Nokia's moderate-intelligence-phone performance

A complete market overview will follow when all the top tier vendors report the last quarter, but in the mean-time here are some data that are available:

Smartphone volumes for Nokia, Apple and RIM:

Whereas Nokia is often criticized for being weak in smartphones, the fact is that they have grown at a decent rate over the last two years. In fact, they’ve opened a gap with RIM. Apple has increased share but it will take quite a while to overtake Nokia.

So why is Nokia’s smartphone performance so under-valued? Partly it’s because ASPs have been dropping. A lower price and lower margin is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness. But Nokia has had a strategy of expanding into more price brackets in their core markets (i.e. outside the US). Half of Nokia’s smarpthones are sold through distributors not operators and probably end up being sold unlocked and unsubsidized. Price matters in those markets.

The other problem that Nokia takes a beating over is that their products don’t get used as smartphones. Many are sold without data plans at all which makes one wonder what exactly makes their phones “smart”. So many of these 100+ million/yr.  smartphones are really hired to do a feature phone job. They’re “overqualified” and thus underutilized. The statistics in terms of app downloads, browser and ad impressions all lag as a result. The ecosystem suffers.

Lastly, they are all but absent from the US. Due to accidents of history (CDMA) and various mistakes, Nokia never got a foothold in what turned out to be the most important mindshare market. A decade ago the US was a mobile data backwater, with lower data ARPU than Nigeria. It was not a market Nokia felt particularly deserving of investment. In hindsight, this was a big mistake.

But these knocks against Nokia still should not detract from the fact that they do sell a lot of Symbian phones. Distribution still matters as does having 600 operator customers. And in many parts of the world, Nokia is synonymous with mobile phone. Many of those buyers will migrate to future Symbian devices.

My mobile platform thesis has been that as long as penetration is not 80% and as long as operators are still in the value chain, mobile platforms will remain fragmented and split shares. The graph above shows exactly how that has evolved among the top three smartphone vendors.

  • Uncle Miltie

    The problem that Nokia has with the press is their lack of a presence in the US. When most people in the US have never seen a Nokia smartphone, it makes it nearly impossible to judge on their merits.

    The last time I looked at a Nokia phone was 4 years ago, just before the iPhone was introduced to the public, and 7 months before it went on sale. And I'm one of the few in the US who has even that much knowledge of Nokia smartphones.

    • CndnRschr

      Would be good to show thumbnail graphics of what models are classified as Nokia smartphones. The N8 and it's ilk are obviously smartphones, but these are not selling in large numbers. It might also be informative to show the numbers of different models produced by each company. Apple is easy (3). RIM is around 25. Nokia?

      • Niilo

        Nokia classifies all Symbian as "smart".

      • asymco

        It's not just Nokia, but all analysts do the same. It's technically correct to do so. The problem is that the definition of smart is limited to having open native APIs which does not account for how they're used. It's like saying that all off-road vehicles are defined by having four-wheel drive.

  • Richard Collins

    The Nokia 5230 is probably the best example of your point on "smartphone" under utilization. have you accounted for this device in this analysis? Most analysts do not include this very successful device and prefer to bracket it as a feature phone.

    • asymco

      My smartphone figures are from Nokia, so if they include the 5230 then it's in the graph above. As to whether it's smart or not, I'm not going to argue against it being a smartphone (we all know that RIM devices are sometimes not used beyond texting so the problem of underutilization is not unique to Nokia). In this article I tried to point out why Nokia gets a bad reputation as a smartphone also-ran. It's not fair, but I give some reasons why.

      [by the way, I carried Symbian phones daily since the very first Nokia Symbian device, the 7650 in 2002 up until July 2007]

      • kevin

        The 5230 is a S60 Symbian phone, so according to Nokia, it's a smartphone.

        All phones that are not Series 30 or Series 40-based devices are considered by Nokia to be smartphones in their accounting.

      • You could argue that the S40 based phones are smartphones also these days though that's indeed not how Nokia accounts for 'smartphones'. You can download S40 apps from the Ovi store and they're about as capable as a Blackberry.

