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Nokia employs as many people to develop its smartphone software as Apple does to develop all its products

In a recent post I pointed out that Apple’s R&D was about 2.2% of sales in the last quarter. Bernstein took a look at the R&D for Nokia and presented a chart showing the difference between the mobile industry players in terms of total expenditure on R&D.

I took inspiration from that to plot the Devices R&D for both Nokia and Apple over the entire 2010 period. I also compared that with sales and computed the ratio between R&D and sales.

The result is shown in the chart on the left.

Bottom line: Nokia spent 10.2% of phone sales in 2010 on phone R&D while Apple spent 2.5%.

Bernstein goes on to argue that at least for Devices,

Nokia spent $3.9bn in R&D in 2010, almost 3x the average of its peers, 31% of the industry’s R&D total spending, for an output that we can qualify as visibly disappointing.

To relate the $3.9 billion for Devices into head count, they estimate that Symbian projects employ 6,200 people; MeeGo and Qt 1,800; Services 1,800; and S40 1,800. Hardware headcount is assumed to be 4,700 and 900 more for fundamental research.

So Nokia’s total software headcount adds up to 11,600 people. Nokia smartphone headcount adds up to about 8,000.

Applying a similar formula ($240k/employee[1]) to Apple’s estimated iPhone R&D (from Bernstein’s chart) yields a headcount of about 3,200 and a total Apple company R&D headcount of 8,200.

So Nokia employs about the same number of engineers[2] for its smartphone software platforms as Apple does for all its product lines[3].

In fact, Symbian alone may cost twice as much to develop than the iPhone (including the hardware).

Notes:

  1. The cost per employee is obviously different between the companies as they operate in different countries. However there are enough sources of error in these estimates that they probably overwhelm the cost of living/tax differentials.
  2. I know that engineers are not all that R&D headcount covers, but let’s assume that the mix of overhead is similar for the two companies.
  3. The total for Symbian + MeeGo is 8000 and the total for Apple overall is 8,200, however one can comfortably allocate 200 out of 900 researchers out of Nokia research to their mobile software effort.