fair enough if the new team have a whole of brilliant insights into the market and company and what went wrong. But they don’t. What I hear is mostly just exec PR babble and a few insults to the capabilities of the previous team. I hope Nokia does well, just lay off the old team until you know something about it, I’d say.

    Walter @adamson

  2. “After all, like many of us, Nokia was our gateway to the mobile web, and that should (and it does) count for something.”

    Not really: that WAP stuff was just horrendous. I’d all but forgotten about it until you reminded me.

    As to fragmentation: as an earlier comment notes, much of the “added value” by Android handset makers is pointless junk (I’m looking at YOU, Samsung!), but on the other hand, at least Android has got a market to fragment. WP7 has got a focus group.

  3. Amy Kyle

    m settling for being the third option. But I also don’t want the company to fade away into obscurity. After all, like many of us, Nokia was our gateway to the mobile web, and that shoul

  4. It is true that fragmentation must be stopped on android & it can create problem’s in future when there are no big updates (like Icecream Sandwhich) but Chris Weber must also learn that today young generation want freedom of use & that freedom is given by android like flashing custom ROM’s on phone which Microsoft will never allow.

    Chris Weber should also have to keep in mind that having their flagship device running 1st or 2nd gen. processor in 2012 when other Manufacture’s will have 4th or 5th gen. processor(may be dualcore also) than who will going to buy their device’s

    At Last I’ll say that nice,easy & fun to use GUI make OS really popular and having a look on GUI used by Nokia in their past sym^OS I don’t think that nokia will able to provide the GUI that will compete to like’s of Apple iOS, HTC Sense & etc GUI currently available.

  5. Pankaj Bengani

    “this from a company that has no market share and brand presence in the U.S.” giving helms in the hand of elop who hails from a region where nokia has almost no presence was a wrong move. how did he read the nokia market in such a short span of time that he decided to uproot the current pillars and try build a new one which could hold while the building is falling. killing off symbian bcuz it does not perform well in certain regions ? i dont know wht gr8 strategy is that. what it has done is hurt the revenues of a lot of coming quarters. they clearly have more than a couple of challenging quarters. finally all the phones are as different as my ass is from urs. doing the same thing.
    “Static apps and icons are an outdated model,” what does he plans to introduce.. animated gif’s as app icons ?
    “Fragmentation in Android is going to end in a poor consumer experience and that’s what we can take advantage of and we can give a better experience for first time smartphone buyers.” – sounds more like that’s when ( ambush opportunity ) first time smartphone buyers ?? who would those be when they are finally ready.

  6. I honestly believe that there is room for a new/different user experience on mobile…just as sometime back, the world was happy with nokia and ericson and sony and lg and sammy feature phones — until Steve brought in the touch concept and Google promptly copied it for Android.

    In a year or less, the market might be ready for a change. Will Apple still be the trail blazer ? Or are they too stuck up on the current touch concepts (+ iconzed home) that only an outsider can upset the Apple cart?

    • Jim Karras

      Yeah, but you’re assuming that Apple, with iOS and Google’s Android stands still, tapping their foot and looking at their watches while they wait for Nokia and the Windows Phone platform to catch up.

      By the time Nokia rolls out their Windows Phone Mango devices next year, they’ll be competing against the 2012 versions of Android and iOS, not the current ones.

  7. fragmentation is not a problem for the users. it’s a problem for the developers. deal with it. same device for everyone is impossible. use cases differ and so does the income – hence the affordability. fragmentation is what’s boosting the android numbers.
    p.s. – i am a developer.

    • John Harrington, Jr.

      Fragmentation within the Android ecosystem is a top concern for anyone charged with managing or securing Android devices. Anyone tasked with Android device management should watch this webinar to learn how to safely enable Android devices for your mobile users.

  8. t1mothy tAn

    I really doubt this will change anything… Ive been waiting for Nokia’s WP7 phones since they announced their partnership with microsoft. And up till now, nothing.

  9. ZazieLavender

    Stupid. Fragmentation MUST END. OEMs are NOT good at enhancing the experience, they load these phones with CRAPWARE that isn’t necessary and is often difficult to remove, sometimes requiring you ROOT your android handset and remove the unwanted junk, which does often include useless interface apps.

    Pure Android is great. It’s a blank slate to a user. Let’s try not to clutter that blank slate quality of Android by allowing manufacturers to fragment the platform into useless shards.

    • Here’s a thought. Make Android naturally themeable, and allow handset manufacturers to differentiate their products by creating themes. And then allow the users to disable/uninstall the theme if they want to.
      I don’t think removing customization entirely would be a good thing, considering what phones are actually selling.

  10. Well i’ve been with Nokia ever since but iDon’t see myself rolling with a WP Nokia. I do have an Android also but im planning to buy N9 by MeeGo as my last Nokia until we get another Nokia MeeGo. This Microsoft thing ain’t for me.
    Well i do hope Nokia gets back to no.1 coz iGrew up with it.

    Damn, it looks like ppl who work at Nokia are from Bill Gates’ company…damn that sucks.

  11. In the next upgrade cycle based on past performance. Apple will be at +50% upgraded in [mid] 2012. Google partners will still churn out 2.3 devices and maybe get a handle on upgrading by end 2012 to ice-cream.

    I don’t think MS can compete against Apple’s [new] iOS, since we will be talking about the next version already by mid next year. But Google partners slow OS upgrade cycle gives an opening to gain market share, since the OS on [most] new Android devices will be an OS 1.5 years old.

    I don’t think MS has a break through in voice control, sounds like voice recognition to me. So the question is: Can MS use the …-6[max] month opening, nobody will care about Nokia HW at that point.

    Android still doesn’t have un-delete, C&P is flaky, Google Apps integration is in rather primitive. So they have max 6mth to gain traction, voice recognition or not. Why not focus on competitions miss steps instead, why focus on something promised and over hyped for years and never delivered? Somehow this reminds me of [MS] pen tablets, old ideas/menus with a different input.

  12. AlfieJr

    Good report. i take it he didn’t say much about iOS. which is smart. it is really Android that is eating up old WinMobile and Nokia Symbian market share in big gulps. Apple’s huge and expanding ecosystem is just too much for Nokia to take on. i thought it was a bad mistake for them to abandon Ovi just as it was staring to get filled out. because whatever MS finally comes up with is going to be focused on MS’ priorities – like competing with Facebook and Google+ – not Nokia’s. i’m one of those who think we are witnessing a slow motion takeover of Nokia by MS, maybe by the end of 2012. for the sake of “full integration of the user experience,” of course.