        There's a lot of snobbery over what is and is not a smartphone.

      • asymco

        The definition that's assumed by most market watchers is that a smartphone is a phone running an operating system that has native APIs. In other words, you can write apps for it that access system functions directly (i.e. not in a sandbox). It's a narrow technical definition that is lacking in many ways. It also excludes the iPod touch with an Apple peel skin.

  • Rob Scott

    Nokia is trying to fix the data part, but that is jacking up their prices. Their biggest problem though is that their smartphones are not that smart.

    • Oh come on, that's just ignorance, or trolling.

      • Rob scott


        Why? I am sure I can backup my assertion. So tell me, why are you saying I am ignorant and/or trolling. Do you honestly think that E63 and its variants are comparable to an iPhone. If you believe that, do you mind backing it up. And how has Symbian running on Nokia smartphones improved from Symbian running Nokia smartphones of 2007 when Steve Jobs called smartphones for not being that smart? Was he also ignorant?

        How is E63 hardware smarter or comparable to iPhone hardware, what sensors does it have to make it smart?

        And why the name calling, why not just disagree and argue your point (and maybe educating us in the process)?

      • Let's break your two liner down.

        "Nokia is trying to fix the data part"


        "but that is jacking up their prices"

        Nokia's prices are falling. How many times have both Nokia and Horace said that their strategy is to get smartphones into the hands of more people? They're doing it by cheaper and cheaper smartphones. Just look at the graph above. Clearly it's working.

        "Their biggest problem though is that their smartphones are not that smart"

        I'm not going to argue 'My smartphone is better than your smartphone' but come on, the E63 is over two years old and is a budget blackberry competitor not an iPhone competitor. Have a look at the N8 if you want to see the current state of Symbian.

        Get back to me when I can run a background 3rd party application for more than ten minutes on the iPhone or side load maps or play DivX video.

      • Rob Scott

        Nokia is asking carriers to bundle data with Nokia "smartphones" and that is pushing the pricing up.
        E63 was discontinued last quarter, and it is a Symbian device and by definition a smartphone.

        I might be wrong on this one, haven't checked but I think you can run Skype, Tom Tom and play video on the iPhone, with Skype and Tom Tom running/using relative services in the background. Your video codec will have to be the right one though.

        I guess for completeness, Horace should add a secondary axis showing market share/or profit share for the three platforms and you will see Nokia/Symbian taking a nose dive. And to me, whatever they are doing is clearly NOT working.

        I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

      • iOS4 introduced limited multitasking for certain classes of applications.

        The problem is when you step outside those classes. For instance you can't run sys admin class apps on an iPhone such as VNC or ssh/telnet in the background since there's no API to allow them to stay multitasking. Developers have got around this by allowing the app to play music in the background those keeping remote sessions open. The other way is there's a 10 minute shutdown grace period so when you switch away from the app, it's told to shutdown. The app can then elect to stick around for 10 minutes. That sometimes works as long as you switch back and forth between apps every 10 minutes.

        Skype is allowed as there is a specific API for VoIP tasks so that Skype can run a headless background task to maintain registration with their servers allowing incoming calls. There's no support for SIP or VoIP itself in the OS. There's no support for VoIP in the phone's address book or anything like that so it's kind of still awful compared to Symbian.

        iOS and Android may have pretty UIs but the underlying OS is more desktop-like than smartphone-like. You have to remember than Symbian has years and years head start on Android and iOS so all the mobility stuff was sorted a long time ago.

      • But does a device have to be comparable to the iPhone to be a smartphone?
        I think that is were you go wrong. Both the Toyota Starlet and the BMW 760Li are cars, but no one is saying that they are comparable or even compete with each other.

        The E63 for instance let you install 3rd party software, be it form the Ovi store or from the Web, is able to multitask, it enables you to ckesck your email, basically it does everything the iPhone does. It might not be as good at it in most of those cases, bu nonetheless it does it.

