The Nokia World 2011 event held last week in London saw Nokia unveil its first Windows Phone devices – the Lumia 800 and 710 – and discuss how its new strategy is developing. But what really stood out was how American the whole event felt, with little evidence on show of the Finnish restraint that has characterised the company during its history.
Much of this has to do with the change in management that was ushered in when former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop became CEO a year ago. Despite actually being Canadian, Elop is a typical Silicon Valley executive who makes bold proclamations such as “Lumia is the first real Windows Phone” and “this is a new dawn for Nokia.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Shields, another former Microsoft employee, who is now Nokia’s senior VP of program and product management for Nokia’s Windows Program, took to the stage at Nokia World and calmly started to talk about the new Windows Phone devices Elop had just unveiled, before alarming those in the audience who may not have been fully concentrating by shouting that the devices are “AWWWW-ESOME!”
It was reminiscent of the way Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer presents and a long way from the more restrained approach seen in previous years from Nokia. And maybe the times call for this more brash approach. With Apple and Android making huge inroads into the smartphone market, Nokia’s previously modest approach was being drowned out by the newer competitors.
The keynote at Nokia World – which also included VP for mobile phones marketing, Blanca Juti, dancing (yes, dancing) on stage – sent out the message that the company will no longer let others take all the limelight and that Finland’s finest is putting a huge effort into making its products relevant in the markets where it has been out-competed.
Having executives on stage shouting at the audience about how AWWWW-ESOME the products are is one way to do this but is fairly meaningless if it’s not backed up by something. However, it looks like the tie-up with Microsoft could provide the substance behind the noise.
Last year’s Nokia World saw the company talk meekly about its continuing development of Symbian and unveil three new phones based on the platform, but Symbian’s appeal has waned with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android raising the bar. The new phones did little to reverse the decline of sales – something new was clearly needed.
Although Nokia’s most recent results showed “signs of early improvement” according to Elop, they still represented a loss for a company that has had a tough few years. Nokia also announced in September that it would be cutting 3,500 jobs to streamline its devices business in addition to 7,000 jobs that the company announced would go in April.
Elop – the former head of Microsoft’s business division – took over from Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo as CEO in September after Nokia responded to its stuttering business and criticism that it was lacking direction. Five months after Elop’s arrival, Nokia announced the tie-up with Microsoft to migrate its smartphones to the Windows Phone platform.
The move to Microsoft – rather than jumping on the Android bandwagon – was the kind of bold move that Nokia needed to make to try and turn things results.
Judging by the speed at which Nokia developed its first Window Phone devices, the company is putting a lot of resources into this new strategy. Nokia and Microsoft are clearly working closely together as Microsoft corporate VP for Windows Phone, Joe Belfiore, said Nokia is pushing Microsoft to make Windows Phone even better.
This close working relationship also suggests Nokia could receive certain Windows Phone developments ahead of others and create its own exclusive brand of Windows Phone, putting it in a strong position compared to rivals that have moved to Android but could suffer as a result of Google’s acquisition of Motorola.
Nokia is also making sure it continues to cater for developing markets – a strategy which has sustained the company through some tough times – by announcing the Asha range of mid-tier phones using Nokia’s Series 40 OS. While Symbian will continue to be developed in the short term, the focus at Nokia World was much more on Windows Phone and Series 40.
If Nokia continues to play to its strengths in developing markets and reasserts itself in the smartphone market with Windows Phone, Nokia could take back some of the ground it has lost in recent years and really take the fight to Apple and Android. Although Nokia isn’t out of the woods yet, the shift to Windows Phone and the close relationship it has clearly developed with Microsoft, allied to the brasher way in which it appears to be presenting itself, could be a winning combination.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members