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Day June 28, 2011

Nokia a trop écouté les réseaux télécoms

My thanks to Robert van Apeldoorn, journalist for Trends Tendances Magazine, for asking good questions. My responses are reproduced below. The article (in French) is titled “Nokia a trop écouté les réseaux télécoms” and can be found in the June 23rd edition of the magazine along with more details in the article “Comment Nokia peut-il renaître?”.

-About your post “Does the phone market forgive failure”, that puts forward the idea that all mobile device vendors experiencing losses never really recover… It seems that this possible “rule” is more severe than in the computer industry. If Digital Equipement, Compaq, WordPerfect did fail, IBM and, yes, Apple, did survive failure and rebound strongly. Do you think that there is a difference between the industries? What makes the failures more lethal in the mobile device market ?

The observation is unique to the mobile phone market and even there it’s only an observation not a rule. It could be that Nokia will be the first mobile phone company that will recover from severe crisis, but history shows it to be very unlikely. I try to shed some light on the reasons why it’s unlikely and what makes the mobile phone market so unforgiving. I think much of the problem rests with the fact that mobile phones are sold indirectly, through intermediaries who are amplifying both success and failure. A company like Apple was able to recover in the computer industry because it launched new products like iPod which could be sold directly to consumers. It had to convince the consumer and only the consumer. Having to convince a distributor, retailer, value added reseller, operator and consumer would be much more difficult. These intermediaries are “institutional” buyers who are risk averse and have low tolerance for untested ideas. Institutional buyers need to think about dealing with other people’s money not just their own so they are doing the right thing from their point of view.

Nokia needs to persuade first operators, then distributors and then consumers that its new products are great (even though maybe the old ones were not so great.) That’s tough. Apple works in the other direction. It creates consumer demand then “sells” that demand to the intermediaries as needed.

These intermediaries (which Steve Jobs famously called “orifices” to the market)