      • Rob Scott

        ZTE S308 is a phone, just like the iPhone. But if we are to create meaningful categories of products e.g. smartphones, feature phones, etc, products in a category must be comparable to each other in a meaningful way. Nokia phones like E61 etc are in use and capabilities feature phones. But to make Nokia feel all good about themselves they are grouped with products that are far superior (in both hardware and software) than them. This partially explains why Nokia is in the mess they are in. No one is telling them the hard truth that they have no real presence in smartphones, that the E series and the Xpress stuff are all feature phones that will never compete with an iPhone or Droids.

        A Toyota Tazz and a BMW are both cars, but we cannot pretend as if they are in the same category. BMW's are obviously superior to a Tazz or other such cars.

      • You do know that the Nokia E61 is several years old right? So comparing it to a phone of today isn't altogether fair.

        In some ways the Toyota is superior to the BMW: mileage per liter fuel used, environmentally, try to find a parking space with a big car etc. In the same way a small screened non-touchscreen device CAN be superior to a large touch screened one, it all depends on what you need in a phone off course.

        In your opinion only a device with a large touchscreen can be a smartphone? I disagree with you here, but after all it's all a matter of how you define the term. According to you, all Blackberries and Nokia E-series are feature-phones then? That would make the situation a lot different…..

      • Rob Scott

        Nokia was selling E61 as recently as 2009. Blackberry usage is very different from any Nokia phone (lots of email and some data). But I do not have much respect for Blackberries either (I own an 8520). A big touch screen, great software, sensors and all used by users is what makes the iPhone and most Android phones great.

        My POV is just that, it doesn't change anything, Symbian phones are classified as smartphones and thats all that matters.

        Having said that, E series and now replaced by the C series are not that smart as far as I am concerned.

        Thanks for the comments everyone.

      • In Holland, where I live, Blackberry usage is not that different. The biggest gains for Blackberry have been with teenagers, who use their Blackberry as a sms/texting phone, without the data and mail usage.

        That having said, your point that usage of Nokia Symbian phones is mostly no different than that of a feature phone, in contrast to Android or iOS usage, is a valid one in my opinion. Although, there are people that use Symbian phones in the "smartphone" way, and I know several people who have iPhones and use it only for calling and texting. All Android owners I know do use it for data and internet etc.

      • Rob Scott

        Here, Blackberry is still mainly for email and because it comes with BIS it does a bit of data, but you are correct Blackberries are not that different to Nokia phones.

        Usage is always very difficult thing, and its very difficult to categorize using it. I think Symbian is the weakest link in the Nokia strategy as well as their love for old tech. Android will have Play To and iOS Airplay, what does Nokia have? HDMI?

        Nokia commands +50% share over here, people trust the brand. So there is still a lot going for them. I think they will lose the smartphone wars. Will Android or iOS win in the end? Ek weet nie.

      • Ik ook niet. Or: Ek ook nie?

        I don't think there will be a clear winner. I believe that there will be several OS'es in the long run, even Symbian might stay viable eventually. Further you have the deep pockets of HP behind WebOS now, and I'm very interested in what MeeGo is going to bring. And then I'm almost forgetting Windows Phone, which might hurt Android more than any other OS because of their similar strategy of multiple OEMs.

      • Rob Scott

        My nie.

        Yes, WebOS can make a great come back, so can Nokia. It’s too early I suppose. Jobs think it might end up being a two horse race. When the category is commoditized by the ZTEs of this world we will probably see some players pulling out and only the strongest will remain. I have my money on iOS, I am not sure about number two.

      • E61 was released in 2005. Comparing it to an iPhone from today is pointless. That still doesn't mean that in 2005 it wasn't a smartphone and that today it still isn't a smartphone.

        I've a Mac SE/30 under my desk from 1990. It was a computer then and it's still a computer today.

        Apart from that, Nokia did go on to replace it with the E61i, E62, E63, E71, E72, E73 and possibly more in between I've forgotten. It's not like they've baked the 'smartphone' in aspic from 2005 and called it complete.

        Also, the E61 still does things the iPhone doesn't and vice versa so who is to say which one is 'smart'.

    • Niilo

      Hitting the nail on the head…

  • Joe_Winfield_IL

    How much of the gap between Nokia and RIM would you guess is attributable to the fact that RIM is US-centric? They are probably much more affected by iPhone and Android devices than Nokia to date.

