Nokia finds themself in a precarious position. They’ve gone all in with Microsoft to become the premier Windows Phone manufacturer and jumped ship from their in-house Symbian product. They once were synonymous with the thought of any cell phone. Nokia, along with everyone else was upended by the introduction of the iPhone by Apple and as a result, for the past few years have been largely absent from the North American continent, especially in the United States. Can Nokia reclaim their top spot, does Microsoft’s platform provide the software to get them there and will Nokia matter in the US marketplace now that Apple and Android are so firmly entrenched?
Nokia’s fall from favor began much like most other cell phone companies over the past few years, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 by Apple and the failure to respond to the way that changed the game. I know it’s been said a thousand times, but it bears repeating, what Apple accomplished with the iPhone was nothing short of a revolution in terms of setting customer’s expectations for their mobile devices. Nokia failed to see this in time, especially in North America, where Apple has a much stronger presence than in Europe and Asia. Ultimately, Nokia realized they needed to shift their way of operating to stay in the game, so a partnership with Microsoft and $2 billion later Nokia had made their choice.
So with the brief history of how we got here behind us, here is my 5 step program Nokia and Microsoft need to follow to give them a shot with Windows Phone and Windows 8 in the marketplace.
Step 1: Become the Premiere Windows Phone Manufacturer
In some ways, Nokia has already accomplished this with the Lumia 800 around the globe and now the Lumia 710 on T-Mobile in North America. The upcoming Lumia 900 for AT&T looks to be one of the most compelling pieces of hardware that Microsoft has ever had to run the Windows Phone software and it will include LTE in North America, finally taking Android’s claim of LTE handset exclusivity away. Here in lies the problem though, shortly thereafter HTC is releasing the Titan II with LTE for AT&T as well. Right now if anyone is going to give Nokia a run for their money in hardware, it’s going to be HTC. The problem is right now, Nokia’s hardware doesn’t support all of Windows Phone’s features, the 710 supports WiFi tethering while the Lumia 800 doesn’t. If Nokia’s phones are going to be the headlining phones for the Windows Brand, they need to show off the full power of the platform.
Step 2: Predictable Release Schedule/Unified Hardware Strategy
Nokia is already starting to fall into the trap that Android handset manufacturers fell into, where a new model was released every few months with different specs and different capabilities on different networks. The recent pull back from HTC and Motorola are showing that this approach doesn’t work. Nokia already has two different models out with a third on the way. This is without touching the CDMA side of the US market equation. Both Sprint and Verizon have kept Windows phone at arm’s length and currently offer only one Windows Phone handset each. Getting a flagship device on all the networks at once will be key.
Nokia needs to be the iPhone of Windows Phones, when Microsoft releases an updated version of the software, Nokia needs to be upgrading all of their devices within two weeks of release from Microsoft. If Nokia is able to roll a predictable hardware strategy with similar devices across all networks, so consumers don’t feel like they have to leap from carrier to carrier to get the latest and greatest or stick out a three month exclusivity period will go a long way towards building consumer good will.
This one may seem a little out of left field in terms of being a necessity but because Microsoft is building an integrated ecosystem with Windows 8 and Windows Phone, having similarly branded phones and tablet hardware will be key. Just like the iPhone goes with the iPad, Nokia Windows Phones should go with Nokia Windows 8 Tablets. These Nokia tablets should be the crown jewels in Microsoft’s tablet strategy. These are the tablets Microsoft should be showing off on stage and in their stores and on TV commercials as the hardware the shows how well all the Windows software works together. Much like Apple’s iPad, the Nokia hardware should have the option for cellular integration and different storage options and at worst needs to match Apple on price and at best should be priced slightly lower.
Step 4: Aim for the Android Market
Apple and Android are the entrenched players in the smartphone world right now. The biggest difference between the two is that Android’s hold on the market could slip away as fast as it was captured. Google has a problem with their branding and overall look and feel of the Android product. The sudden changing of the Android Market to the Google Play Store as well as the continued fragmentation of the Android OS across handsets shows that Google’s strategy of letting anyone in and doing whatever they want has a few holes in it. That being said, it’s also the users who are going to be the most willing to switch platforms. With the majority of Android Apps being free apps, the average user will have an easier time switching platforms, which leads into my final point.
Step 5: Bring Developers to the Windows Phone Platform
What’s going to be the biggest reason Android users don’t switch, or feature phone users update to an iPhone or Android? Apps. Mainstream Apps like Angry Birds, Words With Friends, Draw Something, and WhatsApp. If consumers don’t see the apps their friends are using, it won’t matter how fast you can post a picture to Facebook from the phone. Microsoft has caught up quite a bit in this regard, but there are still major players missing from the Windows App Marketplace. Not only will this help Nokia, but Microsoft’s overall goals for the platform as a whole.
Overall, I think Nokia is in a much better place than RIM. They’ve defined a strategy for the future, have partnered with Microsoft who has deep pockets and seems to be listening to the feedback on the platform and each update to the Windows Phone platform helps level the playing field with iOS and Android and in some cases surpasses it. Nokia now needs to stop playing catch-up with the rest of the field and use their newfound partnership with Microsoft to push the Windows Phone platform forward. Will history see this partnership as a smart move by Nokia? That remains to be seen, but Nokia is squarely in charge of the outcome.