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Nokia's price for exclusivity

Days after Nokia announced the end of life for the Symbian platform I wrote a post titled Who will buy the next 150 million Symbian smartphones? The reference was to claim by management that before there would be a complete transition to Windows Phone, 150 million legacy Symbian phones would be sold, keeping the company financially stable before the new ecosystem took root.

I reproduce the original forecast I made below with the addition of what actually happened.

[Note that the Actual stack area chart is independent of the forecast area chart as indicated by shading.]

My forecast in early 2011 was based on the 150 million Symbian phones being sold over a two year transition period. The implication with the forecast for Windows Phone was that this would still lead to a difficult contraction of volumes.

As it turns out, only 96 million Symbian devices have been sold in the 7 quarters since the platform was deprecated. It’s unlikely that there will be ever by 150 million units sold as last quarter only 3.4 million shipped. In any case, management has already retracted that claim.

What about the Windows Phone forecast? It turns out that by this point in time (Q3 2012) I had expected Lumia shipments to total 9 million. Actual shipments reached about 9.5 million, so not bad. However, the market grew faster than I had expected and overall Nokia smartphone market share turned out to be slightly lower (6.3% in Q2 vs. 10% estimated.)

The just ended quarter shares are not yet available but it’s quite possible that overall Nokia smartphones could be well below 5%, and may slip to 3% during the transition period.

My warning in February 2012 was that 150 million Symbian units would not ship since I expected there would be a stigma associated with the products among distributors, even if consumers were fine with them (which they weren’t).

The public execution of Symbian (and any other alternative being developed inside Nokia) will probably be a classic case study in disruption management. To wit: even if a platform needs to be led out to pasture, there are ways of managing decline other than suicide. Nokia’s failure is not so much having chosen the wrong alternative to Symbian, but having chosen exclusively.

However, there’s a twist. The company did not accept exclusivity of one supplier without a concession: In exchange for exclusivity, Nokia negotiated $250 million every quarter in the form of “platform support payments” from Microsoft. Nokia has to date received over $1 billion in such payments. (For the last quarter that amounts to $86 for each Lumia phone shipped.)

The tragedy comes from this $1 billion/yr not being enough. The foregone revenues from Symbian (assuming they had been able to maintain the decline to the level of 150 million units that they had originally forecast) would be about $9 billion. This means that had Nokia not knifed Symbian and had sold the shortfall units at an average price of $200 they would have received an additional $9 billion in sales. Furthermore, assuming a margin of 33% for those units, Nokia received from Microsoft one third from of what she gave up for exclusivity.

In other words, the net cost of the Microsoft exclusive relationship is at least $2 billion in operating profit.

This turns out to be the difference between being profitable and being distressed.

We will never know if this scenario would have ever happened, but the forecast management made 21 months ago suggests that at least they thought this was what they were going to get out of the bargain.

This reminds me of another article posted around the same time.