    • Actually, RIM are doing quite well in Europe. They're very popular with kids and teens oddly enough. Perfect texting phone for people who don't care about apps or email or web browsers (beyond Facebook).

    • asymco

      RIM has had a spotty international growth. It has had some growth but not nearly as much as they would have hoped–this is discussed in every conference call. The problem is that the Blackberry is hired for different things in different regions. In the US its core has been business use, but in non-US markets it's been BBM: consumer oriented free messaging (or unlimited messaging). For many (including US teens) messaging is *the* killer app and upgrading to a blackberry from a voice-oriented phone is a cost saving on SMS alone.

      However, this is another example of "smart" vs "moderate intelligence". Why should a Blackberry used for free messaging be compared with an Android phone? The definition of "smart" is too broad. We need to think about the jobs these phones are hired to do.

  • Marcos El Malo

    Anecdatum: A friend had a 9500 (I think — I know it was 9000 series) and hardly used it beyond it's phone and text capabilities. According to her, the UI was too cumbersome. I know it's been a while since that phone was released; has Nokia made the necessary improvements in the UI since then?

    I know Nokia has a roadmap with the Qt SDK for both Symbian and Meego, but how competitive are they now?

  • reality check

    Nokia made quite well in the smartphones in Q3 when you consider that they haven't relesed anything for one year. The N8 has serious competences over the competition like USB-OTG and HDMI out. Now that they are coming up with the new line-up would mean that the Q4 results will be great. While the browser is getting updated the Google and Apple are starting to feel the pressure. It is definetely not granted that Apple will catch the Nokias marketshare I would actually bet that the Iphone's marketshare will settle somewhere near the marketshare of IOS in computer segment -somewhere below 10%.

    • Rob scott

      Nokia is still very popular, it accounts for more than 50% of the phones we sell currently. But it is losing share and is a non starter in smartphones. The N8 is well spec'd, but runs a horrible software. It is impossible to like the phone because of the OS. HDMI out is cool, but I think Airplay is better, Nokia is behind the curve again.
      Symbian is a losing platform and so is Nokia. iPhone is growing faster than the industry and has small share, less than 3%. I think 10% would be great: +100 milion iPhones at $600, that would be massive.

      • Actually, I quite like the N8 BECAUSE of the OS. It's the only smartphone OS that multitasks well and supports SIP phone usage in the OS. Plus Nokia's push email service is free and good. Contrast that with MobileMe.

        The default UI is poor (so swap it with a theme or install SPB Shell or Sparkle), the keyboard is awful (so install Swype) and the browser is clunky (new version coming in November or use Opera). Hey , all things you can't even change on the iPhone. 🙂

      • Niilo

        You are clearly a Nokia employee 🙂

      • Right, that's why I'm ripping in to the N8's awful UI issues.

      • kevin

        You can change the browser on the iPhone. Google mail and Outlook/Exchange mail work great on the iPhone. Google is free, and Outlook could be free.

        Does it make a big difference whether SIP is supported in the OS or not?

        The one and only thing I like about the N8 is the camera.

      • You can not change the browser in the iPhone. Apple explicitly rules it out. Everything has to use the OS Webkit components underneath. The only browser choice other than that that I know of is Opera Mini which proxies through Opera's server to render the page and then sends a compressed image.

        I don't use Google Mail and never will. I don't have an Exchange server so that's no use either.

        It makes a very big difference to me that SIP is supported directly in the OS, integrated into the OS provided address book, phone log and any other application that allows me to dial a number.

        I've tried Fring and sorry but it's not for me.

    • Niilo

      "Nokia made quite well in the smartphones in Q3 when you consider that they haven't relesed anything for one year"

      ASP, ASP, ASP. Buying share?

      "The N8 has serious competences over the competition like USB-OTG and HDMI out"

      But an ARM-11 core is sooooo 2009… Nokia always has the best HW, but the SW is so terrible…

      • And a GPU that is sooooo 2011. The hardware balances out fine in the end. That's not the issue they have.

