Smartphone shenanigans

Smartphone shenanigans

14 JAN 2013

Last week, Nokia published a trading update which showed that the recovering device maker is at last set to report some positive news, although there is still some way to go before it is able to say it has truly turned the corner.

But the thing which stood out most to my eye was this statement: “Total smartphone volumes of 15.9 million units composed of 9.3 million Asha full touch smartphones, 4.4 million Lumia smartphones and 2.2 million Symbian smartphones.”

Now, Nokia has referred to its Asha touch line as smartphones before, even stating that some analyst firms have accepted this. But it has stopped short of counting them as part of its smartphone shipment numbers – until now.

On the most cynical level, it is easy to see why Nokia is now counting in this way: because 15.9 million is a lot more impressive than the 6.6 million achieved by its Windows Phone and Symbian devices. For a company that was a smartphone pioneer, and long term market leader, this matters.

With the smartphone market being the key sector for both future growth and solid profit margins, battling it out with Huawei, Sony, ZTE, LG and HTC is not where Nokia needs to be.

Recently, a colleague was working on a definition of what a smartphone is – and it was surprisingly difficult to reach a consensus. Include some criteria, and you end up closing out devices which should be counted as smartphones. Go too far the other way, and the floodgates are open for Asha and its ilk.

But it seems that Nokia may not have been as successful in convincing the analysts as it would have liked.

In September 2012, it said that the Asha full touch devices had received smartphone classification from “global market research companies and analysts such as GfK and IDC”, whereas by October this had become “global market research companies and analysts such as GfK”.

According to reports, IDC had said that it had been misrepresented, and that “somebody from IDC did say that the Asha series provided smartphone-like experience, but never classified it as a smartphone”.

Indian handset vendor Micromax also had an opinion, with Deepak Mehrotra, its CEO, telling the Economic Times that “we too have many handsets that have smartphone-like qualities, but we still call them feature phones and not low-end smartphones”.

To some degree, none of this matters. Asha is clearly proving a hit for Nokia, and is enabling it to migrate its customers in price-sensitive markets to at least a “smartphone-like” experience using a Nokia-branded device.

With the range outselling Nokia’s true smartphones, it is likely to play an important part in the portfolio at least in the near term.

And Nokia has at least been transparent about what it has done – there has been no obfuscation to make its position appear stronger.

But this will not take the attention away from, or pressure off, Nokia’s true smartphone activities.

Sales of Lumia are reasonable at best – and until now, its aging Symbian range has proved a reasonable tool in propping up its volumes.  However, Symbian sales are unlikely to be meaningful going forward, meaning that everything really does now depend on Windows Phone.

Nokia’s smartphone activities are far from out of the woods. And some sleight-of-hand with the numbers will do nothing to change that.

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


Steve Costello

Steve works across all of Mobile World Live’s channels and played a lead role in the launch and ongoing success of our apps and devices services. He has been a journalist...More

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