    • asymco

      I assume you are referring to iPhone's share of all phones. If Apple achieves 10% share it would be a fantastic achievement which is certainly beyond what the market is expecting today.10% share is about 120 million phones a year and in a few years will be 150 million. In the last 12 months, Apple sold 40 million iPhones. Quadrupling volumes will be exciting indeed.

  • KRIS

    Investors should listen the conference call over and over again and make notes about the keynote Q4. Steve Jobs gives amazing gifts for the competition.

  • John

    This is a good example of how market success relies on more than features. Distribution and mindshare are hugely important. If I could wave a magic wand and suddenly produce a smart phone ten times better than anything else out there it would take years and years before anyone learned of it and I managed to sign up partners and distributors and such.

    When I was in charge of Asian marketing for a product it was interesting to see how different populations had a different conventional wisdom as to which maker was the industry leader and which had the best product.

    • David Chu

      People are often baffled when tell them a Buick is a premium brand in China, simply because it was the first car that Mao drove before China closed its walls.

      In the same way, Chinese people think that American streets are all filled with gangsters carrying guns in their back pockets.

  • kevin

    Just some thoughts on Nokia's quarter based on its quarterly report:

    In 2009, the average Nokia smartphone ASP was about 187 euros. Then for 2010, Nokia made a decision to make and sell cheaper smartphones, and has since seen its average smartphone ASPs go to 155, 143, and now 136 euros in the 3Q. Using IDC numbers, in the 1Q, Nokia maintained share yoy (39.3%), but in 2Q, it lost 2% from 40.3% to 38.1%, and looks to have lost more share in the 3Q. So the decrease in ASP still hasn't been enough to stem the loss of market share.

    For those buying non-subsidized phones, the price difference can be significant. In the UK, the iPhone 3GS is 419 pounds, while the 5230 is 129 pounds. In Italy, the iPhone 3GS is 539 euros, while the 5228 is 129 euros, and 5230 is 149 euros. That's a 400 euro difference!

    Note that Nokia sells most of its smartphones in Europe and Greater China, with China accounting for almost all of Nokia's smartphone unit growth during this last quarter. iPhone 4 went on sale in China on 9/17. We'll see what happens over this quarter.

    • That's an important point about European pricing that I think many USAians aren't aware of since they can't buy an unsubsidized iPhone in the USA. Even the no-contract iPhone in the USA is subsidised and locked to AT&T.

      I'd add that the other difference in Europe is that you can get Nokia 5230s for free on contract with a dataplan included from £10 a month whereas the cheapest iPhone contract would have you paying £200 or so for the handset and £20-25 a month for the contract. That's significant, particularly if you're buying the phone for your kids. Then again, the 5230 is indestructible compared to anything else I've given ours. iPhone4 with a glass back – no way.

      • kevin

        The no-contract iPhone in the USA is not subsidized. But I think your intended point was that cell phone plans assume that one is buying a subsidized phone. In other words, one doesn't get a monthly discount for bringing your own phone. (However, in most cases, one can bring your own phone to many of the prepaid plans in the US.)

        By the way, I only brought up the 5230/5228 because it's the cheapest Nokia "smartphone", not because I think that it compares in any way with an iPhone 4. I don't think Apple will be able to significantly close the smartphone market share gap since they're not much interested in addressing that low-margin segment of the smartphone market. Nokia, though, will start facing other competitors (i.e. Chinese-made Ophones using Android) in that market segment; that might be the way Apple closes the gap.

      • "The no-contract iPhone in the USA is not subsidized."

        It is.

        IIRC a 'no-contract' iPhone in the USA is $599. It's locked to AT&T. The intention is clearly that you'll already have an AT&T contract or you'll shortly sign up for one. AT&T then make their subsidy back.

        Unlocked iPhone 4s start at around $700.

    • Niilo

      I don't get your point. I don't get why subsidies are relevant.

      We're talking about wholesale ASP. What the channels, incl. operators pay.

    • asymco

      We will see the impact of Nokia's pricing strategy when we do the whole market analysis (volume, pricing, sales and profits). Defending share with pricing is not without cost.

  • noogie60

    I think that Nokia's real threats in the future come from cheap Android phones from Chinese manufacturers like ZTE and Huawei.
    Once the hardware costs come down for Android to run reasonably I think that the lower end market will be flooded with them.

    • I think you have a very good point here. That is probably why Nokia is trying to get MeeGo up and running, the low end, which they own at this moment, will become much more competetive within a year or two. They have to have a viable high-end option by then.

      • It's not like Nokia hasn't been competing with the Chinese manufacturers for a very long time already.

        I'm not sure Android will be the competitor in the low end though. Android 2.x pushed the hardware requirements UP and 3.x will do so again. Symbian^3 for that matter also pushed the hardware requirements UP. Every Symbian^3 phones has to have a GPU and capacitive screen for just two examples. So, just Moores law making things cheaper isn't the only vector.

        I would contend that both Android and Symbian can only get the low end by maintaining old versions of their OS in the market. That's why there are cheap crap Android 1.x phones still being made like the Alcatel and why Nokia still is releasing Symbian^1 phones like the C5-03 which is otherwise nice but for the OS.

  • Rob Scott

    @ Horace,

    On Second thought your graph is not informative. For – instance, Nokia is selling more units than they were selling in 2007, but their unit share has gone down (so has their profit share), making this graph very misleading. Its misleading because its selective and lack relevant information for people to make informed conclusions. If you do not know anything else, the conclusion you make looking at this graph is that Nokia is doing exceptionally well when in fact the opposite is true. Add a secondary axis and show either profit or unit share and/or graph them below this chart. We come here to be informed not to be mislead (do not really mean that).

    • asymco

      As I've written above, the complete market analysis is coming. We need to wait for all major vendors to report their numbers. The complete picture will include volume, pricing, net sales and operating profit analysis.

      The point of this article is to focus on the perception of smartphone under-performance from Nokia. On some levels it's undeserved.

      • Rob Scott

        Nokia's underperformance is not a perception. Their unit growth (which is below market growth) has been bought, with reduced ASP and margins. Now Apple's share of tablet units will also crash, but their profit share and ASP will not fall just to maintain a facade.

        Nokia has underperformed, and that is what the coming data will confirm. Not that we need one more data point to know that.

        Looking forward to future articles.

  • KenC

    I think what Horace's point gets at, is that the smartphone category, as currently defined, does not tell us very much, when smartphones are being used as feature phones and when smartphones are sold without data plans, and when smartphones are as cheap as feature phones.

    So, the question is, what are we trying to determine when calling something a "smartphone"? Is the answer different for consumers vs mfrs? Is the answer different for analysts?

    If we look at a chart like Horace's above, and then the first thing that happens is people start to argue with what's included in the data, maybe we need to settle that issue first. Looking at the chart, you'd think Nokia was on top of the world, but they're not. When a chart doesn't answer a question or provide some insight into data, then it needs to be looked at. Clearly, the smartphone category needs more definition than it currently has.

    • Rob Scott

      Great points.

    • You'd also need to settle on what is or is not a featurephone.

      One of my kids has a £50 Sony featurephone that has downloadable apps, a decent browser and came with a dataplan. From what I can tell, the only reason to say it's not a smartphone is that the 3rd party apps don't multitask.

      Does that mean the iPhone and WP7 phones aren't smartphones?

  • KRIS

    Nokia devices and services made 9.5(?) Billion dollar revenue. Apple made revenue with the iPhone over 8.8 Billion dollars. Nice.

    • asymco

      I'll summarize all the players later but this is a good teaser: Nokia Devices and Services Net Sales were €7.174 billion in Q3. iPhone and related products and services sold $8.822. Using a conversion rate for USD to EUR of about 1.3 (rough average of the months July, Aug, Sept <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”>( makes Nokia's sales $9.326 billion. Pretty close.

      • dms

        The two numbers aren't exactly apples to apples. Not sure what's included under "services" for Nokia, but I assume whatever they make off the Ovi store is in there. If you include iPhone Apps sales AND 3G iPads, Apple's total would blow past the Nokia total. I'm thinking another $1.0 to 1.5 billion.

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